Research must take gender into account

Future European funding may depend on identifying how research affects women as well as men

April 11, 2013

Addressing whether research has a “gender dimension” is to become a greater priority under new plans for European funding.

The term refers to the fact that research does not always account for differences between men and women and this needs to be woven into the fabric of research projects.

Katrien Maes, chief policy officer at the League of European Research Universities, said a failure to consider gender in research has led to medicines being less evidence-based for women and has also resulted in products and services being ill-designed for, or untested on, women.

The issue was discussed at the Leru round-table event on “Women, research and universities: excellence without gender bias” on 22 March in Brussels, and may gain greater prominence under the next research funding framework, Horizon 2020. Dr Maes said the European Commission was considering whether to strengthen its requirements for applicants to take into account the gender dimension of research in funding applications from 2014 to 2020.

“If somebody puts in a proposal for a research project, they could ask, have you taken into account whether there is a need to have a gender dimension? Are there any gender or sex analyses that are necessary?” said Dr Maes. The Commission may also introduce specific funding for gender- related research in areas such as the environment, transport and nutrition.

Failures to consider gender as a variable in research have led to drugs being withdrawn from sale because they had not been extensively tested on women. Products such as assistive technologies for the elderly also need to consider the different needs of the sexes, Dr Maes said.

How universities and governments can improve equality is now largely understood, but making it happen takes time and commitment, she added.

Leru - whose UK members include the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh and Oxford, Imperial College London and University College London - has convened a working group on gender. The organisation recommends that its institutions put long-term funding behind their gender strategies, although not all do.

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