Why the Gender Gap in Clinical Research Matters

Why the Gender Gap in Clinical Research Matters

We started Bia Care because we noticed that it’s difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to get decent menopause care in the United Kingdom. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to explore why this is.

This week we are looking at gender imbalance in clinical research trials and how that has impacted women’s health.

“For much of documented history, women have been excluded from medical and science knowledge production, so essentially we’ve ended up with a healthcare system, among other things in society that has been made by men for men,” says Dr. Kate Young, a public health researcher at Monash University in Australia. And Kate’s right, when we look at western medicine, the scientists, researchers, and doctors are largely men. Women are underrepresented not only in the workforce, but also in medical research. Clinical trials traditionally excluded women from participating because our bodies were seen as too complex due to hormonal changes. In the US, the National Institutes of Health only started requiring the inclusion of women in clinical trials in 1993. So why does the research gender health gap still exist almost 30 years later?  

Some women’s health researchers point to disparities in funding, while others claim that stigma and lack of interest or competitive fellowships are to blame.

One of the reasons why funding is so difficult to come by is the lack of charities solely focused on women’s health. Wellbeing For Women is one of the few grant-giving bodies for women’s health in the UK and they were only able to provide funding for 11% of applicants in 2019. Sarah Francis, a spokeswoman for the charity, believes stigma plays a part in why women’s health continues to be underfunded and overlooked. She explains, “with the menopause, we have noticed that more women are talking about it and companies now want to support employees better, so we have been funding research into tools for women going through the menopause in the workplace. For a long time, however, it wasn’t something that was discussed openly. With less public support, there is less money to fund research.”

Andrew Horne, professor of gynaecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Edinburgh, reveals that “for a long time the(research) panels were made up of men who weren’t aware of reproductive health research. A lot of funding went to conditions which either affected both men and women, or just men.” He attributes this to a lack of awareness about conditions and how common they are. Given that endometriosis is as common as diabetes in women, Horne finds it discouraging that the funding for research is so disproportionate.

While prejudice for funding may be part of the problem, Lucilla Poston, head of the department of women and children’s health at Kings College, London thinks the real issue is that not enough researchers are attracted to and retained in the field of women’s health. She credits the disproportionate amount of funding for areas, like cardiovascular and genetics, to the larger number of researchers they have in those fields who are applying for grants. Poston believes the answer is to have more competitive fellowships.“There are very few focused on women’s health. We could do with more to increase the actual critical mass of researchers in the field,” she says.

Lynn Enright, author of Vagina:A Re-Education, argues that the lack of clinical research and therefore solutions for women’s health concerns has led to women being ignored when they speak to a medical professional about their symptoms. Women often find themselves stuck between an expensive private specialist or an expensive fad product to solve their menopause issues, and to us, that just isn’t good enough. Our biggest driving force at Bia Care is providing world-class clinical care for menopause because we think it’s a no brainer that women have access to the tools they need to take care of their health.

To learn more about how we're working to close the gender healthcare gap, sign up to the waiting list for our next menopause course.


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