Blog Post - Dr Clarissa Fabre

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One of the UN's Millenium Development Goals was the reduction of maternal mortality, and in many countries very important advances have been made. However there is still a long way to go. Dr Fabre has been MWIA’s representative to the WHO since 2012, and has become involved in promoting the worldwide use of the Safe Childbirth Checklist. This is a tool developed by the Harvard School of Public Health and the WHO for reducing maternal mortality. She was delighted that an MWIA member from the African region was part of a very successful pilot of the checklist. One of her aims is to spread its use worldwide via the MWIA network.

She has been closely involved in the MWIA Clinical handbook on Violence against Women and Girls, focusing particularly on prevention and the involvement of men and boys. She spoke recently at MWIA’s parallel event at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York on the subject. Her aim now is to develop a national strategy for the UK looking at the role of doctors in addressing violence against women and girls.

MWIA can be a powerful voice and a strong force in advancing the cause of women’s rights and women’s welfare, as well as improving the lives of women doctors. If successful, she would aim to harness the energy and enthusiasm of key women in every region, and support and coordinate these forces for practical advances in every part of the world.

Dr Clarissa Fabre, Past President of MWF (2010-2012) is standing for President-elect of MWIA in July this year at MWIA’s 30th International Congress in Vienna. To see the full list of candidates standing for election please click here.

Click here to book now for the conference in Vienna.


MWF Attends Screening of Suffragette

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The Medical Women's Federation were lucky enough to be invited along to an exclusive screening of the upcoming film, Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter and Meryl Streep. We invited two MWF members to give us their take on the film. 


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Dr Sangeeta Rana

Earlier this month, a group of us were fortunate to be brought together by MWF for a fun and thought-provoking preview of the new Suffragette movie (starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep). It’s been almost a century since British women won the right to vote, yet the lessons—and experiences—of the suffragettes still stand. We left the theatre shocked by the extent of the antagonism against the suffragettes, and inspired by (and thankful for) for their persistence. Nor is their job fully completed; I was personally taken aback by hearing that women were only granted the right to vote in Switzerland in the 1970s, and that Saudi Arabia is planning to grant women the vote just this year. Overall, the movie was inspiring and a stirring reminder that there are still battles to be won.

These battles continue. In our own field, we’ve all been hearing in the news and on social media about the new junior doctor contracts that have been proposed. The changes could have a disparate impact on women, with de facto financial penalties for maternity leave and changing careers. And as we know, women are still in the minority across the government in decision-making, both in parliament and local councils. Across the pond in the U.S., where I grew up, the right of women to free contraceptive care, and the legality of some forms of such care, are being challenged, again by a national government with a small minority of female representation.

..All in all, a reminder to keep speaking out, and coming together with MWF friends and colleagues for more fun and inspiring events!

Miss Angel Mthunzi

Set in early 20th century Britain, Suffragette is an extraordinary film depicting the very real and intensely emotive story of the brave and determined women of Britain fighting for suffrage.

The film begins at a laundry facility where Maud Watts (a fictional character portrayed by Carey Mulligan) has worked since the very young age of 7. Now, in her early 20s, Maud is still working in the same laundry, washing and ironing sheets. Believing that working in a laundry is all she can do to support her young son and husband, Maud continues to toil in the laundry despite the sexual abuse she suffers from her boss. Her husband, Sonny, who also works at the laundry, dares not say anything about the abuse of his wife but valiantly salutes a portrait of the King every evening before bed. It is no surprise that Maud’s face is worn from endless strife- she is poor, a woman, a young mother and a wife who has always done what she’s told. Does she have it in her to rebel?

