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What does ‘gender equality’ have to do with this?Reporter’s Notebook
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2017.08.24 18:16
  • Updated 2017.08.27 19:06
  • comments 0

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, better known as the Ministry of Women여성가족부, raised more than a few eyebrows within the government because of its patronizing – and misaimed -- remarks on gender recently.

The ministry sent out a loaded press release last week saying “(women) should be justly respected as human beings” while trying to address low female participation in clinical trials.

Its comment was based on a 2016 study, which showed out of the 28 clinical trials involving 630 people last year, only 43 women took part in three tests. The study also found that in a trial on cerebrovascular disease, a leading cause of female death, only 31 percent of subjects were women.

Related : Ministry calls for gender equality in clinical trials

Yes, women are underrepresented in clinical trials nationwide. However, the problem is not necessarily unique to this country, and it is farthest from a gender equality issue.

There was a time in the U.S., too, when various groups directed similar criticisms to research institutions for not having enough women and minorities in their clinical studies. That prompted U.S. government agencies to increase the number of women in clinical trials by implementing a series of policies that would improve methods of attracting females and minorities to participate in clinical trials.

And those policies worked. The female participation rate in clinical trials jumped from 9 percent 1900 to 41 percent last year – over a span of 16 years.

In contrast to international efforts to remedy the problem, the Korean ministry construed the problem as only one of gender inequality. Few peer-reviewed articles showed women not being respected, and few showed researchers conducting trials with active prejudice against women, however.

The ministry’s unwarranted remarks drew a puzzled response from six related government agencies that were “advised” to immediately submit plans for reforms to it by Sept. 18.

Officials from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, taken aback by the comments, noted Monday that one possible reason – if at all – for the low female turnout in the studies could be the safety problem that excludes pregnant or breastfeeding women from most trials.

“There is absolutely no reason women cannot participate in clinical trials systematically,” a ministry official said. “There is a criterion for excluding from the selection process for pregnant women, but the general principle has been to analyze the drug effectiveness encompassing various demographic characteristics such as age, sex, and race.”

He went on to say, “We are trying to understand the gender equality ministry’s recent advisory warning as calls for raising the rate of female participation in clinical trials and developing drugs for diseases that primarily affect women.”

When asked for a comment, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family declined to answer, saying that they “(need) to check with the professor who conducted the study because we are not experts. The professor is currently out of state.”

The report has currently been pulled from public records and cannot be verified. The ministry has declined to provide the full content.

Concerning the press release, the ministry spokeswoman kept reiterating her ministry’s determination to narrow the “gender gap.”

Nobody will take issue with that. However, the ministry had better target its aim more correctly the next time around lest it should earn the criticism about a knee-jerk approach.


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