On March 8, 2021 – Women’s Day, ELPA organized ‘Successful women in ELPA’s family,’ a talk dedicated to highlighting some success stories of women involved in ELPA. It was the occasion to listen to some inspirational stories inextricably linked to patient advocacy, liver disease, and patients’ associations. The event was live-streamed on the ELPA Facebook page.
However, ELPA would like to continue raising awareness and share a positive message on this topic. Thus, it decided to turn the event into 6 written interviews featuring all the guests available on the ELPA website.
Dr. Lina Nerlander, an epidemiologist working at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
ELPA: As a woman working in an international organization, what are your best career tips?
Lina: I do not think that these could be only for women. I believe that these could apply to everyone. Since I was a student, something I started doing is finding people you admire, people you are interested in, their position, and what they are doing. Then, I think it is crucial to get in contact with them, having a phone call, a coffee, exchange some words. Usually, if they are a little bit ahead of you, they can help you share tips and advice. It could be helpful not only to get a promotion but also to know more about a job position’s content.
You might think you are troubling them, but I think you are not because not so many people are doing this. Seniors are rarely approached by colleagues. Also, people tend to be happy to help other people, so my best tip is not to be scared to do that. There will always be something useful to pick up.
E: When working at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, your job was focused on reproductive health and surveillance among people who exchange sex for money or drugs. Is there some gender-related evidence that you can share with us?
L: If I focus on the work I did regarding people who exchange sex for money or drugs, I did a study on women around the US. It was fascinating because preparing the work, we spoke with many women who exchange sex for money, and we tried to learn from their stories. It was a vast spectrum. On the one hand, we had women who felt much empowered. For them was a personal decision, they were making money, and they were upset to be treated as victims by researchers and the medical community. On the other hand, we had women addicted to drugs living on the streets, and they were not feeling empowered, for sure. A lot of them had distorted relationships with their boyfriends, with men in general. They were relationships with an unbalanced power, where the relation with a partner turned into the relation with a pimp. A lot of these women came from a background where they did not have many opportunities. They might have been sexually abused. I learned a lot about the fact that they did not have many options in their lives. And this is the point. We need to give them opportunities.
I also worked on men who sell sex, gay men, and they also had similar stories. Because of homophobia, they had to leave their families early. They had problematic relationships. In different ways, it is always about vulnerability.
E: Do you have some thoughts on particular challenges facing women?
L: I worked in different places. In Sweden, for instance, they have an excellent Welfare State. That means, for example, equal parental leave. Things like that, at a policy level, can facilitate women’s careers.
Since I was a little girl, I was told that we have all these unique challenges as women, but I have not experienced that a lot personally. Maybe working in public health could be different from other fields because there is a higher proportion of women. In any case, if I had a step back, or something did not go the way I want, I would not say something like ‘I am a woman, I have been discriminated against. Because this does not help, it does not make you able to have power and improve that situation or change some patterns. Women should be aware but not think that everything is because of their gender. Women, be more confident!
E: A wish for the future…
L: this question makes me think about my job, Hepatitis elimination goals, diagnosis, and the link to care. It is so complex, especially in the vulnerable population. However, women should be part of the process.