Gender equality: Breaking the glass ceiling

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Raluca Corina Oprea, the President of the Romanian Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (FASMR), a national member organization of IFMSA and is a doctor who has just experienced graduating during the coronavirus pandemic at Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Iasi, Romania. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. 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.

For a long time, women’s rights have been a sensitive topic, especially in medicine, a traditionally male-only domain. Medical schools were functional since the 9th century – but it was only in 1849 that the first woman graduated from one. Even though we take pride in acknowledging unique women, who boast an extraordinary array of achievements, such as Marie Curie or Florence Nightingale, there are still many whose equally extraordinary achievements aren’t recognized or are bestowed upon other, more famous, male counterparts.

When tackling this issue from the perspective of female medical practitioners, we quickly see women have had lower participation levels in medical fields compared to men, although their informal role (caregivers, midwives) has been widespread. Nowadays, it can be argued that significant progress was made – however, women have yet to achieve parity in the medical system. Even with the increasing number of female physicians, the experiences and challenges they face have not much changed during the past 30 years. Their struggle as both women and physicians is still an issue which entails a clash between career and lifestyle choices, as well as difficulties with family planning. Fortunately, some legislation changes have been made to benefit women in this line of work, but such official decisions have not yet influenced attitudes and behaviors in the workplace.

Male physicians’ dominance is still present, even in the industrialized countries, where gender parity has been achieved in medical students. Unfortunately, this does not translate yet into equivalence in practice. Further disparities can be seen within the medical formation itself, certain specialties such as surgery remaining significantly male-dominated. The same can happen in research and academic medicine. This sad phenomenon is known as the “leaky pipeline”: although both women and men graduate school in equal measure, a variety of discriminating factors causes them to quit in each stage of the academic pipeline; and, ultimately, in receiving recognition for their work.

So what is there to do? Taking action comes in all shapes and sizes. From challenging our peers and disrupting the status quo to demanding an equal work culture, the benefits of empowering women have a lasting effect on the medical system and on our society. Start by calling out inappropriate remarks or behaviors in a respectful manner: whether it is a patient’s attitude towards a female physician or a professor underestimating female students. When it comes to engaging in conversation, have proof, so that the next time someone makes statements like “wage gap is a myth!”, you can articulately nip that misinformation in the bud. 

And, more than anything, we should empower women to acknowledge their worth – the internalized beliefs and gender stereotypes impact and limit future generations’ potential. As medical professionals, we will be considered empathetic and wise individuals; let us use that unique advantage to bridge the gaps in the fight for women’s rights. Strategies to rectify inequalities are not just women’s issues – they claim the full contribution of everyone in deeper explanations and solutions.

About the author

Raluca Corina Oprea is the President of the Romanian Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (FASMR), a national member organization of IFMSA and is a doctor who has just experienced graduating during the coronavirus pandemic at Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Iasi, Romania. Her future endeavors include starting residency as a psychiatrist in France. A passionate and involved volunteer, her main subjects of interest are human rights (women’s rights in particular) and mental health, although her activities have ranged across many other areas as well.

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