Anne Weyman (BSc 1965, Hon LLD 2005) is Chief Executive of the Family Planning Association (fpa). She trained as a chartered accountant, before working for Amnesty International and the National Children's Bureau from 1986 to 1996. Anne is Honorary President and Founder of the Sex Education Forum and was awarded an OBE for services to family planning in 2000.
I was always interested in social issues, even when I was quite young. My great motivation was, and still is, a desire to understand the world around me. That’s why I chose to study physics at Bristol. I thought science would have the answer, but I found that it became too abstract.
After university I went on to do accountancy. I wanted a career, which was quite unusual for a woman at that time. In 1968, I was admitted to the Institute of Chartered Accountants. However, I still wanted to play a part in changing the world and increasingly I wanted to understand the world from a social point of view. So in 1972, I went to the London School of Economics to study sociology. I thought social research was a good way to change the world. Then I realised I was a doer; I liked to get on with things. At this point, I moved to the voluntary sector to work for Amnesty International as Head of Finance and Administration. I was taken on for my accountancy and management skills. I began to influence social policy especially around health and women’s rights through my activities outside work. My next post, Company Secretary and Information and Public Affairs director at the National Children’s Bureau, enabled me to develop my interest in children’s rights and family policy, while continuing to use my financial and management skills.
When I started working for fpa my campaigning and leadership skills were really brought together in my career.
The organisation was going through a difficult time when I arrived in 1996. People thought it wasn’t going to survive and it was deeply dividend on many issues. Today it’s completely different. It’s very united, we’re clear about what we’re doing; we’ve broadened our remit, raised our profile and increased our influence. With have an unequalled reputation for the provision of authoritative independent information and distribute ten million publications and answer inquiries from 50,000 members of the public, policy makers and professionals each year.
We’ve also seen a huge change in the position of sexual health in the Government’s agenda. When the Government came to power in 1997 the public health policy paper made no mention of sexual health. Other campaigners at the time were very negative. They said: ‘What’s the point of fighting, the Government aren’t going to do anything’. My response was: ‘Well they certainly aren’t going to do anything if we don’t make a fuss’. fpa was the first organisation to do a campaign on Chlamydia. There was clear evidence that women’s fertility was at risk, yet nothing was being done. Our campaign got it on the agenda.
The big issue for us now is that people think Britain’s abortion and contraception services are all okay, but they’re not. There’s been a huge disinvestment in contraceptive services and abortion law has not kept up with the great advances in the methods available, so services are not attuned to women’s needs
The high of being a campaigner is when you get success – it’s fantastic. The low is when you go round the same argument time and time again and the same people trot out the same reasons why something can’t be done. If you look back over the years, the same debates were taking place in the 1920s. Yes attitudes have changed, but the same arguments still come up. Also, fpa works in a sensitive area and it’s sometimes very hard when you’re seeking funding. There are always ‘safer’, yet equally worthy, causes to support. Sometimes I see other organisation’s events and I think ‘if only we could do that’, but nonetheless we do have many passionate supporters.
I am hopeful that we are about to see improvements and changes in abortion law. It really is awful that – with all the advances in technology – women are being denied the best possible service, that’s accessible and local, because of an antiquated law. I hope that the law’s going to change and, if it does, I’ll get great satisfaction from the fact that I’ve played some part in this.
To be good campaigner you need to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve and you need to be in it for the long haul. It doesn’t happen quickly. You need to be determined and resilient.
Working for something you believe in is the best work you can possibly have. You may not earn as much money, but nothing beats it. There are amazing people in this sector and it’s been a privilege working with them to achieve the things we have.