#WCW:WednesdayCelebrateWomen celebrates Dr. Varnia Wicomb

WednesdayCelebrateWomen June 2017: UNIC Windhoek celebrates Dr. Varnia Wicomb

Each month through the #WednesdayCelebrateWomen campaign, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Windhoek celebrates inspiring women making a positive impact in Namibia.

For this month’s #WCW #WednesdayCelebrateWomen, UNIC Windhoek celebrates Dr. Varnia Wicomb, a devoted wife, mother and general medical practitioner with an interest in obstetrics. Check out her interview with UNIC Windhoek to learn more about this amazing woman!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career? What is one of your career achievements you are most proud of?

Today, I am a dedicated medical doctor, devoted wife to my husband, Harold Mouton, and proud mother of three beautiful children, Isabella, aged 6 years, Hannah 3 years old and little Luca, now 4 months of age.

I originate from the city of Cape Town in South Africa. There I was raised as the youngest of 3 children to a middle income family on the Cape Flats. Both my parents were raised in impoverished families in small Karoo towns in the Western Cape. During our upbringing the importance of education and humility was emphasised by my parents. Despite financial difficulties in our family, I attained my MBChB degree at the University of Stellenbosch in 2003.

In July 2007, I met my future husband, Harold Mouton, at a typical South African braai. In August 2009 I immigrated to Windhoek, Namibia, and started working in private practice. Harold and I were later married on the 18th December 2009.

My passion in health care in private practice here in Namibia has always been women and child health. Being a woman and general practitioner with interest in obstetrics, I’ve had the privilege to share in the joyous occasions of child bearing with many patients. To date I have delivered in excess of 500 babies. These moments are the career achievements I am most proud of. Every life that I’ve helped bring into this world is an amazing blessing from God. I am forever humbled by the majesty and power of God and His creation with every baby delivered!

What are your thoughts on women’s empowerment and gender equality?

Daily I am shocked by the gross gender inequality that has formed the basis of so many lives in Namibian cultures.

Driving to work, I see street crossings lined with men, lying or sitting on the sidewalks in “search” of work. While their female counterparts are actively gathering wood to sell or cooking food to sell to the construction workers on site or selling toys in the public parking lot.

In my practice I often hear from women frustrated from supporting their male partners who have been unemployed for months. More women are taking over the financial support of the families, especially in the current downward spiral of our economy.

During consultations, I also encounter young 20-something women that want to test their fertility because their partners want to see if they can conceive a child. African culture dictates that children are wealth. Women (the weaker sex) are encouraged by culture to prove their fertility. And then, after all the effort to conceive they’re often deserted with the child. And more fatherless children enter our society. I am pained by the damaged children that we are rearing to be the future of our society.

And then, we have the ever so prevalent sexual, emotional and physical abuse that women endure. Destroying strong proud characters and flawing personalities. Sometimes this abuse even results in death of our women. Often at the hands of a man close to her. Man whose primitive role in society is that of the protector.

What qualifies me to give my opinion regarding gender inequality and women empowerment?

I have personal experience in an emotional and physically abusive relationship. I know of the need to have loved at all costs. I know of the fear one feels when you realises he on his way home. Wondering, fearfully, what the night will entail…

But I was strong enough to get myself out of the situation and take the long road to heal my character. Today, I am stronger because of my experiences and I don’t regret anything, because it has shaped the person I am today. I have grown from my experiences and can today use it to empathise with my patients and help them to also overcome and address their fears.

In terms of women’s empowerment, what would you like to see happen in the next generation?

Herein lies my passion: to empower the youth regarding their options and opportunities in life; striving to encourage more emotionally fruitful, educated and healthy lives.

Often, I use my medical consultations as a platform to educate our youth. I encourage women to see that their value is not determined by the fact that they have a male partner at their side. That they as the youth, have options on how their future lives will pan-out and to grasp all opportunities to further their education.

Through the ages, our role as women has been to support our male counterparts. Eve was made of Adam’s rib. Wo-Man – the companion of man with the womb!

However, economic structures through the generations have changed the supportive role of women. Many women are today the breadwinners, leading lives on the home and employment fronts.

In the future, I hope to see women realise that their careers don’t have to take second fiddle to their husbands’ career plans. I hope to see women that follow and realise their own dreams.

What challenges do you face in a male dominated profession?

My greatest challenges in terms of my race and gender when I started in private practice, was that I had to work harder than my male counterparts to prove myself competent and win over the trust and confidence of patients. In 2009 there were very few female doctors practicing in Windhoek. My small stature and soft demeanour were often mistaken for inadequacy and lack. But with quiet and steadfast perseverance and pride, I managed to win over patients. Especially the older women that felt intimidated by the male doctors.

A major role, however, of the female has always been that of caregiver. Therefore being a female doctor also had its advantages. Children, in general, interact better with a female doctor than a male. Some male patients also feel less threatened and more cared for by having a female doctor. And the ladies appreciated that the more intimate examinations be done by a female doctor.

Tell us about your background as a doctor: education and experience?

