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I am very glad to see this article and the research that went into it. Although the findings are disappointing on their own, an historical perspective would show they are certainly a sign of some progress compared to the days when no journal at all considered the issue of equity in authorship, let alone in peer review or subject matter. In 1992, Sundari Ravindran and I founded the journal Reproductive Health Matters (RHM). We published an issue twice a year with an editorial and 20-25 articles that included features, original research, commentaries and news summaries. We formed an Editorial Advisory Board and a Board of Trustees so as to become a charity early on, and began listing their names in the journal in 1997. One of the most important policy decisions our joint board meetings made, also around 1997, was related to equity of authorship and equity in other forms of participation, e.g. in peer reviewing. We also began to publish shorter editions of the journal with some the papers, which were translated into Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, and Hindi by editors from the countries/regions represented by those languages.
The journal, published by Elsevier Science, was open access throughout the time RHM existed, because we raised donor funds to pay them for this. In my opinion, if a journal is not open access, then ensuring equity of access to publication is not possible, because the authors most likely to be given grants to pay for open access are more likely...
The journal, published by Elsevier Science, was open access throughout the time RHM existed, because we raised donor funds to pay them for this. In my opinion, if a journal is not open access, then ensuring equity of access to publication is not possible, because the authors most likely to be given grants to pay for open access are more likely to be in global north institutions that can afford it. I believe this is one of the most important reasons why equity of access for authors and others involved in journal publication has not progressed more than it has, as shown in the current article.
A quick look through the first editions of RHM shows that we had a very international group of board members, authors and peer reviewers from a wide range of countries, including the global south (or what the authors of this article call LMIC countries). But like other journals, we did not have a policy to that effect at the beginning, only the politics of international feminism and women’s rights. This changed when one of the trustees put this subject on the agenda of an annual meeting, around 1997, and proposed that we develop written policy on equity, which we did. Its first and most important point was that any paper published about a specific country had to be by at least some authors from that country, not just as an afterthought at the end of the list or as people who were thanked for “helping with the research”. Together we enforced this policy throughout my editorship, which lasted 23 years. With each edition, I would do a count of how many authors and peer reviewers and countries were represented by the articles and from which parts of the world. I reported this to the annual meetings as well, though I can’t recall for how long.
We were very aware that few if any other journals did the same at the time, including the most important health-related journals, whose tables of contents I scoured regularly for news and partly with checking equity of authorship in mind.
When I left RHM in May 2015, its name, editorship, staff, boards, and publisher all changed. I don’t know if this policy has continued. I do know that real open access in most journals is far less available than we may be led to believe.