‘Prestigious’ author rights go to men in health – studies

Published: Tuesday 27th September 2022
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Women in health research find it more difficult to be published in scientific journals compared to men, according to recent analyses. Copyright: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Irene Offei Owusu has often grappled with the hard choice between family and career — occasionally being forced to sacrifice one for the other.

“One challenge I have encountered is work-family balance,” says the epidemiology postdoctoral research fellow at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research at the University of Ghana.

“It is difficult having to work in the field of science effectively and taking care of family,” Owusu tells SciDev.Net.

Yet Owusu’s predicament is just a glimpse of the challenges women face in the uneven health research landscape.

“Acknowledging and taking these barriers into account is a step forward, but also recognising the importance of supporting the research ecosystem as a whole and inherent power imbalances is a step forward in addressing these inequalities,”

Rebecca Grais, executive director of the Pasteur Network

Globally, women in health find it more difficult to publish in scientific journals than men, according to recent analyses.

This is more apparent for women in low- and middle-income countries, and especially Sub-Saharan Africa, where women experience greater inequities due to systemic barriers beyond those faced by women in higher-income countries, according to a study published in BMJ Global Health.

“Women researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa lag far behind women in the European Union and North America in their contributions to the health research literature as lead or single authors,” say the researchers. “They face substantial gender inequalities in publishing in prestigious authorship positions in academic journals.”

Health research inequity

The BMJ Global Health study, jointly led by policy and data analysts Anwaar Baobeid, Tara Faghani-Hamadani and Sara Sauer, examined the authorship positions – whether they were positioned as the prestigious first, last, or single authors – of Sub-Saharan Africa’s female researchers between 2014 and 2016. The study also examined policies and practices at ten journals with the highest rates of female authors publishing in first position from the region, to identify barriers to women in publishing.

“Recently, women have become more likely to be first authors, a junior stature authorship often given to a student or early career researcher, yet they are less likely to be last authors, a position given to principal investigators, or those who secured research funds,” the researchers said.

Based on global and regional analyses, the study found the greatest authorship inequity in health research publishing in Sub-Saharan Africa, where men were lead authors in more than half of the publications. Male authors further accounted for 65 per cent and 66 per cent of last and single authors, respectively.

Although women accounted for at least 20 per cent of last authors in 25 countries across the region, greater publishing success went to women researchers from South Africa and Nigeria.

Read the full article on SciDev: ‘Prestigious’ author rights go to men in health – studies, Dann Okoth, 23 September 2022.