Saving lives with gender studies? Putting technofeminism into practice
Keywords:technofeminism, feminist STS, medicine technology, participatory technology, cardio rehabilitation
Although cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of morbidity and death for all humans, measurable differences can be observed as a function of both sex (e.g. in risk factors and clinical presentation, based on biological factors such as hormone levels or tissue structure) and gender (e.g. diagnosis, treatment, and clinical outcomes based on sociocultural factors such as roles, norms, behaviour; Kentner & Grace, 2017). Cardiovascular rehabilitation (CR) is known to significantly reduce CVD mortality and re-hospitalization rates, and increases quality of life for all genders. Nevertheless, women are less often referred to CR by physicians, which could be explained by multiple reasons, one of them unconscious sex and gender biases. Additionally, women face family responsibilities and lack of transportation options as greater hindering factors than men (ibid.). Those facts made CR a logical target for a medicine technology project, which developed (between 2018 and 2021) a multifunctional data patch for monitoring of vital signs and movements. These patches with printed ECG sensors can be worn on the skin for several weeks and thus can be used to support cardiovascular tele-rehabilitation. However, the use case of cardiovascular disease and the motivation to close the gender gap in its rehabilitation found its way into the technology design process only because the project received funding for implementing a gender perspective in an interdisciplinary team. The Austrian FEMtech research funding programme is an example of implementing a gender policy into practice by integrating gender as a cross-cutting issue in science and research as well as promoting gender equality in the research team itself. This paper analyses the application of a technofeminist approach (Wajcman 2004) in a project and outlines its implications. This started by raising awareness on the concept of “configuring the user as ‘everybody’ and the use of the ‘I-methodology‘” (Oudshoorn et al. 2004, p.30). It consequently followed a participatory technology design path, involving stakeholders from the very beginning. Thus, instead of only sticking to mandatory tasks of reflecting gender in meetings, the project team expanded their methodology and interdisciplinary setup into a transdisciplinary undertaking drawing on the RRI (responsible research and innovation) values of reflexivity, responsiveness, anticipation and deliberation (Stilgoe et al. 2013). In the long run, a gender-sensitive – technofeminist – research and design process should result in better and more comprehensive routines and products, thus, regarding medical and safety issues, potentially saving lives.
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