Skilful work by the director, Sarah Gavron, and an understated yet compelling performance by Carey Mulligan come together brilliantly to convey the outwardly soft but inwardly impassioned spirit that is Maud. What would the vote mean to Maud? When she casts a stone into a shop window, Maud unwittingly becomes drawn into a movement that will cost her everything she holds dear. Over the next hour of the film, we see Maud Watts blossom into a suffragette and grass roots activist. “We break windows, we burn things, ‘cause war’s the only language men listen to”, Maud declares in rebellion. In this moment, we see her determination and willingness to fight for the vote. It is through her eyes that the audience experiences the heart-breaking losses that suffragettes suffered whilst fighting for justices that today we perhaps take for granted. Her bleak and poverty stricken life galvanizes the film bringing the immediacy of the suffragette struggle to life while the rest of the cast play excellent supporting roles; portraying real suffragettes.

Ann Marie Duff plays Violet Miller, a gobby but formidable woman who is also a worker at the laundry house and central in recruiting Maud to the suffragette movement. Meryl Streep makes a short cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the two sisters who pioneered the use of militant tactics by the Suffragettes. In an interesting twist of history, Helena Bonham Carter, great-grand daughter of Herbert Asquith (the prime minister at the time), plays Edith Ellyn, a fiercely loyal suffragette and self-proclaimed “soldier” who will stop at nothing to get the vote. Throughout the film we see the heart breaking and tragic losses these women faced including domestic abuse, rape and slander. Perhaps the most heart breaking is the death of Emily Davison (Natalie Press), the real life activist who died under King George V’s horse after she stepped out onto the Derby racecourse to draw attention to the suffragette cause. Her duly dramatized and tragic death makes headlines across the world and the film ends here with real life scenes from the funeral of Emily Davison.

Abi Morgan (scriptwriter) does extremely well to depict defining moments of the suffragette struggle. Packed full of emotion and emotionally rousing (bring a box of tissues), “Suffragette” rounds up one part of the struggle for women’s suffrage. Is it a classic? Critics may argue that the film is somewhat sentimentalised. Indeed some aspects of the suffrage movement are only alluded to, or ignored altogether. Everyone that disagrees with women’s suffrage is basically cast as an ignorant or sexist pig, invoking eye rolling from the audience. The divide between those supporting militant tactics and those in disagreement is not mentioned and the impact that the militant action had on the suffrage cause is cast in a largely positive light. The possibility that it may have damaged the cause is not really entertained. Nevertheless, it is important to note that in their struggle, the suffragettes never intended anyone to come to any harm. Moreover, the scenes depicting disagreement between suffragettes and women who are not interested in suffrage allude to the difficulties faced by those (women and men) fighting, peacefully or aggressively, for women’s suffrage.

While it may not be historically perfect, Suffragette is a compelling account of the fight for a basic human right.

Suffragette is out on nationwide UK release on October 12th 2015

Women's Mental Health Series - Introduction

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Mental HealthI am delighted to be writing for the MWF which I have found to be a safe, supportive place to grow and learn. Being a psychiatrist, a doctor and a woman has helped me appreciate the challenges of maintaining mental wellness. In this blog I am setting the scene for what I hope will be a tripartite series looking at the issues that affect women everywhere.

Challenging the Stereotype of a Surgeon

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The social media campaign #ilooklikeasurgeon highlighted just how many women surgeons there are working in the UK and around the world. Posting photos of themselves with the caption, ‘I look like a surgeon’, these women were challenging outdated stereotypes, so often associated with our profession. They were sending a very powerful message to young women doctors and medical students who might not otherwise picture themselves as future surgeons; as well of course, to the wider public.

There is evidence which suggests that people who don’t perceive that they 'fit in' are more likely to opt out. In 2008, The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) commissioned the University of Exeter to carry out some research which found a similar phenomenon in some female surgical trainees.
Our mental image of what a surgeon looks like reflects the era when that potential role model got through training when the culture was very different. Surgeons like me (still just under 50!) trained in the 1990s when the hours were very long, you had to be up operating all night (before National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death stopped that) and then work the next day.
You were dependent on your boss’s reference, supervision was variable and the training system was less clear. There are fewer women surgeons now in their 50s and 60s when surgeons trained in a very different era, when absolute dedication to the job was expected, 168 hours per week, and when society expected the man to be the main breadwinner in a relationship. Generations coming through now and in the future will be very different.

