Earlier this month, a female doctor filed a formal complaint against a senior doctor, alleging sexual assault during her house surgency at General Hospital, Ernakulam in 2019. This incident has sparked renewed attention to the pervasive issue of sexual harassment experienced by female doctors. This article aims to delve into the distinctive forms of sexual harassment encountered by female doctors, shaped by their specific work environments and demanding work hours.
Sexual harassment is a pervasive issue across various industries, and the medical field is no exception. Female doctors face a unique set of challenges when it comes to harassment and assault in the workplace. This article delves into the distressing reality of sexual harassment experienced by female doctors, shedding light on the need for urgent action and stronger measures to ensure a safe and respectful work environment.
Besides the typical workplace harassment that women may experience, female doctors experience harassment specific to the field of medicine.Sexual harassment in the medical field encompasses unwelcome advances, comments, or actions of a sexual nature targeted at female doctors. This can range from inappropriate remarks to unwanted touching or more severe forms of assault. The medical profession is unfortunately not immune to such reprehensible behaviour.
Contra-power harassment that female doctors experience in relation to their patients.
Contra-power harassment essentially is harassment that is directed from a subordinate towards a superior, which can involve actions or behaviours that undermine, belittle, or target individuals in positions of power. In hospitals it manifests when patients or those under a doctor’s care engage in demeaning and harassing conduct directed at the healthcare provider. Female doctors, unfortunately, often endure such distressing behaviours that go beyond questioning their competence based on gender. Patients might expose their genitals, inappropriately touch the physician during close-contact examinations, or excessively discuss sexual matters in an apparent pursuit of erotic gratification. These instances exemplify the need to address this form of harassment, emphasizing the importance of fostering a safe and respectful medical environment for all healthcare professionals.
Quid pro quo harassment that female doctors experience in relation to their supervisor.
Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a person in a position of power requests sexual favours in exchange for professional opportunities, promotions, or protection against negative actions. For female doctors, this might involve supervisors making inappropriate advances or suggesting that compliance with sexual requests could positively impact their career advancement.
Incidents of harassment can damage female doctors professionally and personally.
Experiencing sexual harassment within the medical profession can deeply impact the mental and emotional health of female doctors. This distressing ordeal often results in a significant decline in self-esteem, overwhelming burnout, heightened anxiety levels, the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and enduring episodes of depression. Beyond the personal toll, such distressing experiences also spill over into their professional lives, hampering job performance and, worryingly, compromising the quality of care they can provide to their patients. Recognizing and promptly addressing these adverse effects underscores the critical urgency of tackling harassment within the medical realm.
Need for Hospital administration to take action against such sexual harassment and take special measures to protect female doctors in the hospital:
Hospital administrations must play a pivotal role in combating sexual harassment against female doctors. Some measures to safeguard female doctors include:
Creating Awareness and Education: Hospitals should conduct regular awareness programs and training sessions for all staff to sensitize them about sexual harassment, its implications, and ways to prevent it and respond to harassment. Provide specific guidance on dealing with inappropriate patient behaviour and emphasize the importance of reporting incidents promptly.
Establishing an Internal Committee (IC): Hospitals must form an IC, as mandated by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. This committee should be impartial, approachable, and efficient in handling complaints and ensuring proper redressal.
Zero-Tolerance Policy: Hospitals should adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. Clear guidelines and consequences for such actions should be communicated to all employees.
Security Measures: Enhance security within healthcare facilities by deploying security personnel in sensitive areas and implementing access control systems. Designate safe spaces where healthcare professionals can retreat if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.
Patient Education: Educate patients about appropriate behaviour and respect for healthcare professionals. Display informative materials in waiting areas, outlining expected conduct and consequences for harassment.
Chaperone System: Implement a chaperone system where a staff member is present during sensitive examinations or consultations. This can deter inappropriate behaviour and provide a sense of security to healthcare professionals.
Support Networks: Establish support groups or counselling services where healthcare professionals can share their experiences, seek guidance, and receive emotional support. Encourage an open dialogue about harassment within the healthcare community.
Collaboration with Law Enforcement: Foster strong relationships with local law enforcement agencies to respond to incidents of harassment swiftly and effectively. Ensure that healthcare professionals feel supported and empowered to report cases to law enforcement if necessary.
Professional Development and Growth Opportunities: Promote a fair and unbiased system for promotions and growth within the hospital, emphasizing that gender-based harassment will not influence professional advancement. This can help in reducing instances of quid pro quo harassment.
Regular Check-ins: Encourage regular check-ins with female doctors to monitor their well-being, discuss any concerns, and ensure they feel supported and safe in their workplace.
Addressing the issue of sexual harassment faced by female doctors in the medical field is not just a matter of equality but a necessity for ensuring a safe and supportive workplace environment. Hospital administrations, medical associations, and society at large need to unite in the fight against sexual harassment, fostering a culture of respect and zero tolerance for such reprehensible behaviour. Together, we can empower female doctors and create a profession where all individuals are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
-By Adv. Deeksha Rai