Only 1 in 3 Covid19 Research Papers Have Been Authored by Women: Study


Jun 16, 2020


Image Credit: Hitesh Sonar for The Swaddle/Dissolve

Only one in three Covid19 research papers have been authored by women, and even fewer are senior authors, a study has found. Unequal representation in scientific research has implications for our understanding of the disease, and how it affects men and women differently.

“Women’s voices are not really shaping the response to the pandemic, and that is very worrying,” lead author of the paper, Ana-Catarina Pinho-Gomes, a researcher at the University of Oxford, told Research Professional News. “If women’s voices are not taken into account, there’s a likelihood studies are not being carried out in a gender-sensitive way.”

In doing this research, published in BMJ Global Health, researchers studied 1,445 papers on Covid19 that have been published since January 2020. They found that women made up only a third of all the authors (34%), irrespective of seniority. On analyzing papers based on first or last authorship — these indicate senior or lead author status — researchers said the female representation was even lower. Women accounted for only 29% of senior authors and only 26% of last authors.

Related on The Swaddle:

Scientists Include More Females in Research, But Still Are Not Analyzing Data Based on Sex: Study

Pinho-Gomes and her team listed a few possible factors behind the trend. First, they said, because research agendas are shaped by those in leadership positions, which are mostly taken up by men, women are more likely to be excluded. Second, they also suspect that because Covid19 is a high-profile topic, men might gravitate towards that recognition. In addition, gender bias in peer review is a well-known phenomenon, and holds true even with papers related to Covid19. And last, with the amount of caring, parenting, homeschooling duties — responsibilities still predominantly taken on by women — increasing during lockdown, women have been left with very little time to work. Researchers suggest these duties have restricted their capacity to commit to research, further widening the existing inequalities.

Women-led research is important because it brings unique perspectives to research and scientific conversation. And, by involving female researchers, the chances of studying data based on gender are higher. Not considering sex or gender as variables, and treating males as the norm, can result in different health and safety outcomes for women and men.

“This is especially true as evidence continues to accrue regarding sex and gender differences in mortality rates and in the long term economic and societal impacts of COVID-19, making a balanced gender perspective ever more important,” the authors wrote in the study.

While on the one hand, the findings of the current study have exposed the fact that there have been no substantial improvements in addressing gender inequalities in research, on the other, they also highlight the need to take steps to make Covid19 research more inclusive to improve our ability to respond to the disease quickly and effectively.

One way to do that could be to introduce quotas among editors or research heads that would encourage them to involve more women in research. “It’s important to highlight this issue as early as possible in the pandemic before there is a second wave—we will be better off as a society if both women and men are contributing to research,” she said.


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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