A Timeline to Making Women’s Health Mainstream

Until the 1990s, the health of women was at serious risk.

Three women smiling

Women were intentionally excluded from participating in most medical research, setting a dangerous precedent that overlooked fundamental biological differences between women and men.

In 1990, the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) was founded by Dr. Florence Haseltine to confront this injustice and change the culture of medical research. Thanks to SWHR and other advocacy groups, women are now routinely included in medical research and make up a larger portion of the scientific workforce, and scientists are studying how biological sex differences affect the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

Since its founding, SWHR has fought to bring attention to research gaps and unmet needs in women’s health and to advance its mission to eliminate imbalances in care for women through science, policy, and education.

SWHR is making women’s health mainstream.

Women’s health research has been overlooked for decades. SWHR is changing that.

Events from 2010 to 2019

April 2019

SWHR Hosts 29th Annual Awards Dinner

The Society honored Carolyn Clancy, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Discovery, Education and Affiliate Networks at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA); Cen Xu, Scientific Director of Neuroscience Discovery Research at Amgen; and John J. Seng, past SWHR Board member and founder of Spectrum Science Communications at its Annual Awards Dinner.

Jan 2019

SWHR Establishes Interdisciplinary Network on Endometriosis and Fibroids

SWHR’s Network on Endometriosis and Fibroids provides thought leadership on how to address the gaps in research, diagnosis, treatment, and care for endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and related conditions. The Network is working on projects to raise awareness about stigma around these conditions and to help patients achieve optimal outcomes in their care. Insights from the network resulted in the publication of the Uterine Fibroids Toolkit: A Patient Empowerment Guide and Endometriosis Toolkit: A Patient Empowerment Guide, among other uterine health resources.

April 2018

SWHR Hosts 28th Annual Awards Dinner

SWHR honored Dr. Janet Woodcock, Director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Ms. Christi Shaw, Eli Lilly Senior Vice President and President of Lilly Biomedicines; and Dr. Colleen Conway-Welch, Dean Emerita at Vanderbilt University Schooling of Nursing at its Annual Awards Dinner.

April 2018

SWHR Roundtable Identifies Gaps in Endometriosis Research and Care

panelists sitting at a tableSWHR brought together patients, clinicians, researchers, and other stakeholders for a roundtable discussion and public panel on unmet needs and knowledge gaps in endometriosis. The roundtable set the stage for a congressional briefing in June with three endometriosis experts identifying policy needs to improve diagnosis, treatment, and access to care for women with endometriosis. Roundtable members also published a peer-reviewed paper in AJOG that analyzes research gaps in endometriosis and unmet needs for women with the disease. These events gave rise to SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Endometriosis and Fibroids.

Jan 2018

SWHR Creates Interdisciplinary Network on Migraine

Migraine NetworkSWHR’s Migraine Network provides thought leadership about migraine in the U.S. healthcare system, with a focus on the disease’s disproportionate burden on women. The Network’s major accomplishment to date is its Migraine Patient Toolkit, which provides easy-to-understand information about migraine diagnosis and treatment, as well as tips on interacting with healthcare providers and health insurance companies.

Oct 2017

SWHR Roundtable Examines Sex and Gender Differences in Migraine

SWHR hosted a roundtable discussion and public panel (the first of its kind at SWHR) on sex and gender differences in migraine. The meeting aimed to establish next steps to address the gaps in migraine knowledge and resulted in the publication of a peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Women’s Health. This meeting led to the formation of SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Migraine.

Sep 2016

SWHR Cohosts Conference on Sex Differences at University of Colorado

In partnership with the University of Colorado’s Center for Women’s Health Research, SWHR hosted the National Conference on Women’s Health Research on sex differences in metabolism. Experts gathered to discuss their latest findings in cardiometabolic risk across the lifespan as well as recognize critical next steps to take in order to advance the field of sex differences research.

Jan 2016

SWHR Holds Workshop to Produce Feedback for FDA On Clinical Trial Design

SWHR held a two-day workshop “Achieving Meaningful Subgroup Data in Clinical Trial Design and Development: Scientific Approaches and Considerations” to develop information to share with FDA in response to its 2014 Action Plan to Enhance the Collection and Availability of Subgroup Data. The workshop focused on understanding the drivers of variability in drug response among different patient populations, improving drug development and approval processes, and refining communication to patients and health care providers about medication response variability.

Jan 2016

NIH Implements Policy on Sex as a Biological Variable in Research

NIH began implementing its new policy (announced in 2014) on sex as a biological variable in research. This policy requires grant applicants to account for sex as a biological variable in their research designs, analyses, and reporting in vertebrate animal and human studies. SWHR strongly supported the policy in a white paper titled “New Policies Signal Changing Attitudes on Sex Differences Research: An SWHR Perspective,” which reflected on and analyzed the new policy and made recommendations on the policy’s implementation.

