Women physicians in Pakistan will be an extinct species in the years to come.

I recently had the opportunity to read a blog post by a non-physician. It was about the hardships of a physician’s life and how they’re perceived to have a great lifestyle when the reality might be very different.

It’s refreshing to see others pitching in to advocate for physicians because we are exhausted. Not only do our jobs carry the inherent risk of burnout and emotional exhaustion, not all of us can get compensated as we might like financially.

However, the animosity towards physicians isn’t something new or even something that can be beheaded by a single blog or several blogs. There is a lot of antagonism towards physicians in online forums and while some complaints are valid, a lot of the people just don’t like doctors.

I get it. It is tough to really like a doctor. Seeing a doctor, unless it’s a very healthy pregnancy appointment, is never an experience that could be called pleasant in its entirety. Doctors are the bearers of bad news. They deliver diagnoses that aren’t anyone’s favorite. And they do it more often than we would like them to.

Some of the angst towards physicians also comes from the perception that diseases make us rich. That we make money from people’s misery. That we enjoy a lifestyle that’s built on illness and pain.

I cannot poke a hole in any of these perceptions but I can tell you that the reality is very different for most doctors. Particularly women doctors.

Women doctors are a unique breed in how they have become the modern combination of Thor and Freyja, the god of thunder and the goddess of fertility. They’ve become nesters and hunters, all rolled into one. They’ve become the physicians who usually burn the midnight oil in Pakistani hospitals, thanks to tons of gender inequality that’s rampant in the entire profession of medicine so of course is astronomical in a predominantly patriarchal structure. They’ve become the physicians who have the most difficulty with going into fellowships because childbearing and rearing is considered an almost impossible job with fellowship by people who are hiring these women. They’ve also become the most vulnerable population in the medical hierarchy due to internalized and hostile misogyny at workplaces.

A Pakistani doctor was raped at work by a colleague in 2005. It is somewhat strange that reporting has been so terrible in the last sixteen years that we don’t hear this as often as it occurs. While rape cases are high in Pakistan, the fact that a woman physician wasn’t safe at a place where her entire persona is of a healer doesn’t let us avert our eyes from the misogyny that women face in Pakistan. But this is the tail end of this story. Let’s begin from where it all begins.

Women, many women, in Pakistan dream of being physicians. Thanks to benevolent patriarchy, most of us become physicians too. You’d think that a woman who scores an MBBS, which is Medicine Bachelor and Bachelor of Surgery, would be enough of a person to get herself some autonomy and respect in her immediate family, as beginning stakes. Nope! She’s the same old and dusted Daughter of the East who dances to the tune of social repertoires and demands like marriage, children and financial hardship.

Most physician women in Pakistan, as per several gallop surveys, are from the so-called middle class of the Pakistani society. They live a life of covert patriarchy and grow up to identify with it also. It’s not hard to identify with patriarchs in our profession. We come in contact with them the most.

As a woman physician grows to be an independent physician, she realizes that medicine is really the only safe haven for her and something that she can control and take refuge in too. Her work becomes her respite. It also becomes probably the only place where she gets some respect that is representative of the respect that time and society had promised her when she entered medical school.

Many women physicians end up in coercive relationships. A woman who makes endless amounts of money or at any rate, can be a stable provider isn’t a particularly bad choice for a wife for most idling men in Pakistan. Because the arranged marriage process is so prevalent, many amazing physicians get married to men who don’t deserve them in mind, body or money. This further solidifies our love and attachment to our profession and our workplace. It truly is the only place where we are seen as us.

So it’s heartbreaking that the one place many women physicians call home is where this woman was raped. The incidence of sexual harassment is likely underreported in the Pakistani medical system. She is just one of them who got identified as a victim.

And let’s look at the other side of it! A patient was raped in Pakistan last year. And murdered. After she was giving anesthesia for toothache. Four men raped her and then killed her.

So when the Prime Minister of Pakistan cites “vulgarity” as a cause for rape, he conveniently forgets that most rapes have been with significant planning. He totally forgets that.

The next time anyone begrudges a woman physician her career, her supposed cache in society, her independence, her fierceness and her aloofness from what they consider “common man’s problems”, remind them of how a woman works her entire life to avoid being subjected to the will of patriarchy and still falls prey to misogyny.


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