Global Health and Feminism


One of the symbols of German Women's movement ...

One of the symbols of German Women's movement (from the 1970s) Deutsch: Ein Logo der deutschen Frauenbewegung (aus den 70er Jahren) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feminism might be a taboo word within academic medicine, but it clearly has made an important contribution to global health

By Richard Smith

The Lancet, the leading journal for global health, has mentioned feminism only twice in its 189 years. The BMJBritish Medical Journal– hasn’t mentioned it at all. Does it indicate that feminism has had no impact on global health? All three speakers at a meeting at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in January this year, strongly disagreed.

Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet and a man, told us that the Lancet had mentioned feminism only twice, and Tony Delamothe, deputy editor of the BMJ and another man, told me that the BMJ had no entries. I, a third man, didn’t check, but Jane Smith, another deputy editor of the BMJ and a woman, did. She found that theBMJ has had 102 mentions of “feminism” and 302 mentions of “feminist” and the Lancethas 23 mentions mentions of “feminism” but none of “feminist.” Thank God for women.

One reason that the journals might not have mentioned it is because “feminism” is a taboo word within academic medicine, said Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet. Lori Heise, one of the speakers and a senior lecturer at the London School, said how she had to think carefully before “coming out” as a feminist.

Feminism can mean many things, said Andrea Cornwall from Sussex University, but all definitions coalesce around inequalities and inequities. It is a political practice concerned with reducing those inequalities and inequities—and such a programme is central to global health.

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