Gender Dimension in Research: What’s the big deal?

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We are living in an unprecedented era. Never before have diversity and gender equality been such a high item in the agenda of the European Commission. Why is that and why now? We are in 2021, and according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 from the World Economic Forum, it will take 135.6 years to achieve global parity between men and women¹, a gap that the COVID pandemic has worsened. Without a systematic approach and commitment, we will not close this gap.

What does gender have to do with your project proposal?

Well, you as a researcher have a great responsibility. You can not only promote gender balance in your team by hiring a diverse team, but you can also promote balance by designing your research project. Only by taking into account sex and gender your research will have a real societal impact, because every cell is sexed and every person is gendered.

What happens if you do not take into account sex and gender? 

The past offers multiple examples. You might all be aware that for decades, crash test dummies were based on average male bodies; now even though smaller models are used to represent women, they fail to account for some other typical differences, such as neck strength, which can have a huge impact in injuries. As a consequence, women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident.2
Other examples are offered from the field of artificial intelligence. Facial recognition systems perform better on men’s faces than on women’s, and on lighter skin than darker skin; women are more likely to feel unwell when using virtual reality; Google’s speech-recognition software was 70% more likely to accurately recognize male speech.

What about the current pandemic? Have all the differences been taken into account?

To address this, a group of experts from the European Commission has developed a case study on “The impact of sex and gender in the current COVID-19 pandemic”, where they highlighted the importance of taking into account gender-sensitive analysis. For instance,  biological differences between men and women can influence immune response, and women appear to experience more medication side-effects than men. On another note, lockdowns have affected men and women differently.  Have you ever thought about gendered behaviour differences in smoking or hand-washing? For example, women washed their hands more frequently than men after using the bathroom. All these differences need to be taken into account not only when doing research but also when developing preventive campaigns. 

Researchers’ responsibility

Therefore, when you design your project take into account how your research can affect women and men differently, think about how your results can be influenced by sex differences. This can save lives and your research can have more value.
“Not incorporating gender and sex analysis in research can cost lives and money. Researchers have a duty to be as rigorous as possible.” (Prof. Schiebinger, Stanford University, one of the initiators of the Gendered Innovations project, Kilden Gender Research, Nov 2020)
If you want to learn more about how to integrate the gender dimension in your project, visit: Gendered innovations European Commision

Global Gender Gap Report 
2 The deadly truth about a world built for men - from stab vests to car crashes