Beyond Sex and Gender Difference in Funding and Reporting of Health Research

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Final version published as: 

Hankivsky, O., Springer, K.W. & Hunting, G. Beyond sex and gender difference in funding and reporting of health research. Res Integr Peer Rev 3, 6 (2018). DOI: 10.1186/s41073-018-0050-6.

Date created: 
Sex differences
Knowledge generation
Funding agencies
Scientific reporting
Health journals

Background  Understanding sex and gender in health research can improve the quality of scholarship and enhance health outcomes. Funding agencies and academic journals are two key gatekeepers of knowledge production and dissemination, including whether and how sex/gender is incorporated into health research. Though attention has been paid to key issues and practices in accounting for sex/gender in health funding agencies and academic journals, to date, there has been no systematic analysis documenting whether and how agencies and journals require attention to sex/gender, what conceptual explanations and practical guidance are given for such inclusion, and whether existing practices reflect the reality that sex/gender cannot be separated from other axes of inequality.

Methods  Our research systematically examines official statements about sex/gender inclusion from 45 national-level funding agencies that fund health research across 36 countries (covering the regions of the EU and associated countries, North America, and Australia) and from ten top-ranking general health (the top five in “science” and the top five in “social science”) and ten sex- and/or gender-related health journals. We explore the extent to which agencies and journals require inclusion of sex/gender considerations and to what extent existing strategies reflect state of the art understandings of sex/gender, including intersectional perspectives.

Results  The research highlights the following: (a) there is no consistency in whether sex/gender are mentioned in funding and publishing guidelines; (b) there is wide variation in how sex/gender are conceptualized and how researchers are asked to address the inclusion/exclusion of sex/gender in research; (c) funding agencies tend to prioritize male/female equality in research teams and funding outcomes over considerations of sex/gender in research content and knowledge production; and (d) with very few exceptions, agency and journal criteria fail to recognize the complexity of sex/gender, including the intersection of sex/gender with other key factors that shape health.

Conclusions  The conceptualization and integration of sex/gender needs to better capture the interacting and complex factors that shape health—an imperative that can be informed by an intersectional approach. This can strengthen current efforts to advance scientific excellence in the production and reporting of research. We provide recommendations and supporting questions to strengthen consideration of sex/gender in policies and practices of health journals and funding agencies.

Document type: 
Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)