Daily Archives: January 24, 2012

Feminist Chronicles: Diary 22: Madeline Nyamwanza-Makonese


A few days ago, I discovered something very interesting. I discovered that GOOGLE is not so gender sensitive. I was browsing on google images conducting two different searches. I typed nurse on one page and doctor on the other. Where I typed nurse 99% of the pictures were of women. Where I typed doctor 13 out of the first 50 pictures were of women meaning that 74% were men. Apparently, google is still presenting the gender stereotype that doctors are men while nurses are women. This is quite a disturbing discovery given that many people depend on google for information.  The perception that these pictures are feeding to young minds is inappropriate and perpetuates gender biases.

Where has google been, when there are so many female doctors and male nurses around

However I thank google because after that discovery I was inspired to write this post. Many a times, especially when I was a teenager, I used to wonder how women managed to let a male doctor, who could be a family friend, a member of the same church,  a neighbour or at times a complete stranger examine them in the most private parts of their anatomy. I felt as if the examination by male doctors was an invasion of women’s privacy, but what choice did they have. Back then in Zimbabwe nurses (who were predominantly females) were not trained in medical surgical nursing, so their skills were far beyond those of a doctor and if any woman needed a doctor’s attention they had to do with what was available, comfort or no comfort. Of course to placate women, they were told that doctors were acting purely in a professional manner and so women needed not be shy. But this era was soon to come to an end and women would be able to choose who they wanted to touch their bodies, even so they could receive medical attention..

Just before I was due to travel to Egypt, as a safety precaution, given that I was going to a completely different part of the continent, with a different climate, different cuisine and different water, I had a full body check-up. I needed to make sure I was as healthy as possible before travelling across the African continent. I was attended to at Well Woman Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe by an interesting group of doctors. I had my blood tests carried out by a female pathologist, my scans and x-rays done by female radiologists, my breasts were checked for cancer by a woman doctor, checked for diabetes by a female endocrinologist, I mean every little thing was done by women, doctors of course and I was comfortable to discuss my medical history with these women. I am fortunate to live in that era when I have a choice, because it wasn’t always this way.

One woman pioneered this route. She became the first female African medical doctor to qualify from the then University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, now the University of Zimbabwe. He name is Dr Madeline Nyamwanza-Makonese. The announcement in the Afro-American Washington Paper back then in 1971 was very brief and clear;

“Salisbury, Rhodesia –Dr Madeline Nyamwanza has become the first black woman graduate of the University of Rhodesia medical school.”

 It was a proud moment then and it remains a proud moment today, to see how women have made remarkable progress in establishing themselves, performing tasks and holding positions which were previously the preserve of males. Where the title nurse was associated with a she and the word doctor with a he, today reference to ‘Dr Dube’  or ‘Dr Odumang’ invites the question, is the doctor male or female because it is never obvious!

Any one of them could be my doctor: Picture Credit Andy Nortnik


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