This month I met with Dr. Amar Jesani, the Founder of the Forum for Medical Ethics and a trustee of the Anusandhan Trust for a quick talk about patriarchy and how it affects those in the medical profession.

Why do we care about this? Because as advocates for safe abortion, we are concerned about the attitude of the medical professionals towards abortion. Though there are several empathetic and understanding providers across the globe, we also run into doctors who are as affected by the prejudice against abortion as the community is. And behind these values is the hand of patriarchy and paternalism.

In my chat with Dr. Jesani, I discovered that paternalism might be a huge barrier to the incorporation of a rights-based approach in reproductive health. For long, doctors have held the right to decide what is good for the patient. In a sense, the patient is a child, and the doctor a parent or guardian. Even liberal laws, like the Indian Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 allow the doctor to be the final judge of whether or not a patient should get an abortion. It’s important to recognize this flaw in the way medical practice is organized, and subvert it using policies that allow a female patient to retain control over her body.

But this paternalistic attitude is compounded by patriarchal values, which force doctors to imbibe a certain kind of “masculinity” through their prescribed roles as decision makers. Nurses as care givers are forced to play “the role of a woman” and remain subjugated within the medical system. Dr. Jesani talked about the need to understand these gender roles, and break them down in order to create the best doctor and nurse: a caring and empathetic person, who understands that caring and curing go hand in hand, and that the decision making power could in fact lie with the patient.

So, here is the quote of the month:

Amar Jesani“The medical profession, nursing profession and all those who are involved in health care services should respect the reproductive rights of the woman, and one of these rights is the right to safe abortion.”

– Dr. Amar Jesani

And you can watch the full 4 minute 30 second interview here, where Dr. Jesani traces the history of this paternalistic attitude, and talks about just how it can be subverted! The highlight – Dr. Jesani’s own experience as student, and what he gathered from that!