Jan 2016

SWHR Launches Interdisciplinary Network on Alzheimer’s Disease

SWHR’s Alzheimer’s Disease Network aims to understand and leverage the scientific basis of the roles of sex and gender in Alzheimer’s to inform prevention and treatment and provide guidance for research, clinical trials, and policy. The group’s major accomplishments include the publication of a peer-reviewed paper in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, which garnered significant media attention, including commentaries in STAT and Scientific American. In August 2022, SWHR extended its work in the space by hosting an Alzheimer’s disease policy roundtable and later the policy agenda Breaking Down the Burden of Alzheimer’s Disease for Women.

Oct 2015

Issues Report on Women’s Participation in NIH Research

A GAO report concluded that NIH needed to implement better oversight to ensure continued progress on including women in health research. The report examined women’s enrollment in NIH-funded clinical research and NIH’s efforts to monitor this enrollment. The report also reviewed NIH’s efforts to ensure that clinical trials were designed and conducted to analyze potential sex differences.

May 2015

SWHR Hosts Second Roundtable on Alzheimer’s Disease

SWHR’s second roundtable meeting to discuss sex and gender differences in Alzheimer’s disease covered new advancements in research since the 2011 meeting, as well as explored gender-specific issues in caregiving. The two roundtables led to the creation of SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Alzheimer’s Disease.

March 2015

SWHR Celebrates 25th Anniversary

More than 600 guests attended SWHR’s 25th Anniversary Gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. to celebrate its achievements in women’s health research. Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, received the Pioneering Biomedical Research Award for his development of the NIH policy on inclusion of sex as a biological variable, which would be implemented in 2016. Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) were presented with Women’s Health Research Legacy Awards. Finally, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was recognized for making women’s health a national priority with the Dr. Estelle Ramey Award for Women’s Health Leadership.

Jan 2015

SWHR Report Identifies 10 Relevant Health Topics for Women with Diabetes

SWHR released “Women & Diabetes: 10 Relevant Health Topics for Women with Diabetes” in collaboration with DiabetesSisters to address women’s unique health concerns associated with diabetes over the lifespan, especially during periods of hormonal fluctuation (puberty, pregnancy and menopause).

Jan 2015

SWHR Establishes Interdisciplinary Network on Urological Health in Women

SWHR’s Urology Network ran from 2015 to 2019 with a goal of raising awareness of the impact of bladder health on women’s well-being across the lifespan. The Network conducted a survey of school nurses revealing that many schools do not have bathroom policies and do not educate students on bladder health. It also published a peer-reviewed paper in Biology of Sex Differences about sex differences in the lower urinary tract.

Jan 2015

FDA Launches Drug Trials Snapshots

The FDA’s Drug Trials Snapshots website provides consumers with valuable information about who participated in clinical trials supporting FDA approval of new drugs. Ensuring transparent clinical trial data has positive implications for women’s health because it allows the public to hold organizations accountable for the appropriate inclusion of women in clinical research.

Oct 2014

SWHR Hosts Roundtable on Women’s Urologic Health

Urology RoundtableSWHR convened experts from diverse backgrounds for a meeting on women’s urologic health. The experts reviewed urologic conditions prevalent during key stages of a woman’s life, identified research gaps, and addressed psychosocial and physical challenges to women with urologic conditions. The roundtable resulted in a peer-reviewed report in the Journal of Women’s Health and led to the formation of SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Urological Health in Women.

Sep 2014

SWHR Survey Finds Less Than Half of U.S. Women Get Mammograms

Mammogram screeningSWHR conducted a survey on breast cancer screening and what women want out of it. The survey found that cost and lack of insurance were the biggest barriers women faced in having mammograms. A majority of women were unaware that the Affordable Care Act required Medicare and commercial insurers to cover mammography screenings at no cost to the patient.

Summer 2014

Coalition to Advance Maternal Therapeutics Founded

The Coalition to Advance Maternal Therapeutics (CAMT), was founded to advocate for policy change and raise awareness of the need for greater inclusion of pregnant and lactating populations in clinical research. SWHR was a founding member of the CAMT and currently serves as one of the four permanent members of the coalition’s Steering Committee. Learn more about CAMT at safemeds4moms.org.

Feb 2014

‘60 Minutes’ Reports on Sex Differences

Lesley Stahl of CBS News’ “60 Minutes” reported a story titled “Sex Matters: Drugs Can Affect Sexes Differently” that revealed pharmaceutical companies have almost exclusively tested new drugs on men despite marketing and selling them to women. SWHR provided historical background information, as well as expert contacts, to help CBS develop this story. The report shocked Americans and inspired renewed congressional interest in sex differences.

Jan 2014

SWHR Launches Interdisciplinary Network on Sleep

Women Sleep Guide 2017SWHR’s Sleep Network, which ran from 2014 to 2018, featured a diverse group of researchers and healthcare providers working to bring attention to sleep health issues in women in order to improve diagnosis, treatment, and management of sleep disorders. The network produced a “Women & Sleep Guide,” as well as a handout for patients and clinicians on “Women and Sleep Apnea.”

