Women in Cebu

April, 2011

Professor Amanda Barnard chair of the WONCA Working Party on Women in Family medicine (WWPWFM) reports on activities at the recent Asia Pacific regional conference, in Cebu.

We would like to report a very successful WWPWFM presence at the recent WONCA Asia Pacific regional conference held, in Cebu, Philippines. This remarkable four–in–one event (the 18th WONCA Asia Pacific regional conference, the 10th WONCA World Rural Health conference, the Golden Anniversary of the Philippines Academy of Family Physicians and the Silver Anniversary of the Foundation for Family Medicine Educators in the Philippines) had Professor Zorayda ‘Dada’ Leopando as its overall chair of the organising committee. Dada ensured that many of the principles of the WONCA Gender Equity Standards for scientific meetings were incorporated into the program.

It was inspiring and exciting to see and hear the women plenary speakers (half the total plenary speakers), who were women of great fame and also emerging women family medicine leaders; and the inclusion of gender perspectives throughout the conference program. In addition, each session was chaired by team of male and female family physicians, and again it was wonderful to see the voices and growing confidence of many younger women as they ably took on this role.

Congratulations Dada.

WWPWFM itself had four events: a short preconference; a joint workshop with the WONCA Working Party on Rural Health; workshops for women on challenges and leadership; and for young women trainees and doctors in the region. Over 120 women attended, not only from countries in the Asia Pacific region; but from Norway, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Austria and Columbia.

The session for young women doctors was very ably led by Drs Erandie Ediriweera de Silva, from Sri Lanka; Thai Thi Ngoc Thuy, from Vietnam; Nita Arisanti, from Indonesia; Marilyn Anastacia, from the Philippines; and Naomi Harris, from Australia. These young women, who have taken up leadership positions, are passionate about the development of family medicine in their countries, and shared important insights into regional issues. The importance of mentoring, role models and of supportive work relationships was mentioned by many.

In this region, Professor Leopando’s contribution as a mentor is unrivalled.

The aims of the WWPWFM Working Party are to work through WONCA to improve the health of women by enabling family doctors worldwide to meet their full potential; by removing institutionalised gender barriers; by changing gender-based values and habits that support systematic discrimination in the profession; and by focusing attention on women’s and girls’ health. So in this sense, WWPWFM has always had two focuses: one on ourselves as family physicians, how we can be the best and most effective we can; and the other on the health of our female patients. The two are, of course, intertwined. But at the Cebu workshops, I detected a shift in interest – a broader view of women’s health, and how gender issues influence this in a range of ways, and what we as women physicians can do about this.

So, as well as discussions about maternal and reproductive heath, there were discussions about the increasing numbers of young women, in the Asia Pacific region, who were smoking and the ways in which women family physicians might work to try to reduce that. We heard inspiring stories from colleagues as they told their “day in the life of a woman family physician”, and the many differences they made to their patients lives.

The resilience, commitment and energy of so many were inspiring.

Amanda Barnard - Chair