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International Women's Day (March 8) is a worldwide celebration of economic, political and social achievements of women's past, present and future. It has been observed since in the early 1900s and is a national holiday in China, Russia and Vietnam.
At UHN, many clinicians are working to improve the international women's health scene. Dr. Donna Stewart, Director of UHN's Women's Health Program is a major proponent of women's health and travels far and wide educating leaders citing UHN, University of Toronto and Canadian Institutes for Health Research as examples of best practice.
"It's about asking the right questions and finding indicators that measure women's progress in academic, government and scientific organizations," says Dr. Stewart who recently travelled to China to deliver a scientific lecture on reproductive medicine. "My goal is to help other societies move beyond research and policy development toward implementing programs that bring real change for women."
In addition to China, Dr. Stewart has also visited Japan and Saudi Arabia to meet with key stakeholders in scientific and academic communities, sharing UHN's gender equity policies, leading graduate seminars and mentoring female scientists. During her March 2009 visit to Japan, Dr. Stewart described several challenges faced by female medical faculty members, including the feeling among Japanese women that they must choose either a career or motherhood.
"I provided Ministry officials with specific examples of policies and programs that work in Canada including mentoring programs, leadership training and the need to involve women in decision-making," continues Dr. Stewart. "I was delighted to visit childcare centres at three Japanese universities as a result of my efforts."
This year, Dr. Stewart has her sights set on Saudi Arabia, a country where gender roles are prescribed and opportunities for women are limited. Dr. Stewart has visited Saudi Arabia three times and is developing a national database of women's health conditions including osteoporosis, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and depression.
"I'm encouraged that women physicians now have access to the health science library," says Dr. Stewart, commenting on the small steps this society is taking towards gender equality. "While there are enormous cultural challenges, the opportunities to improve women's health knowledge, status, education and research in Saudi Arabia are promising."