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Opinion: Women, medicine and health in Colombia, a story that is just beginning

The first woman to practice medicine in Colombia was Juana Bartola de Mier Vargas, between 1761 and 1767, a native of Mompox and daughter of an official of the Spanish Crown. / Getty Images

Foto: Getty Images – Joe Raedle

Traditionally, the practice of medicine and the management of the health system in Colombia have been areas of exclusive domain of men. There, women have taken a back seat and their work has been subjected to a segregation disguised as a division of labor, which considers that their best place was to be only assistants subordinate to the doctor.

María Mies, German anthropologist and feminist, in her work “Patriarchy and accumulation on a global scale”, explores the roots of this phenomenon of macho domination, showing that it is more of a social, economic and political construction with which their subordination and exploitation have been justified. by men.

Zulma Urrego, a psychiatrist, tells the story of the first women doctors in Colombia; Marlín Téllez reconstructs the history of the Ministry of Health in Colombia, and Luis Carlos Arango, that of Social Security. These latest works show that it was not until the early 1990s that women appeared in the leadership of the health sector.

The first woman to practice medicine in Colombia was Juana Bartola de Mier Vargas, between 1761 and 1767, a native of Mompox and daughter of an official of the Spanish Crown. Subsequently, another three did so between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. They were the Bogota Ana Galvis Hotz and Sara Páez de Moncó, the first to graduate from the University of Bern, Switzerland in 1877 and also the first doctor from Latin America, the second to graduate from the Hering Medical College of Chicago in 1910; and the third Lidia Grutzendler, Ukrainian, graduated from the University of Paris in 1915.

But it was not until 1925 that the University of Cartagena awarded the first degree in medicine to a woman in Colombia, to the Ukrainian Paulina Beregoff, who was also the first professor of a medical school in the country. In 1945, the National University graduated the first Colombian woman in medicine, Inés Ochoa Pérez, born in Duitama, among many others who did not achieve this purpose.

In the history of the Ministry of Health created in 1953, María Teresa Forero de Saade, born in Vergara, Cundinamarca, appears as the first woman to hold that position in 1996 and, furthermore, as the first pediatrician in Colombia. Cecilia López Montaño, from Barranquilla, stands out as the first director of the Social Security Institute in 1990 and Fanny Santamaría Tavera, from Medellín, who succeeded her in 1992.

As can be seen, seeing women in the practice of medicine and in the leadership of the health sector in Colombia is a very recent story, which is just beginning to be written. Partly due to the decline of the macho predominance in this sector and as a result of feminist struggles, in their effort to demonstrate that this segregation is just a social construction to justify their exploitation as something “normal” and “natural” typical of their biological condition. of a woman and mother that only allowed her to dedicate herself to the home and the care of the children.

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