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Women: media interviews vs health research

by Shari Graydon

Meeting with the energetic and engaging Martha Paynter of the East Coast chapter of LEAF last week to speak about the possibility of bringing Informed Opinions to Halifax, I learned something interesting:

Although women are less likely to agree to be interviewed when contacted by journalists or stopped for “streeters” (the on-the-spot opinion sampling occasionally done by TV news crews), they’re more inclined than their male counterparts to participate in health research studies. Martha, whose day job is managing Nova Scotia’s Patient Access Registry, revealed this during our discussion.

Given what else I’ve learned from speaking with female experts over the past year about what motivates — or prevents — them from engaging, this makes sense. By and large, they want to make a difference. So furthering scientific research and finding out more about their own health in the process is an incentive, where having their mug on TV or being quoted in the paper is not.

However, one of the tasks of Informed Opinions is to remind women that the absence of our faces, voices and unique perspectives on the world costs us all. Making a difference requires our ideas and analyses to be heard and considered. And speaking up when we know something about the issue at hand — or have the capacity to illuminate a topic that otherwise won’t be covered — is critical.

Also in Halifax, Janice Keefe, holder of a Canada Research Chair in Aging and Caregiving Policy and the Director of the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, allowed that in her field, even though most of the researchers are female, the public pontificators are largely male.

Is that situation likely to affect what kinds of issues are focused on and funded? And might some of what nets less attention and money reflect, as a result, concerns that affect primarily women?

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