I graduated from the University of Stellenbosch with my MBChB degree in 2003.

During 2004, I completed my internship at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town and during 2005 I relocated to Port Elizabeth to complete my community service year at the SA Military Sick Bay in Forest Hill. In 2006, I returned to Cape Town and was employed as a medical officer in Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital’s Neonatal Unit. In 2007, I joined the South African Military as a Senior Medical Officer at 2 Military Hospital. Here I rotated in the Paediatric and Obstetrics and Gynaecology Units and learned invaluable experience in these fields of practice. Here I also completed post-graduate training in Diving and Aviation Medicine and attained my Diploma in Child Health. During this time I also performed after-hour locum duties at Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

In August 2009, I immigrated to Windhoek and started working in private practice.

Since then I have successfully completed numerous courses, including a Diving Medical Examiner Refresher Course, Basic Life Support Course and numerous Sonography Training Courses.

What is your field of specialty?

I am a female General Practitioner with special interest in obstetrics and women and child health. I enjoy the challenges of fertility and hormone imbalancement and the joys of delivering babies. As a female, I also have lots of older female patients that come to me for their intimate examinations.

In terms of women in the medical field, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Currently, I have my own private practice at Lady Pohamba Private Hospital Doctors Consulting Rooms.

My dream that I would like to realise in the next 5 years is to establish a female operated Women Health and Obstetric Unit, comprising of female GP obstetricians, dietician and breastfeeding specialist, sonographers, baby clinic sister, women’s health physiotherapist and mommy and baby treat store, all under one roof.

In terms of women in the medical field, where do you see Namibia in the next 5 years?

I think that more and more the medical profession will become a female dominated field. Women are innate caregivers. But the roles of women are also changing with society and economic demands. We see more women internationally are becoming medical leaders. I hope that this trend will also take place in Namibia.

 How do you find balance between your personal life and profession?

Wow!! This is a difficult one. Especially since I know that I haven’t attained this yet. Luckily though, I am married to a very understanding, patient and supportive husband.

In my profession, I am called out at all hours of the day for emergencies, or deliveries of babies. I also have patients calling or texting for advice. As a mother myself, I know how it feels to be clueless and confused regarding the care of your most precious possession. That is why I continue to provide advice to my new mothers.

My profession dictates that I’m almost always on call, but I must confess that when it comes to my kids I’m always a mother first and a doctor second.

The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals 2015, which include 17 Goals that aim to transform the world by 2030. Which of these SDG’s resonate with you the most and why? How do you /plan to work to achieving this goal?

The SDG’s that resonates most with me are good health and well-being, gender equality and zero hunger. . And my personal goal in life is to encourage the development of healthy adults and mothers.

Good health and well-being is the SDG that I deal with on a daily basis

Gender equality is a SDG that is close to my heart as result of my personal experiences mentioned before.

Zero hunger reminds me of the impoverished upbringing of my parents. Hunger has such a vastly negative impact on lives. Hunger leads to difficulty with thought processors and poor academic achievements. Hunger leads to increase in violence and theft.

One of our future aspirations together as a family is to establish permanent community halls in disadvantaged communities. These can be used as a basic site to run various community-based projects. Some of the projects we have in mind are pre-school child care and after-school care facilities to keep the youth off the streets and safe till their parents return from work; self-sustainable gardens; medical and dental care community projects on a rotations basis providing free or minimal costing care; women empowerment and support centre offering emotional and educational support groups to women. We plan to implement this by funding organizations that are already established in target areas and supplementing the care.

Why is it important to empower woman and girls to pursue careers, especially in a society where traditional culture roles dictate the value and rights of women?

By educating woman and girls we are empowering a nation. In order to lead a country we must start at the core. And this includes the rearing of children and the future leaders of this country. By educating women and encouraging independence we will be changing mind-sets and futures. This in turn will impact on the mind-sets of our children encouraging healthy and emotionally secure future adults.

After a long day at work, what do you do to unwind?

Being the mother to 3 children, having time to unwind is a true luxury. That is why my unwinding time is having a hot shower at the end of the day. Here I reminisce on the events of the day and conceptualize my survival strategies for the next day.

What motivates you, and who is your role model?

What motivates me? My children. I hope to assist in creating a world that is conducive to rearing non-damaged adults. My children are my pride. I’d like to show my girls that women are empowered and powerful, and that all things are possible with God’s grace.

I have no single role model. Man is fallible. God is great. Rather, over the years I have taken characteristics of persons I have encountered and read about and tried to emulate these characteristics to make me the best me I can be.

What is your advice to girls following their dreams?

  1. The secret to living is giving! By following and realising your dreams you may be able to inspire others.
  2. Never be overwhelmed by fear. Remember chasing your dreams helps you develop courage.
  3. Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is just part of the growing pains of attaining your goal. Failure makes the success so much more worth it.
  4. We very rarely regret the things we’ve tried. More often it’s the things we haven’t tried that we regret.
  5. Make God the focal point of your life and all the rest will fall into place!