Women in Medicine and Patriarchal Studies

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A report published earlier this year in the journal América Futura found that science continues to be a hostile world for women. Inequality is…

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This is the web version of Americanas, EL PAÍS América’s newsletter that covers news and ideas from a gender perspective. If you would like to subscribe, you can do so. follow this link.

A report published earlier this year in the journal América Futura found that science continues to be a hostile world for women. Sexist inequality not only affects them in this professional field, but also impairs their access to treatment for many diseases. Research in Lancet Last September it concluded that at least 1.5 million deaths among women could be avoided through primary prevention strategies or early detection of cancer. Mexican oncologist Maria Teresa Burlon, one of the co-authors of the study, told the publication how much these data are related to patriarchy.

In some Latin American countries, the reality is even more alarming, especially among women of indigenous and African descent, who tend to have poorer health outcomes and shorter life expectancies due to the poor or no care they receive. This reflects the extent to which women continue to face inequalities in the achieved fundamental rights compared to men.

I remember very well the moment when I realized the extent to which sexist viewpoints also influence the fields of health and science. This was the day I interviewed Carme Valls, an endocrinologist who advocated for the inclusion of women in clinical trials in Spain more than two decades ago; Among many other contributions, she was also a pioneer in identifying differences in mortality between sexes in research. After speaking with her, I learned, among many other aspects of health care inequality, that until the mid-nineties there were no studies that included women in cardiovascular medicine: they were outright excluded from the studies. Also, despite the existing gender differences at the biochemical, genetic, cellular and physiological level, many studies still show low or no inclusion of female populations in biomedical research.

The author of several books on the subject, Valls has dedicated her career to showing how medicine and research prioritize the male body over the female, and to argue for the need for sex-differential biology to be a critical goal. area of ​​health, including the need for consistent positive action.

With such a large population of health care professionals, many studies of mortality in cardiology and treatments are still conducted primarily in men. This prioritization of the male population in research and clinical care results in many women dying because they were not included in experimental design or consultation. This is what another log report sees Lancet 2021 publication documenting that when it comes to cardiovascular disease, the female population remains understudied, underdiagnosed, and undertreated.

In Mexico, another similar problem is HIV and government policies designed to combat its spread and impact on lives exclude women from prevention and treatment of the infection, even as discrimination and sexist violence make them more vulnerable to infection.

As many published works show, involving researchers in the design of clinical trials not only leads to more and better understanding of the health problems that affect us, but also improves scientific results. After all, we make up more than half the world’s population… Despite this, women are still underrepresented in research-related fields, making up just over 30% of authors worldwide.

In Latin America, where guidelines governing women’s participation in biomedical research have been largely undeveloped, renowned scientists such as Brenda Crabtree, one of the world’s leading HIV experts, argue that the percentage is even more critical. An urgent reality that public policy must confront. Equality in study groups allows sex to be better considered as a differential factor, to learn, for example, how cancer affects men and women differently, or what drug dose limits depend on the organism being treated.

The gender disparity in research extends to some preclinical trials in animal models. Given that female rats are more unstable, laboratories prefer to work with male samples. A belief in animal experiments that Rebecca Shansky, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University in Boston, debunked in a study published in the journal. The science in 2019. After conducting several experiments on rodents in the field of neuroscience, the data collected showed that females are not very different. In some cases, results in males were most variable due to patterns of hierarchy and dominance between individuals with different testosterone levels.

A significant fact about the patriarchal system in medicine is that the two areas of its research in which most research is lacking are women’s sexual and reproductive health. There are still many taboos and myths when it comes to menstruation or menopause. It’s still embarrassing to talk about our pleasure. In this 2019 interview, Helen O’Connell, the first Australian woman to specialize in urology, highlighted that, unlike the male genitalia, the clitoris remains largely absent from research. After reading the awards for the scientist who first described the full anatomy of this much-invisible and neglected organ – according to UNICEF, more than 4 million girls are at risk of genital cutting each year – it occurred to me to do a Google search. In the same year that the Australian woman made her great discovery, Viagra appeared on the market in 1998. In the same year, when a detailed map of female pleasure became known, a drug was already available that alleviated the problem of sexual dysfunction in men. An ironic coincidence that, among many examples, reflects how medicine prioritizes the male body, treating the female body as the same despite great differences.

As we move toward equality through great effort and perseverance, the field of medicine and research once again makes clear the premise of feminism: when it comes to the issues and needs that affect women, we are the ones who will pay attention to them , who care and are taking part in changing the social injustices that affect us.

As in the health field, there are too many examples to support this premise: ultimately, women save themselves only and always because of other women.

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