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Pandemic sidelined top women academics

Images: MRC; GovernmentZA [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Only two women among top ten 10 Covid-19 experts given exposure

Top women scientists were largely ignored during the initial stages of South Africa’s novel coronavirus pandemic, a study has found.

The paper in the South African Journal of Science found that women science experts received significantly less public exposure than men during the pandemic. The paper found that “men were disproportionately featured as expert voices”.

The article by researchers based at Stellenbosch University and the University of Hamburg in Germany analysed researchers at professor level who featured in news coverage during the first six months of the pandemic.

Only 30 per cent of the more than 1,400 expert researchers identified were women. Glenda Gray, the head of the South African Medical Research Council, and Cheryl Cohen, the head of the Centre for Respiratory Disease and Meningitis at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, were the only two women researchers in the top ten.

Salim Abdool Karim, who was the head of the Covid-19 advisory committee at the time, and Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, were respectively quoted three and two times more than Gray and Cohen.

The 70:30 split is lower than the number of women in the overall research staff at universities (48 per cent) and the overall number of women professors (40 per cent).

The authors say that the findings suggest that women researchers should be “equipped with confidence and skills” to engage with the media. But, they say, the media should also be encouraged to feature diverse scientific voices and institutions should incentivise women scientists to engage with the media.