Inspiring inclusion on International Women’s Day 2024

Today (March 8) is International Women’s Day.

The campaign theme for this year is Inspire Inclusion.

The idea is that when we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world.

And when women themselves are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment.

But what does this mean from an Armed Forces and health perspective?

We asked Trish Mazarura, who is a veteran’s wife, social worker, and also runs a group for Commonwealth spouses that acts as an advocacy and information service.

We started by asking what she would want healthcare providers to know when one of her members identifies themselves as part of the Armed Forces community?

Trish: For me, gaining insight into the experiences of the Armed Forces Community is crucial for fostering inclusion and delivering effective care. Army wives are less recognized than those actively serving and veterans, yet they make a significant contribution to an efficient and functioning Army through the emotional support and home stability they provide to their spouses. Understanding the Armed Forces Community, especially from the perspective of wives, is essential. By asking about their experiences and what being part of this community means to them, we can uncover valuable information that informs our approach. People often don’t spontaneously share their experiences unless prompted, so it’s crucial for providers to be proactive and develop a deeper understanding.

This approach promotes inclusion. When interacting with individuals, consider asking about their husband’s service status (whether serving or a veteran) or their occupation. These questions help build rapport with your GP and provide more context about the patient. For instance, have you experienced this in the past? Do you think your health issues are a result of your husband’s deployment, exercise, or other factors? Understanding these aspects can help the GP unravel the patient’s symptoms and provide targeted pathways for care.

Acknowledging that spouses endure moral injury through their partner’s Army service can also be beneficial. When a husband is away, the spouse often feels lonely, stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious, juggling multiple responsibilities while also worrying about their partner’s well-being. By discussing these stressors with your GP, they can offer more tailored support and guidance. Not everyone explicitly identifies themselves as part of the Armed Forces Community.

Spouses, in particular, may not realise that their role connects them to this community. Educating patients about this affiliation can foster a sense of belonging and encourage them to seek support when needed. No one ever explained to them that this makes them part of the community. It’s also worth considering that people’s experiences of the Armed Forces community will be different.

Personally, I’m proud of being part of the Armed Forces Community through my husband’s time in service. I supported him by raising our family while he was away, all while concentrating on my career. This was part of my experience. However, if your husband had a bad experience while serving, I don’t think you’d be proud of being part of the community or talk about it.

It’s essential to recognise that others may have had different encounters. Healthcare providers also need to be aware of cultural differences and practices. In my Commonwealth group, there are a few ladies who came straight from their home country to here. I was different — I lived here before I met my husband, and that gave me an advantage.

But if you’ve come straight from your home country, you often rely on your husband to share most of the information with you. For example, how to renew your immigration papers, register with the GP, apply for jobs, and where to buy African food. However, not everyone follows this approach.

Some people want to separate work and family life, but these issues impact us in many ways.

Have you noticed any changes from your time as a military spouse to those who are currently living that life and sharing their experiences with you?

Trish: I’ve observed significant changes in how other charity organizations support families from the Commonwealth Armed Forces and Families. For example, the Army Families Federation (AFF) now holds clinics to assist families with immigration issues. Despite the availability of numerous services and information, it still doesn’t reach spouses uniformly.

This discrepancy is especially pronounced for ladies from groups like mine. People appreciate this group because many of us wish we had access to such initiatives much earlier. As individuals from black minority backgrounds, we often feel lacking in essential information. It’s as if we’re expected to seamlessly integrate and carry on with our lives, but in reality, we need time to adjust to various aspects.

I believe we’re still not receiving sufficient information directly from the Army regarding available resources. When we arrive here, we lack a comprehensive welcome pack or induction materials covering lifestyle, culture shock, and health.

Many of my fellow members are unaware of these crucial aspects. Someone once told me that when you marry your husband, you should be aware of what you’re signing up for in terms of his job.

However, the truth is, you don’t know everything. Deployment details, for instance, only become apparent once you’re part of the community. Wives often remain unaware of their rights concerning divorce, domestic violence, housing, and other critical issues. It’s not solely about immigration; there are other challenges that affect us.

Nevertheless, things have improved, and through my group, I can share information I find online with others.

Now, tell me about your career and how it has shaped you into the advocate you are today.

Trish: I am a social worker, specialising in adult safeguarding. I completed my MSc in Global Military Veteran and Family Studies. Being both a social worker and an army wife has enabled me to work effectively with the Armed Forces Community and identify gaps in service delivery.

For instance, while there are numerous charities focused on veterans, there is comparatively less support for Commonwealth spouses. During my husband’s time in the army, I often questioned why certain procedures were followed and why they didn’t always align with our needs.

My guiding principle has always been: if these services were implemented for you, would you be satisfied? If not, it’s essential to advocate for change. I firmly believe that everyone should be treated as a human being, which is why I advocate not only for myself but also for others.

When I first arrived in the UK from Zimbabwe, I worked as a carer, advocating for better care for those I served. This commitment remains one of my strengths. Later, I met my husband, who happened to be my neighbor back in Zimbabwe. His initial posting was in Germany, and I moved there with him.

However, I faced restrictions in pursuing my career in Germany. I expressed to my husband that I didn’t want to be merely an army wife focused on family responsibilities or working in the NAAFI shop. I longed to be authentically myself, with my own identity separate from my husband’s Army title.

What frustrated me most was the inability to secure the jobs I truly desired on base, such as working at the nursery—positions often reserved for wives of higher ranks. My true aspiration was to return to the UK and pursue my dream of becoming a social worker, helping others in situations similar to mine.

However, this decision was challenging. Leaving my husband to study and establish his career was significant, especially considering cultural norms that emphasize staying together once married. Despite these obstacles, I believe that Army wives, particularly those from the Commonwealth, face career limitations, due to financial barriers and immigration. For me, coming back to the UK to study was the best decision ever. By the time my husband completed his service, we had our first house. If I had remained in the camp, I would have been perceived as just a Corporal’s wife. However, I am Trish—a professional social worker and advocate for Commonwealth spouses. In summary, as providers, let’s actively engage, listen, and empathize. By doing so, we create a supportive environment where every member of the Armed Forces Community feels seen, understood, and valued.

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