The last two decades have seen a shift in attitudes and an acknowledgement that surgical training coincides with the peak time for starting a family; and that it is possible to combine pregnancy and child-rearing with surgical training and work. Reduced junior doctors’ hours also allow at least some time off. But the lack of women surgeons is not all about historical attempts to balance or reject family vs. career.

The human brain puts things into patterns. For example, people may unconsciously think that you have to act or look a certain way to do a certain job, particularly if that is all they have seen. But you don’t. The skills needed to do a job can be taught and learnt. Surgeons are already highly intelligent, skilful and adaptable. Each one of us is a role model – some good, some bad.
The key hurdles for future surgeons, at exam, selection and progression do not discriminate against women. So why is surgery still different for women? Many women medical students want to do surgery. Our research (published in the RCS Bulletin in February 2012) showed that 30% of applicants to core surgical training are women, but far fewer women than men continue and apply to Higher specialist surgical training.

Women and men’s behaviour tends to be perceived differently (eg strident/bitchy vs charismatic). Some psychological studies have found that women will not ask to do an operation until they are sure they can do it and that other people (including other NHS staff) can be more forgiving of a man’s learning curve. More diverse teams cope better with change. And losing this talent is wasteful and unfair. So what can we do about it?
On a general basis, everyone should see themselves as a role model, men and women. We should engage with people if they say unacceptable things and challenge them. We should also identify which individuals might need more support.

On an individual basis, aspiring surgeons would benefit from a mentor to help with their long-term view. This is especially true now there are fewer Foundation posts in surgery and now that the later retirement age means that women will have several decades of working after having children, but this phase of working life has fewer role models for the current generation. Mentoring and support might also help the NHS with succession planning, so people can picture themselves in future roles, building up their skills and rising up the ranks in their career.

The RCS is trying to change the profession from within through its Women in Surgery (WinS) group. This offers networking opportunities and events for female surgeons at all stages of their career. We want to break the historic cycle of there being too few female surgeons by providing strong female role models and encouraging female surgeons to take on high profile roles. Although only 10% of consultant surgeons are women, the workforce is changing: 30% of surgical trainees are women. We now need to encourage all medical students to believe they too look like and can act like a surgeon.
Visit the Women in Surgery (WinS) website.

Mrs Scarlett McNally is a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon & Council member at the RCS England.This blog was originally written for, and published, on the Royal College of Surgeons's website.

International Women’s Day March 8th 2015

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International Women’s Day is annually held on March 8 to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history and across nations. It is also known as the United Nations (UN) Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. International Women's Day celebrates women's achievements worldwide.International-Womens-Day

Despite much progress being made towards the welfare of women nowhere, in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men, according to the United Nations. On average, women receive between 30 and 40 percent less pay than men earn for the same work. Women also continue to be victims of violence, with rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women worldwide.

International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw population growth and rise of radical ideologies. The first International Women’s Day occurred on March 19th in 1911 in Copenhagen.The inaugural event, which included rallies and organized meetings, was a big success in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The

International Women’s Day date was moved to March 8 in 1913 and this day has remained the global date for International Women's Day ever since.

The United Nations drew global attention to women's concerns in 1975 by calling for an International Women's Year. The United Nations General Assembly then invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace in 1977. The day aimed to help nations worldwide eliminate discrimination against women.

The International Women’s Day logo is in purple and white and features the symbol of Venus, which is also the symbol of being female. The colours are taken from the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Great Britain who in 1908 adopted the colour scheme of purple, white and green to symbolise the plight of the Suffragette - purple symbolised dignity, white purity, and green hope.

International Women's Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike.

With greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women's visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one assumes that women have gained true equality. Unfortunately the fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business, politics and certain professions and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
Annually on 8th March, thousands of events are held worldwide to inspire women and celebrate achievements.

So how are you going to make a difference, think globally and act locally! Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.


Dr Beryl De Souza

Medical Women's Federation
Tavistock House North,
Tavistock Square, London,
Tel: 020 7387 7765