IWD 2023: Embracing equity, promoting excellence
08 March, 2023
This is one of two blog posts written for International Women's Day (IWD) 2023. The other post, by Dr Fabida Aria,and is titled Consider the impact you can make for women. Please see our IWD page for more content including a podcast and video interview.
There’s a lot of collective soul-searching and general hand-wringing as we approach yet another International Women’s Day on 8 March.
The United Nations Secretary General António Guterres told the Commission on the Status of Women on 7 March that “
gender equality is 300 years away”.
Meanwhile the headlines in the UK don’t make for edifying reading either. The consultancy firm PwC finds “ UK women priced out of work by lack of affordable childcare” with gender pay gap in the UK widening more quickly than in other developed countries.
In the area of mental healthcare, various inequalities exist in terms of experience (women disproportionately represented among those judged negatively and diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorders and those experiencing serious impacts of domestic abuse for example).
There are some rays of mild sunshine threading their way through this doom and gloom. At the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), gender pay gap - the difference in pay between male and female members of staff - has fallen to a median average of 6.22% in 2021. This is down from a gender pay gap of 13.97% in 2020, and 17% in 2019.
We now have a fifth female President-Elect of RCPsych Dr Lade Smith, one moreover who in her various roles throughout her career, has fiercely advocated for equality in all areas, and understands intersectional nature of inequalities- whether it’s gender and ethnicity or other multitudinal complex areas. RCPsych is moving in the right direction and am hoping will embed some of the positive change that’s begun.
As the first female President (now Immediate Past President) of the British Indian Psychiatric Association (BIPA- the second largest Psychiatrists body in the UK after RCPsych) in its 25 year history, I am proud to have nurtured and mentored several female colleagues and BIPA has now elected its third female President. This is a heartening trend when culturally, women did not always feel able to access career development opportunities in the same way as men. In this journey we have been supported by some incredible male allies. I am sure this diverse and representative leadership will also lead to better outcomes for patients and professionals.
The recent protests in Iran following the death of Masah Amani, the courageous actions of women in Afghanistan following the restrictions on girls’ right to education and other freedoms, and the vigils and protests in the UK following the brutal murder of Sarah Everard show that the collective raising of voices is louder than ever before.
It’s time to move past the rhetoric, from equality to equity or from intention to action. I see equity as the process of bringing equality to life.
As Psychiatrists, we can do our bit too. Let’s make sure that medical students, a majority of whom are those who identify as women, get the right messages about equal opportunities and treatment in letter and in spirit, that we develop strong female leaders from amongst the next generation and celebrate the combination of strength and vulnerability that allows us to be human rather than heroic. Advocating for patients and carers (majority of whom are women) who are marginalised helps all. Let women’s voices be heard loud and strong in all spheres- patients, people and professionals.
As Amrita Pritam the late legendary Punjabi poet has said “There are many stories which are not in paper. They are written in the bodies and minds of women.”
So it’s with a cautious sense of hope that I greet IWD 2023. Sometimes change happens in spite of institutions and authorities, not because of them. Equality for women will arise from the ground up. Let’s all play our part in keeping alive
these seedlings of change through a harsh, prolonged winter of inequality.