Gender analysis: Making research transformative

December 18, 2017
By Jenny YC Lee, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health

What does “gender” mean to you? It is different from sex, which refers to the anatomy of an individual’s reproductive system. Gender varies across social context and over time. Nowadays, many researchers around the globe incorporate “gender analysis” to ensure equity in health system research. At the Fourth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health (HRH), we learned that gender analysis studies how gender power relations affect people’s lives. If performed well, it has the potential to revolutionize policy and practice.

Gender analysis research falls into a continuum. It ranges from gender unequal and gender blind, to gender sensitive, to gender transformative. Gender unequal perpetuates gender inequality. Gender blind ignores gender norms, roles and relations. Gender sensitive considers inequality caused by unequal gender norms, but presents no remedial action to address it. Lastly, gender transformative addresses the causes of gender-based health inequities. It includes strategies to foster progressive changes in power relations between men and women. Thus, this kind of analysis transforms harmful gender norms.

During a session at #HRHForum2017, Rosemary Morgan from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health invited participants to analyze research studies case by case, and place them on this continuum. My group received two different cases that present a stark contrast on the gender continuum. One was a research study on motivation of health workers in Vietnam. It showed that motivation is influenced by income, training and more. The study noted no differences in motivational levels between men and women, and without description of gender perspectives. Another research study focused on improving maternal health in South Sudan. This one described community dialogues for changing gender norms. As well, it involved women’s views and perspectives. My group placed the former study as “gender blind” and the latter as “gender sensitive”.

Such discrete placements stirred up healthy debates among the researchers in the room. The existence of this gender continuum itself implied that there was no discrete categorization of the research studies. Indeed, Rosemary and colleagues intended for participants to carefully consider the different cases and motivate us to incorporate a gender lens into our own research. This session highlighted the complexity of gender analysis and plurality of challenges faced in different cultural settings. More importantly, it addressed the need that research should attempt to move up the continuum towards a “gender transformative” approach.


November 16th, 2017

Recently graduated with a BSc from the University of British Columbia in Canada, Jenny is a young professional working at the Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction. As a previous intern at the World Health Organization (WHO), she shares the same collective vision that universal health coverage is an ethical imperative and understands the importance of health workforce as health workers are the core of our health systems.

 Connect with Jenny on LinkedIn and Twitter!


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