Closing the gaps in accelerating women’s rights: The role of medical students

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Tishtar Chindhy, a final year student (MBBS) at RCSM GMC Kolhapur, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India. 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.

The first step to closing the gaps in accelerating women’s rights is listening to women. As Arundhati Roy remarked, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” In a patriarchal world where women are silenced and unheard by most, medical students can play a crucial role.

We’re required to listen attentively and empathetically to our patients. Most medical students today are millennials and Gen Z’ers who are politically aware and active. We’re aware of issues faced by women- lack of agency, female genital mutilation, economic dependence, early arranged marriages, young motherhood, pressure to have a male child, intimate partner violence, lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, contraception, safe abortion services, etc. While studying public health, we learn about indicators like sex ratio, literacy rates, nutritional status, morbidity rates, etc., that reflect these issues. Thus, we exist at an intersection of micro and macro perspectives. If we are to heal the women in our hospitals, we must dismantle the patriarchy that is killing them.

Sexism is alive within medicine- lack of representation, glass ceiling, gender pay gap, etc. In response to this, female medical students are being sold the idea of a “girl boss”- a rich and powerful female doctor who has it all- she has conquered the OR and is a wonderful wife and mother. This is not a complete solution. We cannot dismantle sexism in medicine without dismantling sexism as a whole. While it is not wrong to think of one’s personal income and career trajectory, we must shed our hyperindividualised aspirations and not chase this capitalist dream. We must remember that women can practice medicine today due to the collective effort of feminists who came before us.

So, what can medical students do? As a first step, students should organize a feminist collective at their respective medical colleges. These collectives must facilitate discussions that raise class consciousness. Students should listen to human rights activists, writers, lawyers, etc. who are tackling women’s issues. This will help them develop a well-rounded perspective and gain insight as to how they fit into this movement. The voices of women from marginalized backgrounds should be amplified within these collectives and elitism of any kind should be curbed.

Students can become educators who provide Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) with a focus on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), tackle taboos and stigma around menstruation and breastfeeding, and expand contraceptive education and method choice. It is important to educate boys and men on toxic masculinity and engage them in the feminist movement. Students can conduct research pertaining to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and advocate for better national health programs and their proper implementation.

I hope medical students will rise to the challenge and remain defiant in the face of adversity posed by the patriarchy. Working for women’s rights is no doubt an uphill task; but it is vital that we do so and what better time to start than now?

About the author

Tishtar Chindhy is a final year student (MBBS) at RCSM GMC Kolhapur, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India.

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