Fight against gender inequality in medicine: Brazilian women physians working at the frontline of COVID-19

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Leticia Borborema is a student in the second year of medicine in Brazil in the Centro Universitário Unifipmoc, 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.

Women have been devalued for many years by society mainly in professional choices, the effort is never enough to have due recognition. Compared to men, this devaluation increases even more, since they occupy positions of greater recognition, they receive better salaries and opportunities, even though they hold the same jobs and positions as women. In addition, it is worth mentioning the double shift when motherhood and domestic activities are often imposed by patriarchal society, making it impossible for women to study and nullifying the chance to choose other paths.

In Brazil, the presence of women in medicine grows, but the inequality persists. According to data from 2020 by the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA), health related jobs such as nursing, nursing technician, doctors and community agents have a predominance of women, except in the medical field, which has higher remuneration and greater social recognition among the areas linked to patient well-being, where women represent less than half of the profession. Furthermore, in medicine there are leadership positions and income differences in the specialties, with men being more present in these positions and better paid.

Therefore, in the same way, considering the current pandemic of Covid-19, where Brazil has great difficulties controlling the disease and dealing with political measures of contingency, being one of the countries with the highest death rates, demonstrating the importance of having quick and efficient mobilization as well as researches in medical care.  On this context, one effect shown was, again, gender inequality, once that women are the majority at the frontline of the fight against the virus, practicing medicine in harsh conditions, as was clear in the article “War has the face of a woman: health workers in the fight against Covid-19”[1] by Elizabeth Sousa and Luciana Vieira.

But the change is growing, more security and knowledge about rights and opportunities are disseminated with the new social media, slowly changing the professional dynamics, as women occupy more and more leadership positions compared to the past. As said the feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, “it is through work that women have been reducing the distance that separated them from men, only work can guarantee their concrete independence”.

In view of this, it is important to emphasize the work of Brazilian women professionals, such as Ester Sabino, who was responsible for the genetic sequencing of the virus in 48 hours; Ludhimila Hajjar, who trained health professionals in the care of patients with Covid-19; Elizabete Mitsue, who was responsible for the implantation of the largest field hospital in Brazil, and several other women that collaborate for the advances in health and science. Therefore, gender differences in medicine are large, but the changes are happening, and the gaps are narrowing.

[1] ”A guerra tem rosto de mulher: trabalhadoras da saúde no enfrentamento à Covid-19”

About the author

Leticia Borborema is a student in the second year of medicine in Brazil in the Centro Universitário Unifipmoc, Brazil. She is a member of International Federation of Medical Students Associations, serving as Local Secretary General in the committee of IFMSA-BRAZIL Unifipmoc. Leticia, is interested in discussion, projects and researches about women’s, kids and mental health.

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