Proposal writing advice: Gender/Sex Dimensions in Research

Last changed: 12 July 2021

There are increasing demands from funders that you indicate whether there is a gender/sex dimension in your proposed research and how you plan to address this through your research design, implementation, evaluation, interpretation and dissemination. If you express that there is no gender/sex dimension in your research, you may have to explain why not and how you have come to that conclusion.

 

Some funders will only refer to gender dimensions or gender perspectives, in which case, gender should be the focus, but you may need or want to address both gender and sex in your proposal and subsequent project. (See below for an explanation of the difference between these two terms.)

It is important not to confuse a gender balance/distribution within your research team with gender dimensions in your research content. A gender balance is essential, sometimes mandatory, but that is usually not what funders are asking you to describe in a gender dimensions section.

Why is it important? What are the benefits for you?

There are several reasons why it is essential to consider whether there is a gender/sex dimension in your research that you should take into account and control for by integrating some level of gender/sex analysis. 

  • It can have real-life consequences if you don't. Your project (intervention/results/impact) may have different implications for women and men even when this is not readily apparent - for example, if the potential differences between women and men do not seem to matter in relation to your specific research topic. Ignoring gender/sex, or failing to realise that gender/sex is a relevant dimension in your research, may in the worst case aggravate gender disparities in society. Suppose you extrapolate your project’s results, or the impact of your project’s results, to the entire population when it may only apply to a proportion. Ignoring gender may then produce misleading results, have profound gendered implications, reproduce gender stereotypes or perpetuate gender inequalities.
  • It improves the quality of your research. By including just a few gender-sensitive variables when you collect your data, you may reveal a lot of important and relevant information. If you are unsure if or how you will be able to make the most out of this data, remember that it also opens up the possibility for other researchers to conduct further gender analysis - and they will need gender or sex disaggregated data and gender-differentiated statistics. You do not know what this level of analysis may be able to tell you, or those who will go on to use your results, for example, in future research, policymaking, education etc.
  • It increases your potential impact. By integrating a gender dimension, you can question gender norms and stereotypes and investigate gendered needs, attitudes and behaviours in relation to the main focus of your research. Considering a gender/sex dimension can prompt more socially relevant research questions and dissemination strategies. This will enhance the societal relevance of any new knowledge, technologies and innovations. By failing to do so, your research results and impact may not be equally applicable to everyone.
  • It makes your proposal more competitive. Funders are asking you to consider these perspectives in your research, and thereby recognise their importance. Applicants who address gender/sex dimensions appropriately will have a competitive edge over those that do not. If you choose to ignore them or do not justify why they are not relevant for your project, you risk losing points.

How do you know if there are gender/sex dimensions to your research?

A simple way to answer this question is to say that if your research will have an impact on humans, it has gender perspectives!

You can also ask yourself whether your research will involve people as subjects - this may be less evident at first, for example gathering information at farm level, where this also could include data on individual farm owners/operators. You should then consider whether your research outcomes might differ if you were to distinguish between their gender/sex, at any phase of the research or dissemination.

It is important to remember that in animal studies, the sex of the animals being studied is also an important dimension on which you could consider collecting disaggregated data.

Reports published by the European Commission (2020) and Kilden Gender Research (2018) present case studies highlighting how gender/sex is relevant to several research fields. The European Commission report also suggests various methods for integrating a gender/sex dimension into your research. Reading case studies from reports such as these may inspire you to think about how gender/sex could be significant in your own project.

How do you address gender/sex dimensions in your proposal or project?

You can integrate gender/sex dimensions at various stages of your research process: 