Oct 2013

SWHR Event Explores Sex Differences in Sleep

SWHR’s roundtable meeting explored the role that sex and gender play in sleep, as well as the state of women’s sleep health research. It aimed to identify basic and clinical research about specific challenges facing women with sleep-related problems. The roundtable resulted in a peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Women’s Health and served as the launching pad for SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Sleep.

Aug 2013

FDA Issues Report on Demographic Subgroup Data

As required by the 2012 FDASIA law, FDA issued a report, “Collection, Analysis and Availability of Demographic Subgroup Data for FDA – Approved Medical Products.” The report examined tools for submission of demographic information, subset analysis, and demographic subgroup participation in clinical trials submitted to the agency. The report mentioned the 2011 joint public workshop hosted by SWHR and the FDA Office of Women’s Health.

Nov 2012

SWHR Gathers Experts on Menopausal Hormone Therapy

SWHR hosted a roundtable meeting of researchers to analyze evidence on the effects of menopausal hormone therapy, as well as discuss next steps for research. Participants identified gaps in menopause research and published a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Women’s Health based on discussions at the roundtable.

Oct 2012

SWHR Roundtable Discusses Autoimmune Diseases

SWHR hosted a roundtable meeting to discuss autoimmune diseases, including differences between men and women and environmental factors that may have led to a rise of autoimmune diseases in the years prior to the meeting.

July 2012

Congress Passes Law Requiring FDA to Report on Sex, Race, and Ethnicity

Less than a year after SWHR and the FDA Office of Women’s Health collaborated for a conference and report about the inclusion of women and minorities in clinical research, Congress passed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which requires FDA to provide special reports and accounts of clinical trials by sex, race, and ethnicity.

Oct 2011

SWHR Roundtable Reviews State of Sex Differences Research in Alzheimer’s

SWHR hosted a roundtable of experts from academia, medicine, industry, and government to discuss the current state of sex and gender differences research in Alzheimer’s disease and identify gaps in need of further study. A summary of the meeting was published in the Journal of Women’s Health. This meeting laid the groundwork for SWHR’s follow-up roundtable in 2015 and the establishment of its Interdisciplinary Network on Alzheimer’s in 2016.

Sep 2011

SWHR And FDA Partner on Women and Minorities in Clinical Trials

Dialogues on Diversifying Clinical TrialsSWHR and the FDA Office of Women’s Health collaborated on a two-day conference, “Dialogues on Diversifying Clinical Trials,” and resulting white paper about successful strategies for the recruitment, retention, and subsequent analysis of women and minorities in clinical research.

Jul 2011

SWHR Conference Explores Conditions Affecting Female Veterans

This scientific conference highlighted sex differences in conditions that affect female veterans of military combat. The resulting report published in the Journal of Women’s Health focuses on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, urogenital health, musculoskeletal health, and traumatic brain injury. This meeting is an example of SWHR’s participation in the “Fatigues to Fabulous” national campaign to honor and support women veterans in America.

June 2011

SWHR And WomenHeart Release Updated Report on Women’s Heart Health

10QReport 2011SWHR’s Cardiovascular Disease Network partnered with WomenHeart to update the “10Q Report: Advancing Women’s Heart Health through Improved Research, Diagnosis and Treatment,” which addressed many of the questions that still existed about heart disease and women.

March 2010

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Becomes Law

President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This bill included the Women’s Health Office Act (WHOA), for which SWHR had long advocated. The WHOA was originally introduced in 1994 and subsequently re-introduced in every Congress from 1994 to 2009. Finally, 15 years later, SWHR’s signature piece of legislation passed, securing the offices of women’s health in the NIH, FDA, and many other federal agencies as well.

March 2010

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Becomes Law

President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This bill included the Women’s Health Office Act (WHOA), for which SWHR had long advocated. The WHOA was originally introduced in 1994 and subsequently re-introduced in every Congress from 1994 to 2009. Finally, 15 years later, SWHR’s signature piece of legislation passed, securing the offices of women’s health in the NIH, FDA, and many other federal agencies as well.

Jan 2010

SWHR Launches Biology of Sex Differences Journal

Biology of Sex DifferencesSWHR and the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD) founded the peer-reviewed, open-access academic journal Biology of Sex Differences, the official journal of OSSD. Published by BioMed Central and SWHR, Biology of Sex Differences aims to improve understanding of sex differences and foster development of therapeutic and diagnostic tools that are specific for sex differences.

Jan 2010

SWHR Launches Interdisciplinary Network on Exercise and Breast Cancer

In collaboration with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, SWHR established the Breast Cancer Network, which ran from 2011 to 2013, to examine how exercise impacts breast cancer risk and recurrence. The Network resulted in a study published in 2019 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research that provides some of the first evidence in humans that exercise could directly fight breast cancer.

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