The historical performance of women in human health

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Eulália Santos Gomes, 23 years old, a 3rd-year medical student of the University Center of Valença in Valença, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is 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.

Before Illuminism, women were responsible for having the knowledge related to the cure of diseases, they have a property in the management of medicinal herbs. For centuries the role of women in the healing scope suffers a sudden change. In the XIX century they have no longer the freedom to be “healers” due to the rise of patriarchal science¹.

In Feudalism women also had control of their bodies and reproduction. The knowledge of Midwives was extremely important to preserve this control of women over their bodies. With the development of the capitalist society, the division of work, and the power of the church, women were prohibited to preserve this kind of practices, because, at that time, the State (controlled by men) owned the sexual and reproductive control over women, and any practice of healing and management of medicinal herbs were considered Witchcraft².

The situation of women in some countries began to change thanks to the feminist movement. They started achieving the right to study at the end of the XIX century. However, although women having access to education nowadays, there are still some challenges that prevent them from achieving senior positions.

Gender labor hierarchy exists due to two factors. The first one is the stereotype that women carry since the fall of feudalism and the rise of a new work division with capitalism. The second one is the extensive Working Hours that the patriarchal society requires of women preventing them from taking positions that require higher dedication at work.

The stereotype that attaches women to “gender roles” ends up forcing them to choose specializations that society believes are more appropriate for them, for example, pediatrics, gynecology, and obstetrics³, and dermatology. Thus, men work in medical specializations that are viewed with more prestige by society and also, have a higher salary.

Furthermore, searching to reconcile medical, domestic, and reproductive work, women tend to follow careers that won’t demand a huge Working Hour³. Due to the patriarchal society, they must take care of their family. Meanwhile, men only have the function to “help” them. It lacks an effective division of the domestic work.

Hence, State leaders must plan policies to implement ONU’s Sustainable Development Goals linked to gender equality. The actions that must be taken are to promote shared householding and value women’s non-paid work at home; moreover, investing in day care for their children4. Besides, governments must encourage companies, in this case, Hospitals, to put women in senior positions; Universities must do the same regarding academic and scientific work.


  1. WOLF, Naomi. O mito da beleza: como as imagens de beleza são usadas contra as mulheres. Rio de Janeiro: Rosa dos Tempos, 2020.
  2. FEDERICI, Silvia. Calibã e a Bruxa: mulheres, corpo e acumulação primitiva. São Paulo: Elefante, 2017
  3. ÁVILA, Rebeca Contrera. Formação das Mulheres nas Escolas de Medicina. Revista Brasileira de Educação Médica, Campinas, v. 38, n. 1, p. 142-149, abr. 2014. Disponível em: Acesso em: 23 mar. 2021.
  4. United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Disponível em: Acesso em: 23 mar. 2021.

About the author

Eulália Santos Gomes, 23 years old, is a 3rd-year medical student of the University Center of Valença in Valença, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is alocal coordinator of IFMSA Brazil Unifaa. She loves being involved in political and social movements and study politics and feminism. 

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