Sex and Gender in Research

The CNIHR Program aims to support research projects that follow the highest scientific standards. Research that accounts for sex and gender is expected to provide more meaningful data, which will lead to appropriate evidence-based interventions. When appropriate, applicants to the CNIHR Program are expected to integrate sex and gender into their research designs and to ensure when collecting data that it is disaggregated by sex and gender.

The World Health Organization defines the terms sex and gender as follows: Sex “refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women,” while Gender “refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”[1] Sex and gender constitute important determinants of health and form a complex interrelationship.

Sex considerations do not apply exclusively to research involving human subjects. The concentration on male animal models and the lack of sex analyses in bioscience research utilizing tissues and cells inhibit a comprehensive understanding of disease progression and the development of effective treatments. Including sex and gender analysis in biomedical research has the potential to stimulate novel ideas and innovative technologies. For further information on the importance of sex and gender in research and methods on how to include sex and gender in your research design, please refer to Gendered Innovations.[2]

The following questions are posed to help you consider whether sex is relevant, and, if so, how to account for sex and gender in your research:

  • Establishing relevance: In which ways are sex and/or gender important variables in the research field?
  • Establishing research question or hypothesis: Does your research question(s) or hypothesis(es) account for sex and/or gender differences and similarities?
  • Developing research design: Are sex and/or gender considered and incorporated in your research design? Does your study design account for relevant ethical issues that might have particular significance with respect to gender? Is your sample appropriate to identify sex- and/or gender-based differences and similarities and to allow for the disaggregation of data by sex and/or gender? Is the recruitment strategy and data collection method gender-sensitive?
  • Planning data analysis: Is your analytic approach suitable to capture sex- and/or gender- based differences and similarities?
  • Interpreting data: Do you discuss and draw conclusions from sex- and/or gender-based differences and similarities? What implications do your results have for clinical practice and future research?
  • Reporting findings: Are sex- and/or gender-based differences and similarities clearly reported?

[1]“What do we mean by “sex” and “gender”?” World Health Organization. Retrieved 12 April 2013.

[2]“What is gendered innovation?” Gendered Innovations. Retrieved 25 April 2013.