Secretarial: `Right to choose' offers PA options

I Work For: Clare Ruiz Is PA To Lyn Thomas, Regional Director Of The International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network
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The Independent Culture
By the time I was interviewed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network I had forgotten the details of the job I'd applied for. However, I did recall that the federation had something to do with family planning, which is something I feel strongly about.

The interviewers picked up on the fact that I was Catholic and asked me whether my religion affected my views on abortion. In my opinion, while all women should have the right to choose abortion, no one should be forced to choose it as a method of contraception. I also find it shocking that in 1998 some women are still forced to choose between pregnancy and an illegal back-street abortion. I must have given them the right answer, as I was offered the job.

I joined IPPF as an administrative assistant to the programme team which is responsible for supplying technical assistance and practical support to family planning teams in Central and Eastern Europe. Although my role was to take care of travel arrangements and basic office administration, I was allowed to have more input than a standard PA as I was given the option to become more involved in the projects of IPPF that most interested me!

I guess my enthusiasm for the work we do - aiding other European countries to set up their sexual health, family planning and sexual education programmes - is coloured by my own experiences as a teenager. At 15 I became pregnant, having received none of the information on sexual health, choice or rights that is currently available to my 14-year-old daughter.

A few months ago I became the PA of our regional director, Lyn Thomas. We had met during my initial interview and soon got chatting about Spain, after Lyn spotted my Spanish surname.

Lyn travels a great deal and organising her trips is far from straightforward. For example, if she is invited to go to Russia I must first contact the organisation inviting her, to inform it that it needs to pass on the information about the invitation to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn has to write to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will then communicate to the Russian Embassy in London that we are applying for an entry visa. You can imagine how complicated it becomes when Lyn's visiting more than one country at a time.

I also help plan the travel logistics for people attending our workshops, which can be equally complicated when several different nationalities are involved. I also take calls from British Nationals in need of a Family Planning Association while abroad. Unfortunately, that kind of medical information is rarely included in the average travel package and few people anticipate needing it.

Lyn has worked at the federation for 18 years, having started as a secretary. She's always interested in hearing suggestions or requirements expressed by visitors. Different countries may be at a different stage in development but there are certain issues, such as abortion and teenage pregnancy, which interest everyone. Even my elderly Spanish aunties, who live a traditional way of life, are interested in my work because the information we provide was never available to them. My daughter Charlene takes my job in her stride. I even heard her explain my work to her friend, who was shocked to discover that I had pictures of condoms on the wall.

My colleagues are different from one another in terms of background, age and opinions, which always guarantees interesting discussions - we can say things to each other that you might not get away with in other workplaces. For example, we will have a giggle while trying to identify the items featured on the poster for the Contraceptive Museum, or joke about the temp discovering a polystyrene penis in his desk drawer. I get teased a lot about being so enthusiastic about my salsa dancing, for on being told that our office was to move to Brussels the first thing I did was to investigate whether the Belgium salsa scene exists. I haven't decided whether I will move to Brussels. Perhaps now isn't the right time, but I know that I would find it difficult to go into an ordinary nine-to-five job again, particularly when I feel so personally involved in my work.