SNP ministers have been accused of sowing confusion after urging “anyone with a cervix” to get a smear test rather than saying “women”.
A Scottish Government information campaign launched today also says “people” are being urged to attend a test, and that “two people” die from cervical cancer every day.
It adds: “Cervical screening is offered to anyone with a cervix aged between 25 and 64.”
Ministers were accused of risking lives by failing to use plain language about public health amid the debate over transgender rights.
One campaign group called it “idiocy” and suggested people should ask their MPs and MSPs for advice on whether that had a cervix and how to find it.
Sometimes wonder if the best way to deal with such idiocy is in kind.
Perhaps people should email MSPs – esp SNP or SGP – and tell them they are very worried by this as they don’t know whether they have a cervix & could they advise how to look for it… https://t.co/ew1Ps5CQI5
— For Women Scotland (@ForwomenScot) October 11, 2021
A 2017 survey found almost half of women were unable to identify the cervix as the neck of the womb, despite cervical cancer being the most common cancer in women under 35.
The row over the choice of language comes after some politicians have been accused of transphobia for saying only women have a cervix.
Canterbury Labour MP Rosie Duffield last month stayed away from her party’s conference as she felt unsafe after receiving abuse for making the statement on Twitter.
Her stance brought her into conflict with trans rights supporters who say that people born as women but who now identify as men are truly men despite also having a cervix.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted Ms Duffield would have been safe, but also said it was wong to that only women have a cervix.
“It is something that shouldn’t be said, it is not right,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
The Scottish Government has also shifted from using the word “women” to “people”.
In June, after it emerged 430 women were wrongly excluded from the screening programme, the Government said the “women affected” would be offered fast-track appointments.
However a press release today was headed “People urged to attend smear test”.
It referred to “people” five times, “those eligible” for cervical screening twice, and “anyone with a cervix” once.
The word “women” was used once, in the sentence “one in three women still don’t go for the five-minute smear test that can stop cervical cancer before it starts”.
In the accompanying quotes, minister for public health Maree Todd did not say women or people, but used “you” or “your” to directly addressed readers.
The notes to the release state: “Cervical screening is offered to anyone with a cervix aged between 25 and 64. The test checks the cervix for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes 99% of cervical cancers, but has no symptoms.
“Uptake of cervical screening in Scotland has declined in recent years.
“In 20/21, uptake amongst those eligible was 69.3%, compared to 71.2% the previous year and 73.1% attending in 2018/19.”
Policy analysts MurrayBlackburnMackenzie said: “Plain language is vital in public health campaigns, the aim of which should be to maximise reach amongst the target group.
“Cervical cancer screening rates have been falling in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government should consider the potential impact of its decision not to refer consistently to ‘women’ in publicity materials, particularly given that evidence from [cancer charity] Jo’s Trust shows that almost half of women do not know what a cervix is.”
The Scottish Government is currently planning to reform the law to make is quicker and easier for trans people to change their gender in the eyes of the law, reducing the time period from two years to six months and ending the need for a medical diagnosis.
Critics say the switch to a self-ID system could be abused by men seeking access to women-only spaces such as changing rooms, prisons and refuges.
Nicola Sturgeon recently said such concerns, while sincere, were ultimately “not valid”.
The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.