Against the tide: women’s journey in health

(Credit: Unsplash)

   This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Brenda Klitzke Cardoso dos Santos and Ms. Lívia Padovam Loni, two first-year medical student in The Universidade Estadual de Londrina, Paraná, Brazil. 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 writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Gender inequality in the area of ​​health, especially in medicine, has always been present. This is very clear when we analyze the number of women doctors in 1960, which represented only 12.99% of the total number of medical professionals that year.

   Fortunately, according to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report, the world is witnessing a progressive decrease in gender differences, with the removal of barriers that prevent women from having the same access as men to education, work opportunities and social benefits, generating gains in productivity and competitiveness for the countries’ economies.

   However, although in the last decade they have represented the majority of students in medical schools and most of the new registered professionals, women continue to suffer a significant negative impact caused by sexist stereotypes and gender discrimination. According to Pringle, the male phenotype inspires 25% more confidence than the female. This means that, for any position that she seeks, a woman needs to be at least 25% more capable than her closest male competitor, in order to have the same chances of success.

   In the same way, gender inequality is a factor that interferes with women’s performance in the health area. This can be seen in some countries where women are the majority in the area, such as Russia and Estonia, where the medical profession has come to be considered a low status occupation. This is because, as in most professions, women tend to receive lower wages than men in similar positions.

 Given these facts, it remains unquestionable that a large gender gap remains, especially in medicine. However, there is still a wide dissemination of speeches that insist on ignoring and even denying the existence of such. These speeches provoke a delegitimization of current movements and actions for gender equality, claiming that it has already been achieved. Thus, the effect of these speeches is to cover up this inequality by establishing practices that are evidently discriminatory as normal and everyday like.

   Therefore, it is essential to discuss female representativeness in the professional environment, especially in the health area, through debates, events and knowledge dissemination channels. In addition, it is essential that women do not remain silent in the face of explicit and implicit situations of gender discrimination. The measurement of professional capacity should not be based on gender, but on the quality of medicine practiced.


Banco Mundial. Relatório sobre o desenvolvimento mundial de 2012: igualdade de gênero e desenvolvimento. Washington: Banco Mundial; 2012.

Formação das Mulheres nas Escolas de Medicina Women and Medical Schools, Rebeca Contrera ÁvilaI

Harden J. ‘Mother Russia’ at work: gender divisions in the medical profession. European Journal of Women’s Studies. 2001;8(2):181-99.

Barr DA, Boyle EH. Gender and professional purity: explaining formal and informal work rewards for physicians in Estonia. Gender and Society. 2001;15(1):29-54.

Wallace AE, Weeks WB. Differences in income between male and female primary care physicians. J American Med Womens Assoc. 2002;57(4):180-4.

About the author

Brenda Klitzke Cardoso dos Santos is a first-year medical student in The Universidade Estadual de Londrina, Paraná, Brazil. She is an active member of IFMSA Brazil UEL and aspires to use medicine to change the public health situation in her country.

Lívia Padovam Loni is a first-year medical student in Universidade Estadual de Londrina, Paraná, Brazil. She is a general member of  IFMSA Brazil UEL. To her, the literary phrase “the time always comes when it is not enough just to protest: after philosophy, action is indispensable” indicates the purpose of medicine, to promote change through action.

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