Invisible Woman – On the Gender Data Gap and Approaches for More Equality
This article is dedicated to the small difference between men and women and how we struggle with the consequences of women being forgotten or even ignored in data collection in medicine and science.
The gender data gap, or gender bias, pervades many different areas of life where the absence of the female gender is particularly evident – and women are simply forgotten or not taken into account. We take a look at the unfortunately not yet existing equality between the sexes.
Gender Data Gap – a definition
The Gender Data Gap refers to the complete lack of or insufficient data collection for a particular gender (mostly women) in data collection procedures that are medically, socially or economically relevant and/or would have economic and political consequences. From medical studies to data collection on unpaid care work, women are still too often insufficiently included or even forgotten.
A World made by and for Men
In addition to profound gender differences in cultural and economic spheres, especially in the fields of health and science, serious errors of action are hidden that can have fatal consequences for the physical functionality and vitality of women. This subtle form of discrimination is already evident in the medical-scientific field from the very fact that the male body is considered synonymous with the human body. Clinical studies used to be carried out primarily on men, and for centuries women were simply seen medically as a small man and thus also as a variant of a male individual. [1,2]
Only processes specific to women, such as pregnancy and childbirth, were excluded from this discrimination. Diagnoses made, treatment concepts and therapies as well as the administration of medication are based on incomplete, distorted data in which the female gender is missing – and this despite the fact that science has long recognised differences in the organ system and every tissue between the male and female body. In addition to anatomical differences such as body composition, the size and function of various organs and the internal and external sex organs, genetic and hormonal differences also play an essential role. It is important to emphasise here that these cannot always be used to clearly determine the biological sex and that the biological sex does not always have to correspond to the person’s gender identity. [4,5,6] Especially the hormonal differences between the biological sexes show once again how important it is to consider all these factors and sensitive differences in prevention, diagnosis, prognosis, therapy and rehabilitation of the human individual.
The lack of equal medical treatment for men and women can have fatal consequences for women’s health.
In particular, the occurrence, course and manifestation of diseases play a role, because even today these are frequently misdiagnosed – think, for example, of the strongly differing symptoms between the sexes when a heart attack occurs [7,8].
It has also long been recognised that the degradation of various drugs often occurs much more slowly in women due to different immunological and hormonal aspects. Nevertheless, despite this knowledge, treatment adapted to women is lacking in many medical fields. It is not uncommon for overdoses to occur in drug therapy for women due to male doses simply being transferred to women in this context.
Equality through data collection and gender-specific treatment in medicine
It is necessary to personalise medicine and transform it into gender- or sex-specific medicine. Medical practice must be sensitised to focus on the needs of women patients. The medical image of health and disease has been clearly androcentric, from which gender medicine aims to draw attention by looking at the holistic picture of women’s health. It demands that sex and gender be included as relevant factors in every experimental design and every analysis, as long as it concerns both sexes, in order to be able to give the right assessment in prevention, diagnosis, therapy and prognosis of diseases. Thus, in a binary gender model, all notions of a diverse interplay of possible sex and gender categories can be taken into account, beginning with cell experiments in the laboratory and ending with clinical studies on individuals.
Also, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also advocates this integration of gender aspects into drug development and drug therapy. It is precisely here that the participation of women in clinical trials is intended to create a better understanding of these gender-specific, biological differences . The collection of gender-specific data is essential for gender equality. In order to prevent fatal health consequences for women, it is necessary to adapt the bias of scientific studies to reality in the future and thus not only give the female sex a voice.
A different approach to the treatment of female patients is long overdue and should be corrected. Thus, not only must awareness of gender medicine be raised in the medical-scientific field, but at the same time understanding of precisely these gender-sensitive differences must be promoted through appropriate, non-distorted presentation.
In order to obtain a representative picture of society, especially for the field of medical application, and to close the gender gap that has always existed, new policies are needed to build an egalitarian and heterogeneous scientific community and society. It is necessary to close the existing data gaps and to create a clear overall picture that takes both genders into account.
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