In July more than 600 female physicians and students from across the world met in Munster, Germany, to discuss professional issues and topics in women’s health.
This meeting marked the 28th International Congress of the Medical Women International Association (MWIA), one of the oldest professional associations in medicine. Founded in 1919, this group has representation from women doctors in each continent.
Dr Ilona Kickbusch of the Graduate Institute Geneva, located in Geneva, Switzerland, delivered a powerful keynote address on the conference’s theme, Globalization in Medicine—Challenges and Opportunities. Dr Kickbusch emphasized the importance of health policy and how it must change to accommodate the globalization of health care.
She insisted that current policy is disproportionate to the severity of the global disease burden. Dr Kickbusch concluded by encouraging nations to work first on their policy and then begin to address the larger issues.
Past President Dr Atsuko Heshiki, professor emeritus of Saitama Medical School in Japan, presented the results of MWIA’s recent survey of 615 medical women across the world. “The challenges they face are the same,” Dr Heshiki remarked.
Female doctors reported that they were generally well supported by their supervisors during pregnancy, but childcare access was an increasing barrier to their ability to provide medical service. And, while most were satisfied with job equality earlier in their careers, women in the 40 to 60 age group felt there was gender discrimination with regard to academic promotion.
Of local interest was Burnaby family physician Dr Shelley Ross, who oversaw the event as MWIA’s secretary general. She was enthusiastic about the congress both from a local and international perspective. “This meeting gives [Canadian doctors] a very good global perspective… we don’t always have a strong grasp of what’s happening in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, or Europe.”
With many opportunities for presenting research and current data in these countries, coupled with time to discuss issues that were raised, the MWIA Congress provided an excellent platform to learn and discuss the status of medical care in several countries. Dr Ross has been an active member since 1984 and considers the MWIA pivotal in helping protect women by fighting gender inequality and improving women’s health.
Delegates tackled globalization and health through a series of diverse and poignant resolutions that implicate women’s health in many sectors. One of the most important resolutions encouraged stronger and more accurate reporting of crimes against women in the international media.
The MWIA also chose a strong stance for legalizing homosexuality and allowing refugee status for homosexuals escaping victimization in their home countries.
In addition to their policy work, the MWIA serves as a voice for women’s health internationally and works closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) on its gender and health portfolio. “We worked with WHO to help generate their modules to train their staff to include gender in all aspects of their work,” said Dr Ross.
The next MWIA Congress is scheduled to take place in summer 2013 in Seoul, Korea. For more information visit www.mwia.net.
—Pamela Verma, BSc Hons, Class of 2012
—Kristin DeGirolamo, BSc Pharm, Class of 2013, UBC Medicine