Brandenburg an der Havel, 19 July 2021
The Brandenburg Minister for Social Affairs, Health, Integration and Consumer Protection Ursula Nonnemacher, accompanied by equal opportunities commissioner Manuela Dörnenburg, met the MHB student initiative “Theodora stellt gleich” on the campus Brandenburg an der Havel last Thursday. They inquired about past and current activities and praised the initiative’s dedication to equality and non-discrimination.
Cindy Stern, medical student and co-initiator of the student group, explains: “The Brandenburg Medical School is named after Theodor Fontane. We decided on the female version of his first name for our initiative as a feminist statement against male dominance in teaching, research and patient care which also exists at the MHB.”
Fellow student Rebecca Lehmann is a co-founder of the student group. “The MHB is a still very young university, practically a startup. The focus in the first few years was on quality in teaching and research, and not on gender mainstreaming. It is not surprising that we are instructed by a majority of male professors and teachers who sometimes convey the traditional gender roles when they speak of male doctors and female nurses, and not of female physicians and male nursing staff. Clinical pictures and treatment options are mainly tailored to white males, and in hospitals we see male senior physicians almost exclusively and with only rare exceptions. Our perception is that there is considerable backlog and development potential in this respect, in society and healthcare in general, but also at the MHB. This is why we started our equality initiative.”
In November 2019, one of the first activities was a campaign day against sexism. Members started a lecture series, set up a women’s network with regular meetings and attend lessons at local schools to contribute to gender-adequate sexual education.
The patriarchal empire strikes back
Health Minister Nonnemacher had much praise for the students. “This is a remarkable commitment and a good example of self-effectiveness when you find that your activities induce changes at the university, in hospitals and even in schools. Much remains to be done, also in Brandenburg, to achieve gender equality.” She pointed to various signs of openness, adjustment and improvement, such as the steadily growing number of highly qualified female school-leavers and students, almost equal employment rates among women compared to men, and the fact that about every second father takes parent leave today. “On the other hand we observe that the patriarchal empire strikes back, not only in politics.”
Brandenburg’s equal opportunities commissioner Manuela Dörnenburg adds: “Despite all progress made, inequalities still persist in all areas of life, in the training and job situation, health-related and social conditions, and also the participation in public, political and academic affairs and the health sector. Women are still disproportionally underrepresented in leading positions despite excellent qualifications, they continue to earn less on average than men in equivalent jobs, they have a higher risk of poverty in old age, and they are far more often affected by domestic and sexualised violence.” Her audience agreed that individual commitment is not enough to bring about change; political intervention is required.
In conclusion, Minister Nonnemacher recommended to persist, create networks, promote women and generally support each other. The MHB students were highly pleased with this visit, with the Minister’s genuine interest in their initiative, and her recognition and appreciation of their efforts to foster equal opportunities and non-discrimination: “This is certainly a boost for future activities.”