How Science Is Using Gender-Lens Thinking Induced by COVID

A new research paper exploring how COVID-19 gender policy changes have helped female scientists and improved research quality was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research shines a pandemic-inspired light on how self-identified females are specifically impacted by COVID. Their job roles as scientists are being redefined and their increased caregiving roles are taking priority.

The results of the study, although unsurprising in terms of perpetual gender inequities, are unique to today’s world. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) initiated their “COVID-19 funding competition” in February of 2020, and found fewer females applied. Those that did apply, were also less likely to be approved.

According to UN Women, the rate of “unpaid work” women are doing now in the age of COVID has drastically increased. School closures and health uncertainties have highlighted this inequity and increased responsibility. This connection between available time to dedicate to employment and caregiving is causing a step back for women’s careers outside the home.

Addressing Obvious Inequities

CIHR knew from their own historical data that there was something to be found in these results. “To address these issues, CIHR implemented a series of data-driven gender policy interventions in a second COVID-19 funding competition in April to May 2020.”

These included pushing out the due date of the funding applications, encouraging shorter form submission options, and including “Why sex and gender need to be considered in COVID-19 research” as a reference. This guide details the intersectional nature of gender and identity factors (i.e., race, ethnicity, religion, age, socioeconomic status, disability, etc.) in both researching COVID-19 and being an actual researcher oneself.

After including this new information and expanding their application parameters, not only did the number of applicants increase from 227 to 1488, but the amount of self-identified females also increased by 10%.

Women and Identity in Scientific Research

Resting within that data is the importance of females in scientific research in general. That in itself is clear and “identity factors are better incorporated in research content” when gender is more evenly dispersed among scientists. As COVID is still redefining women’s roles around the world though, these differences should be analyzed even moreso than they were before.

For example, women comprise 70% of the healthcare field globally. Yet, only 30% of those leading the way in healthcare research and action are women. UN Women explains how such discrepancies are a direct exemplar of these multi-faceted inequities women face, especially now.

This need for a COVID context, and what specifically it highlights, leads directly to intersectional approaches towards feminist philanthropy. CIHR provides commendable suggestions to “redress inequities”, but the individualized nature of caregiving really requires a more participatory role from the women themselves.

It’s hard not to think immediately about front-end, preventative measures. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, a leading feminist lawyer who crafted the term ‘intersectional feminism’ states, “all inequality is not created equal.” Therefore, it becomes vital to progress towards an equal distribution of funding and giving that’s built around and inspired by those in need.

Pioneers in intersectional feminist philanthropy

Thankfully, philanthropic pioneers are already breaking barriers and applying these intersectional methods. Astraea, a global leader in LGBTQI funding and grantmaking, outlines some of these necessary considerations in their publication, Feminist Funding Principles. The focus should be on listening to those who are most oppressed and initiating grassroots philanthropic efforts based on their own interpretations.

This movement towards historical, power-balancing participation within funding and grantmaking is also outlined by GrantCraft, another global leader in strategic funding efforts. Their guide, “Deciding Together: Shifting Power and Resources Through Participatory Grantmaking,” provides an extensive roadmap around giving back power to those it was taken from. The next step is to actually follow through on those groups’ suggestions for reducing inequities.  

Applying the findings for change

These are a few of many non-profits, NGOs, and companies paving the way for shifts in research and consequent funding for women’s equality. As is always the case, hindsight is 20/20. As COVID unleashes a new round of research and realizations around inequities, prevention seems the most appropriate course of action.

Removing barriers and adapting guidelines, as done by CIHR, should be the norm. Their study highlights this issue not only in scientific research but in creating more objective information and helping people realize that gender lens thinking helps to address some of the biases created by gender norms. Starting from an intersectional and participatory standpoint seems like the best way to move toward a more equal and contextualized representation of all individuals, both in research and action for change. 


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Author: Abigail DelVecchio

Abigail DelVecchio, MSc, is a freelance copywriter and writer focusing on women's mental health and the sociocultural contexts that affect their well-being.

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