Women in medicine: Asha Kasliwal and Anandibai Gopal Joshi

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The Women in medicine project showcases a number of today’s leading female clinicians and the women from the history of medicine who have inspired them. 

Dr Asha Kasliwal is the president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH). As president, she is able to combine her passion for women’s health with the opportunity to influence on a national platform. She is a consultant in community gynaecology and sexual and reproductive health (SRH), and lead for the citywide Manchester service.

Dr Kasliwal graduated from Mumbai, India and worked in Oman before moving to the UK in 1995. She has always been interested in making a difference, and was an overseas doctors’ representative on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists trainees committee. At the FSRH, she was chair of the Clinical Standards Committee and vice president for clinical quality. These support the FSRH to play a key role in the provision of high-quality and continuously improving patient-centred SRH care. She was involved in publication of the NICE quality standards for contraceptive services.

Dr Kasliwal has driven an ambitious modernisation programme in Manchester, which showcases multidisciplinary working with medical support to extend the role of nurses.

What has inspired me about Anandibai Joshi is that she opened the gates for many young women in India who were ambitious and wanted much more than a domestic life. She dared to dream and had the courage to pursue an education despite opposition from the community and her parents. She demonstrated that there are no glass ceilings!

Asha Kasliwal on her inspiration Anandibai Gopal Joshi

Dr Anandibai Joshi (1865–1887) was the first Indian woman to obtain a medical degree through training in Western medicine.

She was born in an orthodox Brahmin family. At the age of 9, she was married to Gopalrao Joshi, a widower working as a postal clerk. Noticing Anandibai’s interest in academia, he helped her to receive an education and learn English.

At 14 she gave birth to a boy, who survived only 10 days because of lack of medical care. This proved to be a turning point in Anandibai’s life, inspiring her to become a physician. She wrote to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania for admittance to their medical programme (the second women’s medical programme in the world). Here is an extract from her application:

[The] determination which has brought me to your country against the combined opposition of my friends and caste ought to go a long way towards helping me to carry out the purpose for which I came, ie is to render to my poor suffering countrywomen the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician. The voice of humanity is with me and I must not fail. My soul is moved to help the many who cannot help themselves.

She graduated with an MD in 1886; the topic of her thesis was obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos. On her graduation, Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message. In 1886, she returned to India to practice medicine.