Avoiding Gender Exploitation and Ethics Dumping in Research with Women

Cook, Julie orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-6391-5430 (2020) Avoiding Gender Exploitation and Ethics Dumping in Research with Women. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 29 (3). pp. 470-479. ISSN 0963-1801

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963180120000213


There is a long history of women being under-represented in biomedical and health research. Specific women’s health needs have been, and in some cases still are, comparatively neglected areas of study. Concerns about the health and social impacts of such bias and exclusion have resulted in inclusion policies from governments, research funders, and the scientific establishment since the 1990s. Contemporary understandings of foregrounding sex and gender issues within biomedical research range from women’s rights to inclusion, to links between human rights, women’s health and sustainable development, and the increasing scientific and funding expectation for studies to consider the sex (biological) and gender (cultural) implications of research design, results and impact. However, there are also exploitation issues to consider when foregrounding the inclusion of women as research participants, especially for research ethics committees and institutional review boards. A hidden risk is that exploitative research designs and practices may be missed, particularly by reviewers who may not have a nuanced understanding of gender-based harm. Utilising contemporary case studies of ethics dumping, this paper highlights some of the concerns, and makes recommendations for IRBs/research ethics reviewers to help ensure that essential research is undertaken to the highest ethical standards.

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