Journal of the Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria

: 2021  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 62--63

The role of national and international organizations against sexual harassment of women in medicine -The case of MWAN and MWIA

Dabota Yvonne Buowari1, Bettina Pfleiderer2, Antonella Vezani3, Jon Coles4,  
1 Medical Women's Association of Nigeia
2 Department of Clinical Radiology, Univesity of Munster Germarny
3 Department of Cardiac Surgery ICU, University Hospital of Parma Italy
4 Department of General Practice, Monash University, Australia

Correspondence Address:

How to cite this article:
Buowari DY, Pfleiderer B, Vezani A, Coles J. The role of national and international organizations against sexual harassment of women in medicine -The case of MWAN and MWIA.J Med Womens Assoc Niger 2021;6:62-63

How to cite this URL:
Buowari DY, Pfleiderer B, Vezani A, Coles J. The role of national and international organizations against sexual harassment of women in medicine -The case of MWAN and MWIA. J Med Womens Assoc Niger [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 26 ];6:62-63
Available from:

Full Text



Sexual harassment is a pervasive and destructive problem internationally in the work place. Recent studies have revealed that medical women, including medical female students frequently experience sexual harassment at work.

This occurs in the context of broader societal ideologies of male sexual entitlement which

exposes medical women in gender-balanced specialties like medical practice to sexual harassment.

 Definition of Sexual Harassment

It is any unwelcomed sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. When it interferes with work, it leads to a condition of unemployment, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.


To explore the experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace of medical women recruited through the Medical Women's International Association.


Over 1000 w0men participated in an International survey of sexual harassment in the medical workplace, 53 women provided their email address for follow-up but only 19 women were available for an in-depth interview. The interviews (approximately 30 to 60 minutes in length) were conducted by a member of the research team in English via phone or Skype.

The interview was semi-structured around 12 open questions which explored the participant's idea about;

What does and does not constitute sexual harassmentPersonal and witnessed experiences of sexual harassment in te medical workplace.The impact of tis harassmentThe demographics of the perpetratorsIdeas about prevention strategies and required support servicesDiscussion about the role of National Medical Women's Associations and MWIA.


Participants ranged in ages from 22 to 74 and represented 7 countries across 5 continents. Participants described a spectrum of experiences that related to the cultural fabric of their community, workplaces and profession. Sexual harassment was considered to be a form of gender-based harassment and discrimination with participants identifying male patients and senior colleagues as common perpetrators.


Female doctors, despite facing enduring negative consequences in their personal and professional lives, were often reluctant to report sexual harassment in the workplace. These women felt that doctor perpetrators were supported by their organizations and often evaded punishments.

Participants frequently identified sexual harassment as a by-product of medical hierarchy. The experience of sexual harassment elicited visceral and deeply personal responses from the participants. All participants agreed that systematic changes to medical culture are required given the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the medical workplace. Participants also described the role of MWIA and WONCA as advocates for workplace free of sexual harassment. Participants mentioned MWIA's role in policy and education.

Despite their experiences, some participants were hopeful that sexual harassment could be eliminated from the medical workplace in the future while others were disappointed by a lack of progress.


The interviewees consistently identified male perpetrators, suggesting that sexual harassment is largely a gender-based issue. However, a participant felt that her senior female colleague had enabled this behavior in the workplace, and another reflected that she may have “demonstrated the same bullying and inappropriate behavior” herself.

A lack of policy or lack of trust and confidence in the application of this policy may undermine an individual's sense of security and safety. Most participants had not reported their personal experiences of sexual harassment due to fear of it impacting career progression. Understanding the broader patterns of discrimination, power and privilege provides a context for the occurrence of sexual harassment.

Patients and male colleagues were cited as a common source of sexual harassment. Many participants were frustrated at the lack of repercussions for these perpetrators but manyhad their personal safeguards and felt more empowered to “tell them to stop”. However, it appears that colleague-related harassments is associated with a more significant and longer-lasting impact. These colleagues are often in positions of superiority within the medical hierarchy and holds power over the victim.


This international study provides insight into the effects of sexual harassment on medical women to inform future education and policy. Medical women remain at risk of sexual harassment, despite the relative power and freedom they acquire through medical training. The consequences of sexual harassment are far-reaching, with cost to the individual, the institution and the society. Sexual harassment can influence career progression and direction, impact on performance and behavior at work and leave deep personal scars. There is also flow of effect to others, as sexual harassment can undermine collegiality in the workplace, reduce the quality of clinical care, results in cost to the system associated with complaints process and unscheduled leave.