Ten gender-related points to keep in mind when you are doing health systems research

By Benjamin Uzochukwu and Kate Hawkins*

Recently we both attended a RinGs webinar on how to do gender analysis. This is part of the capacity strengthening activities of the project. It is really nice to take some time to hear from colleagues working on health systems around the world and get some space to think through how we can work together to strengthen a gender analysis. RinGs is developing a great deal of detailed material on this topic so we thought we would keep this short and give you our ten things to bear in mind about gender and health systems research.

1. Gender is a key social stratifier: As a power relation it affects vulnerability to ill health and the decision making space and economic power that people have to tackle illness. Access to health services can be effected by gender, for example, women may have less money to pay for health care and find it difficult to travel to a health care centre. On the other hand, sometimes health care centres can be too tailored to women, which puts men off attending.

2. To strengthen health systems we need to pay attention to gender: It is important to understand how health systems components interact with each other, how gender plays a role in each of these, and how to address these gender issues in health systems strengthening activities in order to improve health and social outcomes. Including gender analysis in health systems research help maximise the effectiveness of programmes, lead to better research recommendations, more strategic interventions and programmes and more effective policies.

3.As health systems researchers we need to recognise gender: Expressions of gender inequity -whether in the relations between women and men or within organisations -need to be recognised and addressed in order to redress discrimination and ensure interventions in health involve and benefit the disadvantaged.

4. Sometimes gender issues are rendered invisible: For example, terms like Community Health Worker, village health committees, insurance policies appear gender neutral and yet they are gendered. When we disaggregate data and analyse context and relationships these gendered aspects can come to the fore.

5. There are still issues and confusion about separating gender and sex, especially in analysis: ‘Being’ female and ‘being’ a woman are two very different sort of being. Yet in data analysis, for example, gender disaggregation means separation into male and female. It is not uncommon to see such variables as ‘Sex/Gender’.

6. We need to look beyond the individual: It is important to think about gender relations between couples, families and households. But gender analysis is also about how society is structured, the norms and institutions that guide things and access to resources that flow from this.

7. We need to take account of gender-fluidity: Gender isn’t fixed, it changes across time and across contexts. Looking at gender in combination with race, class and other forms of inequality enhances the analysis.

8. Gender frameworks can help: RinGs has collated what they consider the top ten gender frameworks on their website. They can help us think through what constitutes power gendered relations and how power is negotiated and changed.

9. We should also think creatively about the methods that we use: For example, we could employ social networking analysis of gender issues in healthsystems research in addition to other available tools.

10. Building capacity goes beyond the individual: Ensuring that gender infuses questions about research design, data collection and analysis is important. Researchers need to think carefully about their own positionality. However, we also need to look to those political, social and economic structural barriers that prevent a focus on gender in the first place. What can we – as health systems researchers – do to overcome these?

We call upon our colleagues in RinGs to use the comments function below to add to the list of gender-related points to keep in mind when you are doing health systems research and to keep the conversation live!

*Prof BSC Uzochukwu is the deputy coordinator of the Health Policy Research Group, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Enugu-campus. He is a member of the Resilient and Responsive Health System Consortium (RESYST) and Board member of Health Systems Global (HSG).

Kate Hawkins is Director of Pamoja Communications.

Photo credit: AUSAID / CC BY 2.0