The Federation’s story begins in 1917 with just 190 members but one very united voice. Emerging from the Association of Registered Medical Women in the wake of the First World War, distinguished names such as Louisa Aldrich-Blake, Britain’s first female surgeon, and Ethel Williams, the first female doctor in the North East, were just two of the many female medical pioneers who joined MWF in its infancy. Concerns about the position of women in the war saw MWF push for better working conditions for medical women serving in the Forces. Writing in The Times in 1918, Founder member and President, Dr Jane Walker wrote: “When they (women doctors) travel, they travel not as officers, but as soldiers’ wives”. The end of the First World War however brought about fresh concerns for MWF as some medical schools effectively shut their doors to female students having opened them during the war.
As well as pushing for equality, MWF was passionate early on about raising awareness of health issues uniquely affecting women, and quickly formed committees on the State and Venereal Disease and Maternity and Child Welfare and, in 1926, a leaflet on the Hygiene of Menstruation published by the Federation sold 10,000 copies in one year. Throughout the years, MWF has continued this work and has campaigned on the rights of the married woman to work, have access to contraception, abortion, FGM and, more recently, flexible working for women doctors.
The role of MWF in today’s world has certainly not diminished. Although we can now celebrate that 55% of medical students are female and 53% of consultant trainees are women, as well as 69% of GP trainees, there still exists a gender gap at senior levels within medicine. Currently, only 34% of consultants are women and within the surgery specialty this drops to just 12%. Women also only make up 24% of Trust Medical Directors and 24% of Professors. Concerns over a gender pay gap in medicine also prevail with a 2015 study revealing female medical students would earn 35% less than male graduates by the age of 55. MWF recognises these ongoing challenges affecting women in medicine and, as an organisation, pushes to make sure equality is always at the forefront of the conversation.
Today MWF works tirelessly to challenge pre-existing attitudes and discriminatory practices towards women in medicine, working alongside medical Royal Colleges and Government Committees developing best practice. Twice a year, MWF host national conferences in London and the regions of the UK to reach out to its membership across the country and bring women together in a supportive and educational environment. MWF provides advice to members who may be experiencing problems unique to women in medicine.
There is also support available to members who wish to be recognised for clinical awards and the opportunity for members to represent MWF at committee meetings. MWF also supports its younger members by offering a range of grants and prizes for medical students and junior doctors.
The world of medicine in 2018 is certainly a very different place now to how it was when the Medical Women’s Federation was first established, but the message of the federation remains the same; providing a voice for women doctors so they may thrive within the profession.
To find out more visit: www.medicalwomensfederation.org.uk