To promote gender-sensitive research, the Pompeu Fabra University Center for Science, Communication and Society Studies (CCS-UPF), has prepared the guide “How to incorporate the gender perspective in our research?”. It is a document and a series of videos aimed at all research staff who want to incorporate the gender perspective in their work but do not yet have the necessary tools to do so.
We speak with Carolina Llorente, one of the authors.
Are we talking about gender … or about sex?
They are two different concepts that are often confused. Sex is biological, it is determined by the chromosomes that we have, mainly XX or XY, although there are other combinations. Gender on the other hand is a social construction. Although in our current society we tend to be divided in a dominant way into “male or female”, more and more people demand a different vision from the binary one.
In any case, in this guide we talk about both, because adopting a gender perspective in research, development and innovation implies making the analyses sensitive to both gender and sex in all phases of the research process, from the design and the initial hypothesis to the communication of results.
“It is necessary to differentiate between sex (biological) and gender (social). But it is important to consider both in our research”
Carolina Llorente (DCEXS-UPF)
And what exactly does gender-sensitive research mean?
It means taking into account potential differences between sexes and genders throughout the research process. That is, to include all sexes or genders in the study (women or non-binary identities are often underrepresented in clinical trials, for example) and analyze the results segregated by sex or gender, to see if there are differences.
Why is this so important?
Analyzing sex and gender as one more variable provides a higher quality to the research. And, when we talk about medicine, it can save lives and minimize the probability of negative consequences of drugs or therapeutic interventions. It is known, for example, that drugs are metabolized differently in the different sexes, or there are diseases that affect differently both sexes. In other words, it cannot be assumed that the male model (both in sex and gender) can be taken as a standard and extrapolate its results to the entire population, because it is not like that at all.
“You cannot assume the masculine as the standard model and extrapolate its results to the entire population”
Beyond obtaining biased results, not taking into account a sex or gender also implies that knowledge, experience, and visions of approximately half of humanity are being wasted.
Are we still dragging the archaic idea of science as a “man’s thing”?
Unfortunately. Less and less, but that’s the way it is! As in other fields, today there are various gender biases in the scientific world:
- At the economical level: there is still a salary gap between men and women.
- At the level of representation, evaluation, access and recruitment: some examples are the stereotypical view of science as a male profession, or the famous scissor graph that shows a decrease in the proportion of women reaching high positions in the academic world.
- at the content level: even when deciding which scientific questions to ask, these have been proposed mostly by middle and upper class Western white men, and do not necessarily match the problems, interests or experiences of the rest of humanity.
Including a gender perspective in research, therefore, includes not only making an analysis sensitive to gender and sex, but also working to achieve gender equality at all levels.