Women in the battle against gender barriers in medicine

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Alléxia Bruna Bonatto Braga and Ms. Bianca Batista dos Santos, two fifth-year medical students at Unicesumar. They are affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


It was in the 1980s that women began to be included in the global medical population, a period in which they represented about 30% of the medical force. In the current brazilian scenario, women represent 45.6% of the active professionals, this percetage increase up to 57,4% when analisen the youngest active group  of up to 29 years old.[1] However, despite the improvement in numbers, the feminization of medicine has been occurring mainly quantitatively, while the qualitative phenomenon has not kept pace. Thus, the discrepancy that occurs in the female occupation in leadership positions still represents a gender gap that still exists in this profession.

The WHO – World Health Organization – estimates that women represent 70% of the health care workforce, but occupy only 1/4 of the leadership positions.[2] In general, men still run the world, while the female voice is sentenced to silence, less significant positions, and lower payments. Stereotypes, low pay, sexist values, double working hours, sexual harassment; there are several obstacles to be overcome in order to destroy the barrier that keeps women from true gender equality in the labor market.

The main question is: what is needed to achieve this equality? Should we first fight the internal values and barriers that keep women away from these positions or should we fist give them leadership roles so that these obstacles can be eliminated and more women can assume positions of power? The question is raised by the former COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, in her best-seller Lean in – in which she compares the solution to the chicken and egg dilemma, for which she concludes the answer to be “whatever”.[3] After all, there is no point in having long philosophical discussions about what comes first if, in the end, the battle takes place on both fronts. Regardless of the option chosen, both will result in the occupation and representation of women in leadership.

In Brazil, leader companies, such as Magazine Luiza, have already been adopting practices to insert women in management positions in a more equal way. Practices of quotas in boards of directors and educational or motivational lectures that seek to break the barriers of fear and insecurity present in the unconscious of many women are already being adopted.[3] It is necessary that hospitals and institutions be encouraged to equalize salaries and eliminate biases in the hiring processes.

Some people say that certain jobs and positions were not molded for women. Well, if mold is an impediment, let the forms of these positions be recycled. We already have the numbers, and it is time for us to take a place at the table where the decisions are made. A woman’s place is wherever she wants, whether at home taking care of her children or in high leadership positions. But let it be natural to have women in both, when they desire so.

[1]. Scheffer Mário. Demografia médica no Brasil 2018. Demografia Médica 2018: número de médicos aumenta e persistem desigualdades de distribuição e problemas na assistência [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2021 Mar 22]; Available from: https://amb.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/DEMOGRAFIA-MÉDICA.pdf

[2]. Jones Rachel. Maioria entre profissionais da saúde, mulheres são minoria em cargos de liderança. Mulheres na linha de frente [Internet]. 2020 Sep 02 [cited 2021 Mar 22]; Available from: https://www.nationalgeographicbrasil.com/cultura/2020/09/maioria-entre-profissionais-da-saude-mulheres-sao-minoria-em-cargos-de-lideranca

[3]. Sandberg Sheryl. Lean in: women, Work, And the Will to lead. 1 th ed. [place unknown]: Knopf publishing Group; 2013.

About the authors

Alléxia Bruna Bonatto Braga is a fifth-year medical student at Unicesumar, Brazil. She is a member of two academic leagues: gastroenterology and medical genetics. She worked as a monitor in the discipline of human anatomy and is very active in the activities of the faculty.

Bianca Batista dos Santos is a fifth-year medical student and exercised as a LEO at IFMSA Brasil Unicesumar. She is part of the neurology academic league and is also very active in the activities of the college, from IFMSA campaigns, coordinating or participating, in addition to days, congresses and scientific projects.

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