4 Mar 2017

Carol Shand: championing sexual health

From Saturday Morning, 8:12 am on 4 March 2017

One of New Zealand’s leading figures in women’s health, Carol Shand, plans to retire by the end of this year.

Dr Shand, 77, has been working for and with victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse and in the fields of women's health and sexual health medicine for more than 40 years.

She runs a GP practice in the Wellington suburb of Kelburn. 

Carol Shand

Dr Carol Shand Photo: supplied

“I will miss it dreadfully, that’s why I keep delaying it. It’s who you are, really, when you work in a job like that for so long.

“I’ve got to learn to be the person I am, not the work I do.”

She has conducted pioneering work in sexual abuse care and co-authored now standard textbooks on these subjects.

When Dr Shand began to practise nearly 50 years ago, one of her first jobs was as a house surgeon in Wellington Hospital.

“You would see three of four women coming in with miscarriages and it was quite obvious to everyone these were not what we now call miscarriages, these were botched illegal abortions.”

She says when the Contraception Sterilisation Abortion Act came into effect in the late 1970s she was conflicted.

“It’s a lousy law. It disregards women really.”

She says the law has to change to allow women to have more control over their bodies.

Along with Dame Margaret Sparrow, Dr Shand helped form a company to bring in the medical abortion pill to NZ.

She said women have the right to have the most up to date and available medical care.

“We tried very hard to lobby the pharmaceutical companies. We couldn’t find one who wanted to touch it.

“They didn’t want to have their other drugs contaminated with the thought that they were handling an abortion pill.”

She said for some, the abortion pill was their first choice in having a termination, while for others, a quick surgical fix fits much better with their lifestyle.

The surgical fix involves a 10 minute procedure, while the pill is taken and 24-48 hours there must be a second visit to the medical centre of hospital. Then a second pill is taken and sometime later the foetus passes.

She says a lot of women do find the experience painful.

“A theoretical abortion, when it’s out there, when it’s just the idea and making it lawful sounds very nice, and feminists perhaps fought for that.

“The reality is, it’s never a particularly nice experience.”

Dr Shand says she’s there’s been backlash over her view on abortions, including slogans painted on her practice and pamphlets distributed to her neighbours saying an abortionist lived near who must be dropping the value of house prices.

“I got the loveliest notes from my neighbours at that time, giving support.”

If she were to have her time again, Dr Shand says there’s very little she’d do differently.

She has worked in abortion clinics, obstetrics clinics, and been involved in the anti-nuclear movement and environmental campaigns.

“There’s a lot of problems out there to be fought, aren’t there. Not just feminism.”

She says there have been quite dramatic changes throughout her lifetime to women’s rights, but there’s still a long way to go.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist, I tend to just grasp the issues in front of me and fighting them, without an ‘ism’ attached.”