What is gender-responsive health research, and why is it important? The health of individuals and communities is influenced by a variety of factors, including biological characteristics, socio-cultural and political-economic dynamics, and physical environment. Each of these factors is also shaped by gender, and the impacts of gender on health determinants are numerous and varied. Evidence from around the world indicates that men who adhere more strongly to traditional masculinity beliefs are less likely than women to seek preventative care, including testing and treatments for HIV, TB, and COVID-19.

In Cameroon, local gender norms dictate that children and men spend more time working outdoors than women, resulting in a greater risk of black fly bites and onchocerciasis infection for men and children. Meanwhile, research in Ethiopia shows that “when girls are viewed as a less valuable financial asset than boys, parents may invest less in their health and education,” resulting in gender disparities in access to treatments for common childhood illnesses and, consequently, disparities in health and well-being. However, such insights are often overlooked in health research due to gender data gaps, as well as capacity gaps related to conducting gender analysis.

Gender data gaps refer to a lack of evidence on the relationship between social determinants (including gender, as well as other social factors such as age, race, income, etc.) and differential risks, exposures, vulnerabilities, and outcomes in health. Much of health research has focused on the “neutral male,” which has concealed the impact of other social determinants on health outcomes. For example, research on coronary heart disease has historically been based on data from men’s experiences, resulting in women’s symptoms being classified as ‘atypical,’ resulting in delayed diagnosis and higher mortality rates.