By Izzy Harris
When speaking to Laura, a recent anthropology graduate, it was clear to see that working with Medical Herstory has had a huge impact on her. The not-for-profit organisation aims to advance gender health equality and does this through three portfolios of patient advocacy, medical education, and undoing stigma.
As a volunteer, Laura is part of the undoing stigma project and publishing team, she writes and edits online content, contributes to the newsletter, trials workshops, and is the representative of the organisation to Durham University due to her roots at St. Cuthbert’s Society.
Medical Herstory describes itself as a ‘youth-led’ organisation and is mostly made up of young people and students (mainly women and non-binary femmes) split into small teams with an accountability structure. Laura explained that since the group was set up in 2019 it has been restructured due to significant growth.
Following a recruitment drive in the winter of 2020 the organisation’s numbers doubled to 70 volunteers and 24 university representatives. Laura got involved following this drive and explained that she first became interested when she was introduced to it by a friend at a conference, being impressed by their professionalism. She stated: “It definitely aligns with my interests and passions, and I love the breadth of stuff you can get involved with”.
Laura explained that she can’t stop talking about the organisation and has become impassioned about the issues that it represents, stating that “within Medicine sexist, racist, ableist structures are still prevalent”. She went on: “Women really are underrepresented and under-researched, and the research that is there is underfunded and this has got to change because it is badly affecting people”.
Medical Herstory’s website displays the stories of women and gender-diverse people whose lives have been significantly impacted by male-dominated and male-orientated medical research. Laura feels that the feminist perspective that the organisation offers is incredibly important as it “allows space and consideration for the structural inequalities in health”.
The organisation works with three different types of people: medical professionals, patients, and the public. Laura described patient advocacy, clarifying Medical Herstory’s involvement by saying that “it makes for better healthcare as the patient is accurately relying on what they are feeling and the doctor is actively listening. There’s an engagement with treatment that might not be the case if you are given generic prescriptions.”
She recognises the sometimes deadly effects of a “one size fits all” policy on health and stated that through patient advocacy there is a creation of trust which is very important, especially if a woman needs to heal after being let down by healthcare.
In our patriarchal society, women’s opinions and feelings are often dismissed and ignored. Working with Medical Herstory has made Laura notice when internalised misogyny has made her disregard issues when talking about her own health.
She illustrated this by saying “last week I was on the phone and after the call I realised ‘I just completely dismissed my own sentence talking to the doctor saying I feel pain here but its probably just because I slept funny’ and even though I know all of these things I still struggle to advocate for myself.”
Laura describes how volunteering has been a real learning experience for her but that she still neglected her own pain. This is ironic given that the organisation that she is working for publicises the fact that women are two times more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men and are more likely to be dismissed when discussing it.
The group’s website states that these injustices “are further exacerbated for low-income, disabled, trans, and racialised women and non-binary femmes. As a result, many women and girls struggle in silence with medical conditions due to being ignored or shamed. These presumptions have dangerous consequences, from lost hope and lost access to lost lives.”
The organisation works across seven different countries. Laura jokingly explained that this can sometimes lead to difficulties in scheduling meetings, but that it is incredibly important as these issues span every nation. She described it as a real issue in the UK, but on a positive note added that “there’s scope for change”.
Laura explained that the government is currently carrying out a consultation called The Women’s Health Strategy and that the survey is still open for evidence. She recommends filling it out to try to push for change in Britain, where gendered health inequality is prevalent.
Laura finished our interview by promoting Medical Herstory’s volunteering programme, saying that they are incredibly inclusive and that anyone who is interested should apply. She has really valued her experience with the organisation and described a sense of community that it has created for her during the pandemic alongside
If you are interested in finding out more about Medical Herstory, their website is medicalherstory. com and they are available on social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram @medicalherstory.
Image: Medical Herstory