(written by Dr. Sonya Kashyap)
In 2018, there should be no glass ceiling for women, personally or professionally.
Yesterday, we watched the internet and social media erupt with recognition of International Women’s Day. The sentiments are bolstered by recent events made public in 2017. Unfortunately, these events are not unique, isolated, or infrequent.
We mark 2018 as the “Year of the Woman” – but it was way too long arriving. Let’s ensure from today forward we continue to make progress and demand equality both at home and at work. Let’s close the gender gaps: pay, career promotion and health among others.
Last month, I was fortunate to attend the talk given by Michelle Obama in Vancouver. Her words resonated and were weighted by her personal experience. I was born to immigrant parents and my mother later became a single parent and focussed on the dreams of her four daughters instead of her own. Like Michelle Obama, my mother told us that as women we would need to work twice as hard and be twice as good to be treated equally. And that being of different ethnicity may quadruple that. But she promised us that with hard work and earnestness, we would succeed to make meaningful changes in the world if that is what we wanted to do. She taught us that education and knowledge were investments that would pay dividends that no one could steal. I was lucky to have such a role model and cheerleader.
The former first lady also appealed to fathers of daughters asking them to be the change in the world they would like to see for their daughters. And she reminded us that if you are a woman and there is no seat at the table for you, you must make one. If you get pushed down, you must stand back up. There is not a single woman among us who has not experienced this.
I am privileged to work in a field that helps individuals and couples build families. Today, we also help people preserve their fertility so that they may be able to start their families when they are ready. From a fertility perspective, there is also a gender gap. At Genesis Fertility Centre, we call it the Fertility Gender Gap. Men make new sperm every 2 -3 months, but women do not make new eggs and therefore, as women age, infertility rates and miscarriage rates increase due to older eggs.
The nature of my work means that I work with couples, individuals, single parents, and many members of the LGBTQ community, but there is no doubt that most of my patients are women. This gives me a unique opportunity to look into the lives of many women from different walks of life. The field of obstetrics and gynecology is, in many ways, charged with protecting these women. We are charged with protecting them from potential perils of pregnancy and childbirth, from the threats of female cancers such as breast, cervical or uterine cancer, and we must understand that the same diseases such as diabetes or heart disease can present differently in women than in men. March is also endometriosis awareness month and endometriosis threatens both womens general health and fertility. With latitude, we are also charged with recognizing and protecting women against domestic and other violence, discrimination and inequalities of sex at the work place and at home.
The key to equality is independence and the key to independence is education and the ability to be self-reliant financially. Many times, the obstacle to both involves our previously limited reproductive life-cycle which forces professional women to make choices that professional men are not faced with.
Since the time of suffrage, women have fought for the right to vote, to work and for equal pay and promotion. The initial overtures towards equality in the workplace focussed on the prevention of childbearing. Contraception was legalized in the 1960’s and abortion was decriminalized in the 1970’s. But, to truly achieve equality, we should be able to pursue both career and family if that is what we would like. Today, when we educate women about their reproductive options for family planning we include information about contraception as well as fertility preservation.
When I became the medical director of Genesis Fertility Centre in 2013, my mother asked me when would she have grandchildren. I told her that every child born from this clinic would be her grandchild. At 41, as much as I wanted to have a family of my own I knew my truth was to help others achieve their families even if it would delay my own.
Educate yourself. Plan your future. When you are pushed down, stand back up. Be accountable and learn from your mistakes and those of others. For those who are privileged enough to do so, reach out your hand to help pull someone else up. Follow your truth, even when it is difficult to do so. And never ever believe you are second best. Earn yourself a seat at the table. Let’s make 2018 the “ Year of the Woman” and reduce the need to distinguish it as such in the future.