Gender Equality and medicine in the 21st Century: we want the fair share

Tedros WHO

Dr Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Julia Puaschunder, a 5th year medical student at the Medical University of Innsbruck Austria, and currently part of the Extended Executive Board at the Austrian Medical Students’ Association. Ms Puaschunder is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

If I’m asked, when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court, I say, ‚When there are nine.‘ People are shocked – but there’ve been nine men, like forever, and nobody’s ever raised their eyebrows at that.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice

Some people might think that raising awareness on gender inequality in Europe is complaining from a very privileged position. Women in Europe have the right to vote, to seek education and to work. Women can dress how they want to and say what they want to. But do we have the right to ask for more?

The recent release of the Gender Equality Index revealed the most obvious issues women face in Europe nowadays: When it comes to power in politics, economics or at the work place, as in the share of ministers or the share of members of boards, women are still underrepresented even though women seek higher education and have better qualifications than a decade ago. For years already, there are more female medical students than male medical students in Austria, yet female chief physicians are and will be a rarity. It shows that a female quota should not be a taboo word anymore. The female quota should be viewed as a stepping-stone to help qualified women to get their seat at the table. It takes politicians – female and male – to take a stand and ensure equality. Women deserve more than symbolic speeches and gender-neutral language. Women want their fair share.

The Index also shed light upon inequalities that women must face day-to-day. Women still have to tackle a lot more in their daily life than men- household, cooking, caring for their children, are still mostly female tasks. Female doctors often need to work half-time to be able to master those challenges. This issue is probably the most difficult to combat.  Indeed, there can’t be a law, forcing men to do laundry. But what there can be, is men living by example – husbands taking chores off of their wives’ shoulders, fathers teaching their sons how to support women and treat them with respect. There will never be full gender equality, if only half of the population is fighting for it.

Sexism, not only at the work place, is an extremely disregarded issue, particularly in conservative countries, where it seems to be socially acceptable to reduce women to their bodies. Especially female doctors must work twice as hard to gain respect from their male co-workers. I myself lost count on how many times a doctor referred to me as the “pretty young lady”, while referring to the male medical students as “colleagues”. It takes a support system of politicians, employers, husbands, fathers, brothers, boyfriends and colleagues to ensure that sexism is unacceptable in today’s Europe.

Yes, we have come a long way. But there is still a large gap between gender equality on paper that so many strong women fought for in the past, and the challenges women must face in the real world. So yes, we do have the right to ask for more. And yes, we do have the right to get it.


About the author

I am a 5th year medical student at the Medical University of Innsbruck Austria, and currently part of the Extended Executive Board at the Austrian Medical Students’ Association. I have strong interests in Public Health and Sexual and Reproductive Health and I am involved in several activities regarding those topics at my University. I truly believe that this world would be a better place with more women in politics and leadership positions.

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