  • While framing your research question(s). A lack of attention to the potential effects of gender or sex differences may restrict the scope of your study. By wrongly assuming no differences, or that your research is gender-neutral, you may miss opportunities for innovation, limit the validity of your conclusions, or deliver outcomes which inadvertently advantage one gender/sex. Educate yourself about potential gender or sex differences in your research field, consult widely and encourage the inclusion of different perspectives in your research design.
  • During the analysis phase. If cultural attitudes, needs and behaviours are factors which may determine the outcomes of your study, you should consider including gender analysis (or justify why you have chosen not to). Sex should be taken into account in your analysis wherever relevant, for example, in biomedical research (animal and human) or in product, process or systems design. Note that other social identities may intersect with sex and/or gender, for example, age, social class/ socio-economic status, ethnicity/race, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and religion/religious beliefs and may increase or decrease sex/gender differences. Considering how various social identities are mutually constituted is a research field of its own referred to as intersectional research.  
  • When reporting your results. If there are differences in your research outcomes based on gender and/or sex, you should describe them and publish gender/sex-disaggregated data. If you are reporting no gender or sex differences, you should state this in a way that makes it clear whether they do not exist, or whether you have not performed this type of analysis.

The level of integration of a gender/sex dimension and analysis in your project will, of course, depend on the size of the project (budget, resources, duration, etc.).

For smaller projects, where only a few individuals will participate, you can most likely not include someone in the research team with gender expertise. In this case, you might not conduct any gender analysis within the project, but that does not mean you cannot carry out your research in a gender-sensitive way. For example, you could:

  • Collect gender/sex-disaggregated data. If you collect and tabulate your data separately for women and men, differences between them on various social and economic dimensions can be measured. You may not choose to analyse these differences in your project, but others can use your data for these purposes.
  • Consider gender during stakeholder engagement. If your project involves stakeholders, (i.e. those who influence or are influenced by your research), you can aim for meaningful participation of men and women in this process. This is particularly important where one gender is under-represented, marginalised, traditionally excluded from decision-making processes or may have different priorities and needs.
  • Educate yourself on the potential gender implications of your research. Even if you do not intend to conduct an element of gender analysis in your project, you can still demonstrate that you have considered the impact of your research through a gender lens. You can describe what the gender dimensions are in your field, and how your results might have either a direct impact on these or an indirect impact by aiding further research.

In larger projects, with multiple partner organisations and many individual participants, it is much more likely that you can include someone in the team who has gender expertise. It is particularly important to consider doing this when the funder has specified that gender is a core element or cross-cutting issue of the call you are applying to. This person can identify and integrate gender/sex perspectives across the project and help to write the proposal.

SLU employs several researchers with gender expertise, who also conduct research in our core focus areas of sciences and sustainable life. Consider contacting one of them if you are looking for someone with their skills and knowledge to join your project team. If you are unsure how to find the right person or people, please feel free to reach out to the Grants Office (grantsoffice@slu.se), and we will help you.

Please see below for links to many tools and learning resources you can use to educate yourself on integrating a gender/sex dimension and conducting gender-sensitive research.

Common mistakes - try to avoid them!

  • Don’t confuse gender and sex. Most funders distinguish between gender and sex, so be careful not to use the terms interchangeably. Sex refers to biological attributes including physical features, chromosomes, gene expression, hormones and anatomy. Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities. You can write about both in your proposal, but be clear that you understand the difference.
  • Gender dimensions aren’t only about women. When addressing a gender/sex dimension in proposals and projects, a common approach is only to consider how the research will affect or include women. However, it is important to consider whether there may be perspectives relevant for men, women, girls, boys or gender diverse people.
  • Don’t leave the section blank. If the funder asks you to write about gender/sex perspectives, then take the time to either do so or justify why you believe it is not relevant for your project. In the latter case, have believable motivations - don’t make sweeping statements that you cannot back up (for example, “this project has no gender dimensions” or “this research area is gender-neutral”). These types of statements are often unfounded, and can be aggravating to some evaluators - you don’t want that!

Gender balance - it’s important too

As indicated above, although the gender/sex dimension section of your proposal is not about showing you have a gender balance within your research team - that does not mean it isn’t important to have. Some funders demand a gender balance, while others recommend it and may use it during the evaluation stage as a deciding factor when several proposals have equally high scores (e.g. Horizon Europe).

You should not only aim for a gender balance because the funders tell you to - it will improve your research and its impact. Diversity in your research team will direct you to more socially relevant research questions and dissemination strategies; ultimately leading to research that is more applicable and beneficial to a broader population.

Aim for a team with at least 40% women or 40% men, and ideally replicate this balance in any leadership roles and advisory boards.

More information and help

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