Beyond White Coats: Gender Equity a Priority for Medical Trainees

Insights from medical students and junior doctors during the interactive session on Gender Equality and Equity in Global Health

By Muriel Mac-Seing, member of the WGH Francophone Working Group

Women in Global Health

The past few months and years have demonstrated to us, with the #SheDecides, #MeToo and #Manel movements, that transformative and provocative measures are necessary to reverse the historical trends of gender inequities and inequalities worldwide. Yet, gender equality still has a long way to go.

The 66th General Assembly, August Meeting 2018 of the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations (IFMSA), which brought together more than 900 IFMSA representatives from 100 countries invited Women in Global Health to speak at its Health Symposium on August 3, 2018 in Montreal, Canada. Representing the Francophone Working Group of the WGH movement (#WGHFrancophone), I had the privilege to run an interactive learning session on Gender Equality and Equity in Global Health with international and Canadian medical students and junior physicians who have gathered in Montréal to exchange on social accountability in medicine.

In this spirit, I presented key evidence and statistics on gender disparities in global health leadership positions and global burden of diseases, which did not surprise these young doctors. However, what was striking were the examples provided during group exercises around ongoing gender discrimination, which mainly affected the female doctors, irrespective of their country of work, be it in Morocco, Mexico, Egypt, Venezuela, Haiti, Canada or Germany. On the other hand, male doctors felt they received more attention and recognition by their patients and colleagues on the basis of their gender, while their female counterparts needed to “prove” themselves or their credentials to be listened to – although not always heard.

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During one of the plenary feedback exchanges from the breakout group exercises, one Canadian female doctor questioned whether the audience was ready to hear more about the necessity of going beyond the binary understanding of gender, in ways to also include intersecting social categories such as age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic position, etc. in their medical practice, among themselves and with their patients. Further, this session triggered more interest from a Mexican colleague who is very keen to bring forward the WGH movement into the Spanish-speaking world, similarly to that initiated by the Francophone Working Group (1).

After the interactive learning session, I also represented WGH at the International Organizations Kiosk Fair in the exposition area alongside other organisations such as MSF, the Red Cross Canada, the School of Public Health of the University of Montreal, McGill University Global Health Programs, to name a few, which had the opportunity to further share about their mission, priorities and initiatives to avid conference goers. Lots of questions, such as where and around which activities WGH is most active, arose during exchanges. Different gender discrimination cases toward female doctors were also shared from various participants, mainly women.

In hindsight, it was evident that gender equality is not monolithic in nature and must also concerns all genders in the process of finding transformative solutions. There is an appetite for more awareness-raising and capacity-building to strive toward a more just and equal world for all genders working in health systems. Importantly, how to rally more allies, especially men, for the global movement remains one of the key challenges for the future.

Finally, note that WGH is still accepting nominations for Francophone women leaders and leaders to be in global health, until 15 August 2018. Please visit us at: www.womeningh.org for more details!

Acknowledgements

I would like to sincerely thank Roopa Dhatt, Kelly Thompson, Mehr Manzoor as well as Catherine Jones for their generous support in the preparation of my participation to the IFMSA Assembly.

References

1. Jones CM, Gautier L, Kadio K, Mac-Seing M, Miranda É, Omenka C, et al. Equity in the gender equality movement in global health. The Lancet. 2018;392(10142):e2-e3.

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