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By Khalid El Bairi, MD

I read with great interest about the recent launch of The Lancet Commission on Women, Power, and Cancer, which anticipates system-wide structural changes in gender and global health to promote equity and social justice.1 This significant advancement has established a roadmap for promoting the leadership of women in oncology worldwide, bridging the Global North-South divide. While gender disparities in oncology and other fields are increasingly recognized as a global issue, women in low- and middle-income countries often experience greater inequalities, especially in regions that have a strongly patriarchal history. As we all strive for gender equity in the oncology workforce, I would like to draw the attention of the oncology community to the remarkable support men can provide, within their spheres of individual influence, to empower women in their role in cancer research. We have a critical part to play in righting this longstanding disparity.

Principal Investigators: Be Intentional About Meaningfully Involving Women in Your Research Projects

When I identified ovarian cancer as a considerably neglected cancer in Morocco and initiated the OVANORDEST (OVAire dans le NORD-EST) project,2 ensuring the active participation of women oncologists from my setting as primary investigators was of utmost importance. To address this issue of gender inequity in research, I was actively involved in our institution as an advocate and mentor for my female colleagues. I was also heavily engaged in opening discussions with leaders and colleagues about the adverse effects of male-dominant environments such as North Africa. By showcasing the success and contributions of women oncologists through training and visible roles, we encouraged a culture of support and recognition. We tackled stereotypes and biases, highlighting the value of diverse perspectives in enhancing research and patient care. We also implemented targeted workshops providing both men and women oncologists with tools to understand and advocate for gender equity, including bibliometric analyses. To engage male colleagues in these efforts, we built mentorship programs where they could see firsthand the potential and capabilities of their female peers. By fostering an environment of mutual respect and learning, we encouraged more inclusive behaviors. Our roadmap involves creating mentorship and training opportunities, promoting open dialogue about gender and diversity issues, and recognizing and celebrating the achievements of all researchers, regardless of gender. This approach not only advances research and care but also creates a more balanced and productive workplace.

Men in leadership roles in our institution are supporting women oncologists from our department in making significant career progress, establishing independent projects and assuming roles as accomplished senior researchers. This progress involves their active participation as speakers at international cancer conferences and their appointments as associate editors of oncology publications, paving the way for increased representation and leadership roles within oncology.

Above: Dr. Ikram Kharmach, a medical oncology resident, presents her research findings at an oncology conference, supported by a mentorship program in cancer research.

Participate in Research on Workforce Disparities in Your Community to Find Actionable Solutions

We recently established the GEORGiNA (Gender Equity in Oncology Research Group in North Africa) research group, which comprises prominent oncology researchers of all genders from North African countries, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan. The purpose of this group is to address the issue of gender inequality and inequity in this region of Africa to deliver recommendations for policymakers and advocacy associations. The preliminary finding of this project (which was recognized with a Merit Award from Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation) revealed that women in the North African oncology workforce held an equitable position as senior researchers, accounting for 52.5% of the total. However, barriers such as limited funding and less engagement in international collaborations hampered gender equity in this region.3

Dr. Khalid El Bairi and Professor Georgina Long in front of a poster at ESMO 2023.

Above: Dr. El Bairi meets with Professor Georgina Long, a leading melanoma expert who received the 2023 ESMO Women for Oncology Award. This honor coincided with the presentation of the GEORGiNA study findings at ESMO23 in Madrid, Spain.

Partner With Local Professional Organizations on Programs to Support Gender Equity

Cancer organizations in under-resourced areas, such as the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), can play a significant role in identifying local gaps and barriers to achieving gender equity in oncology. In September 2023, we organized a meeting hosted by AORTIC on this issue, with a specific focus on Africa.

Agenda for AORTIC Research Integrity Webinar

Above: Agenda for a recent research integrity seminar on gender inequity in oncology hosted by the AORTIC.

During the seminar, we examined the current situation and the progress the continent has made in promoting the leadership of women in cancer research. We also discussed practical tools and strategies to foster inclusivity and diversity. The AORTIC initiative and its global commitments should serve as a starting point for other societies to initiate local discussions on this global issue.

Collectively, our individual initiatives demonstrate how men can be supportive of women to challenge intersectional discrimination.4 Together, ensuring that no woman is left behind should be our daily worldwide mission. Indeed, this joins the first guiding principle of the Lancet Commission on promoting transformative actions towards gender equality, equity, and social justice. Training, mentoring, hands-on guidance, and breaking stereotypes are key to achieve the goal of women leadership in cancer research.

Dr. El Bairi is a clinical research fellow in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at University Mohammed VI Polytechnic in Ben Guerir, Morocco. Disclosure.

References

  1. Ginsburg O, Vanderpuye V, Beddoe AM, et al. Women, power, and cancer: a Lancet Commission. Lancet. 2023;402(10417):2113-66. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(23)01701-4.
  2. El Bairi K, Al Jarroudi O, Afqir S. The OVANORDEST project: making an impact on ovarian cancer in Morocco. Int J Gynecol Cancer. 2023;33:1970-1. doi: 10.1136/ijgc-2023-004892.
  3. El Bairi K, GEORGiNA study collaborators. Systematic mapping of gender disparities in oncology publications of north African countries: The GEORGiNA study. JCO Global Oncol. 2023;9:Supplement_1 (Abstr 112). doi: 10.1200/GO.2023.9.Supplement_1.112.
  4. Ratele K, Verma R, Cruz S, et al. Engaging men to support women in science, medicine, and global health. Lancet. 2019;393:609-10. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30031-5.
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