October 4, 2023

SWHR Convenes Thought Leaders in Women’s Health for Salon Dinner Conversation

A small group of thought leaders and national partners in women’s health gathered in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 27, for Elevating Women’s Health: A Salon Dinner Conversation, hosted by the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR). The event was intended to bring together representatives from across health care sectors to discuss the current landscape in women’s health research and care, including the greatest challenges and areas of need and potential policy solutions.

In discussing the greatest achievements and points of progress over the past few years, participants raised the recognition that men and women are different; the changing of the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (the “Common Rule”) in 2019 to remove pregnant women from the list of “vulnerable populations;” the acknowledgement and urgency of the maternal mortality crisis in the United States; the attention now being paid to social determinants of health (SDOH); and the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which codified Offices of Women’s Health across the federal government, eliminated lifetime limits for essential health benefits, and elevated the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities to an Institute, among other provisions.

Yet, these steps are not enough to make equity and parity in health and health care a reality. Participants acknowledged that there is still much to be done despite the progress that has been made.

Among the greatest challenges cited was operating in today’s highly polarized political climate, which is wrought with tight funding and competing policy priorities. Republicans and Democrats are more divided than ever, and issues that were once non-partisan are now politically polarizing or do not rise to the top amongst other areas of policy need and amid near constant funding struggles.

Other areas of need that were raised included the continued challenges in the research space. These challenges include women still not being sufficiently represented within clinical trials and the lack of attention paid to sex as a biological variable (SABV) in research reporting. Despite steps that have been taken over the years on this issue, such as establishment of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Policy on SABV, there are opportunities to better integrate the policy throughout the biomedical research spectrum as well as to improve accountability when SABV is not considered. Additionally, many publishers are not requiring SABV in the reporting of published research articles. Beyond these challenges, there are also obstacles when it comes to caring for pregnant women due to the exclusion of pregnant populations in research. While the health of the infant is critical, the health of the mother cannot be discounted. Further, their health is connected; the health of the mother has a direct impact on the health of baby.

Participants also raised that the Offices of Women’s Health across the federal government do not appear to be coordinating in the same way they once did, which is causing concern over loss of their effectiveness and strategic vision.

Looking ahead, although there are myriad opportunities to change the landscape for the better in women’s health (payment reform, addressing medical gaslighting, etc.), there was broad acknowledgement that more research funding across the spectrum (from clinical to health services and public health research) remains the greatest tool in our arsenal to make up for lost time and close gaps in knowledge. Key to the success of these research efforts is the sufficient representation of women—and diverse populations of women—in research.

SWHR looks forward to continuing to engage with these and other partners to address challenges and opportunities in women’s health and achieve a world in which women’s health is mainstream.

If you would like to share your ideas for achieving gender health equity in the United States, please email policy@swhr.org.

This event was made possible by funding from Organon.