Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP: Why I Continue With My Job, In Spite Of The Daily Onslaught Of Sexism

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan
·5-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

The past year has seen me reflect and act on Covid-19 from a dual perspective: both as an MP and a frontline doctor.

At the beginning of the pandemic last March, I suspended campaigning to be Deputy Leader of the Labour Party to don my scrubs and work in my local A&E department as hospital admissions for Covid-19 patients skyrocketed. Over the past year I’ve been working my weeks around going to Parliament, to lambast the Government on PPE shortages and testing failures, and working in A&E and ICU, holding the hands of people dying from Covid-19 and helping their loved ones say their final goodbyes. Providing comfort to families during some of their darkest days is a huge honour. It gives me the fire in my belly to share their stories in Parliament and keep fighting.

I often use Twitter to keep my local residents and voters updated and to hold the Government to account by sharing my experiences on the frontline, but I'm regularly met with sexist trolling. After I recently shared a video online of myself urging people to take up the vaccine, in the past few weeks – during Women’s History Month – I've had men tweeting asking whether I’m going to publicly share my smear test, commenting on the state of my hair, and telling me I’m a condescending ‘patronising woman’.

Photo credit: Barcroft Media - Getty Images
Photo credit: Barcroft Media - Getty Images

Any videos I post are bound to receive comments about my appearance and my ability to do my job. I've lost count of the number of times people have told me I'm too stupid to be a real doctor or have requested details of my qualifications. After difficult shifts in the hospital, it's exhausting to see these remarks. I know a lot of frontline healthcare staff have been left devastated by comments thrown their way after detailing on social media what they've seen on shift. I'm lucky – I have a team that shield me from some of the worst of it and I no longer have the Twitter app on my phone.

But is it any surprise I’m met with this when I’m being publicly told by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, in the House of Commons to watch my 'tone'? Or when Ministers tell fellow front-bench women MPs to stop being so emotional or to be more ‘temperate’.

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Many women face not being listened to – this isn’t anything new and it’s certainly not the first time it’s happened to me. At school a teacher said a ‘girl like me’ could never become a doctor, that failing my A-Levels because of troubles at home would stop my ambitions and that I should just give up at 18. I was lucky that I had a mum who believed in me. She taught me to never let anyone else put limitations on what I could achieve. I'm constantly in awe of all the women who had to fight adversity to be at the top of their game. Providing inspiration to another generation of young women and girls to break through that glass ceiling is sadly still necessary.

Regardless of the constant stream of sexism I face, I push on anyway. And that’s down to the sense of achievement that comes from opening emails and direct messages, and seeing young women say that I’ve inspired them to study medicine or to go back into education after being told they wouldn't be suited for certain types of jobs. When I’m in the twilight of my career, I want to be able to look back on my life and know that I’ve helped break down barriers to ensure that the fantastically diverse young women that we have in our country, have all been able to fulfil their potential.

The past year, has meant that I haven’t been able to go and speak to local schools as often as I would before the pandemic. After each visit to secondary schools, there's always at least one girl waiting nervously to speak to me and ask for advice on applying for STEM subjects in particular. Far too often our young women have limitations placed on them. I tell them not to let anyone place limits on what they want to achieve and that there is no such thing as 'impossible'. I believe that if they can see what they want to be, they'll believe they can be it. We need more young women from different backgrounds entering STEM subjects and politics to ensure we have the expertise at the top that is truly representative of society.

I don’t see myself as a trailblazer, but if I can inspire just one young woman to believe in a life she never thought possible, then I’ve done my job.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is the Labour MP for Tooting, Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health and an A&E doctor.

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