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Professor Sonia Bhalotra discusses gender issues at launch of The Lancet Women’s theme issue "Advancing women in science, medicine, and global health"

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On Friday 8th February, medical journal The Lancet released a new issue dedicated to advancing gender equity in science, medicine and global health. Panellists at a launch event in London included Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, Gigi Osler, President of the Canadian Medical Association, and Edward Whiting, Chief of Staff of the Wellcome Trust.

MiSoC’s Professor of Economics Sonia Bhalotra chaired a panel at the session ‘Gender Bias and Assessment’, where she was joined by Holly Witteman (Université Laval, Canada), Tammy Clifford (Canadian Institutes of Health Research), Sonia Gandhi (The Francis Crick Institute), Cassidy Sugimoto (US National Science Foundation) and Ed Whiting (Wellcome Trust). Discussions focused on the role of both conscious and unconscious gender bias in areas including grant funding, hiring, performance assessment and evaluation, and promotion to leadership positions, and how to overcome this barrier to women’s advancement.

The collection of papers in the new issue highlights that gender equity in science is not only a matter of justice and rights but is crucial to producing the best research. By publishing new evidence, commentary and analysis, the journal is inviting researchers, clinicians, funders, institutional leaders and medical journals to examine and address the systemic barriers to advancing women in science, medicine and global health.

An editorial in The Lancet said, “It is well-established that women are underrepresented in positions of power and leadership, undervalued, and experience discrimination and gender-based violence in scientific and health disciplines across the world… Despite decades of recognition, these problems have proved stubbornly persistent…Gender equity is not only a matter of justice and rights, it is crucial for producing the best research and providing the best care to patients. If the fields of science, medicine, and global health are to hope to work towards improving human lives, then they must be representative of the societies they serve. The fight for gender equity is everyone’s responsibility, and this means that feminism, too, is for everybody—for men and women, researchers, clinicians, funders, institutional leaders and, yes, even for medical journals”.

Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-chief of The Lancet says: “Something has gone badly wrong in global health. The global health community has abdicated its responsibility for achieving gender justice in health. This situation is strange because vast evidence exists to link gender inequity to poor health. The mandate is therefore unambiguously clear. But current leaders in global health consistently miss opportunities to make gender equity their priority. Instead, we have to listen, engage, amplify, and advocate. The fact that, collectively, we are not doing so is a particularly ugly disfigurement of our community.”