Gender Equation in Medical Profession
Sitting in the huge auditorium of a renowned medical school in Lahore, I looked around and found women all around. There have been very few moments in my life when I felt alone and that certainly was one of those moments. All of us had gathered there for receiving laptops according to the ‘Youth Initiative’.
The hall had a capacity of almost 1500 people and almost 70-80% of them were females. The percentage of females in my own class is 60% and the situation in other medical colleges is similar or even more skewed towards females. This disparity is present not only in public sector colleges but also private institutes despite the fact that the annual fee of private medical colleges is at least four hundred thousand rupees.
I would be the first person to admit that it is politically incorrect to point out the ‘gender gap’ in a profession in a country where beating women is still considered the right by majority of males. I cannot fathom the hardships faced by women in their everyday lives due to patriarchal societal norms. I cannot and will not under estimate or undermine the efforts of the brave women which led to political empowerment of females. In my opinion the issue of increasing number of females in medical colleges and pre-medical group should not be viewed from the sole pulpit of feminism or political empowerment. There are more sides to the issue that need to be discovered and a mutually acceptable discourse about this issue needs to be started.
To know what female medical students think about this issue, a survey conducted at the two top government medical colleges of Karachi, Pakistan, revealed that an exceptionally large number of female students oppose the open merit system currently in vogue, reported Dawn on 16th July, 2007. A sample of 344 girl students was randomly drawn from around 1,000 students (both boys and girls) of the MBBS fourth and final years of the Dow and Sindh medical colleges. Eighty-five girls agreed that most of the female doctors leave the profession soon after their graduation or within five to 10 years mainly due to social pressures especially after getting married thus contributing towards the problem of shortage of doctors. The survey results showed that 75 per cent of the students rejecting the open merit system asserted that the number of seats for male candidates be increased as regressive attitude towards ‘working women’ was still prevalent in our society, so male students should not be made to suffer due to this system.
To simplify matters, there are two ways to look at this problem; the first is ‘too many women in medical school’ and the second is ‘not enough working women in the hospital’. I would tackle these issues separately.
According to sources at the University of Health Sciences Lahore, the percentage of females in the latest batch of about 3500 students who got admission in medical colleges across Punjab is 69.74%. This trend is present not only in medical schools but also in Pre-Medical Classes in FSc. According to statistics provided by BIEK (Board of Intermediate Education, Karachi) 3,546 boys appeared in Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) part two exams as compared to 12,979 girls. This makes the number of girls three times higher. 72.68 per cent girls appeared in pre-medical exams while the boys only made 27.32 per cent.
The trend is consistent for 2009 and 2010 as 73.76 percent girls opted for pre-medical studies against 26.23 per cent of boys in 2009 and finally in 2010, 26.07 percent boys studied pre-medical against 73.92 per cent girls. Figures of these three years indicated the gradual rise of girls in pre-medical studies. Recently, it was reported in the newspapers that in Karachi, only 6% of the 50,800 male Matriculation graduates have chosen Pre-Medical Intermediate examination group as opposed to 28% of 40,000 girls.
There is not enough data available to ascertain the reasons for this increase in number of females opting for pre-medical studies. Interviews with senior doctors reveal that 25-30 years ago, the number of females in medical colleges was very low and even in the 1990s, girls made up around 30-35% of medical graduates. Most of it changed after open merit started in 1998. Interviews with female medical students revealed that most of them opted for medical school because of their parents’ choices.
Parents of female medical students opined that they wanted a secure future for their daughters as the demand for lady doctors in the ‘Marital Arena’ is always high. According to them, the social constraints and economic factors have contributed to acceptance of the idea of working women as prospective daughter-in-laws. According to Shumaila, student at Aga Khan University, Pakistan and a committed feminist, “Too many women in med school’ is not a problem at all, really, the idea of reinstatement of the quota system becomes not only regressive and abhorrent, but it ceases to be a solution entirely, because the problem it assumes does not exist. We should focus on the real problem, which is why there aren’t enough women (and even men) working in the hospitals, and what we can do to facilitate that.”
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