European Union of Private Hospitals

8 March International Women’s Day – Béatrice Noëllec, FHP France

Who are you and what do you do?

I have been the director of institutional relations for the French Federation of Private Hospitals (FHP) for almost 10 years. My job is to promote the values and actions of France’s 1,000 private hospitals and clinics with missions to our political and institutional contacts. We are fortunate to have a health system where public and private coexist, but only a full and equal consideration of the actors of all statuses can enable us to meet the needs and expectations of patients. I am a member of many health think tanks, because it is essential that we play a full part in the public debate on the major issues in health and healthcare. I am also the general delegate of the Foundation of users of the health system, sheltered by the Fondation de France, which promotes remarkable initiatives in the field of health democracy, the fight against health inequalities and the recognition of the place and role of patients.

What does it mean to be a woman in your profession?

Since the beginning of my career, I have always been concerned about women’s rights, equality and gender equality. It must be said that I was taught well by an inspiring woman, the former minister Roselyne Bachelot, whom I worked with for many years and who carried this cause high, sometimes with indifference or hostility! As a result, I am constantly aware in my professional capacity of the importance of these issues, and the relevance of a gendered reading of health matters.

I will give several illustrations. On the fight against violence against women and children, the FHP has signed an agreement with the Women Safe and Children association, because health care facilities and professionals have a major role to play in identifying and dealing with violence. As far as women’s health is concerned, the subject has finally been put on the political agenda after decades of taboos and invisibility: this progress is to be welcomed. Our institutions are committed: I am thinking, for example, of endometriosis. We need to detect and fight against gender stereotypes that bias diagnoses, such as for depression or cardiovascular diseases for example. And then, at the FHP, we are careful to give a voice to women in all our events: this is not anecdotal, because it is also through this visibility that we make progress. Our raison d’être mentions our societal commitments, and this is part of them.

How would you foster gender equality now and for the next generation?

I am a great believer in the virtues of education, to break down the mechanisms of self-censorship, the determinisms that lead girls not to believe that such and such a path could be open to them. Incredible as it may seem, the feminisation of a profession has long rhymed with devaluation, and the clichés have a hard life! Thus, reducing the aspiration to a better reconciliation of private and professional life to a female demand is obviously false: it is in fact a generational aspiration, widely shared by men and women alike. We can see this clearly today among young doctors.

Education, but also the break with essentialist assignments: today, we deplore a shortage of paramedical professionals, nurses and care assistants, who in their overwhelming majority of cases are… women. Shifting our perspective also means encouraging today’s young boys to go into these much-needed care professions, shaking up obsolete representations of masculinity and advancing equality. We will not build the care society of tomorrow by depriving ourselves of half of humanity! Equality and gender equality go hand in hand.

What would you personally like to add?

I would like to say that I am cautiously optimistic about women’s rights and equality issues. I was in the front row at the National Assembly when the laws on parity were voted on, after the fierce debates. Today, who would dispute the importance of their contribution to our democratic vitality? Similarly, certain comments and attitudes towards women no longer apply: now, fortunately, they automatically disqualify their authors.

But we must be vigilant, because the many international examples of regression show us that in terms of women’s rights, nothing is ever definitively acquired. In times of crisis, these are often the first rights to be called into question. Today’s girls must realise that they are the custodians of a fragile heritage of rights and recognition, which they must preserve and above all advance.