Understanding the impact of sex and gender in the pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing inequalities for women and marginalised groups in society, putting them at higher risk of domestic violence, unemployment and exposure to the virus, due to their overrepresentation in sectors that have been most affected (see EIGE). A growing body of evidence is revealing sex-related differences in responses to COVID-19 and the vaccines, with men being at higher risk of suffering more severe effects from the disease, while women report greater side effects from the vaccines.

Understanding differences in response to the disease and its treatment could benefit everyone. Considering the gender dimension of the pandemic could help mitigate the acute and long-term inequities of its socioeconomic consequences, and better inform policies towards a fair and gender-responsive recovery that leaves no one behind. Hence, the urgent need to better incorporate sex and gender analysis into research and innovation.

This has been a key objective of the EU’s research and innovation funding programme Horizon 2020 and a guiding principle in addressing the current outbreak through EU action.

Recent and ongoing projects and initiatives

Case study developed by the Commission Expert Group on ‘Gendered Innovations’

The Commission’s The Commission’s Horizon 2020 Expert Group to update and expand "Gendered Innovations/Innovation through Gender", has developed a case study on “The impact of sex and gender in the current COVID-19 pandemic” under the leadership of Professor Sabine Oertelt-Prigione.

Building on the latest scientific knowledge, including from Horizon 2020 projects (e.g. i-CONSENT, ACT, VRespect.Me and GENDERMACRO) it addresses the following key issues:

  • sex differences in immune responses
  • dosing and sex-specific side effects of vaccines and therapeutics
  • gender-specific risk factors (for e.g. healthcare workers and caregivers)
  • gender-sensitive prevention campaigns
  • gender-specific socioeconomic burden of public safety measures

Read more: Gender equality for a brighter future

Increasing gender focus in covid-19 research

On 19 May 2020, the EU launched its second special call for expression of interest for research and innovation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender-related issues are an important aspect. Projects are expected to collect and analyse data by sex and gender and also look at the indirect effects of the pandemic on gender equality. In addition, attention should be paid to other critical social factors that intersect with sex/gender, such as age, social origin, ethnicity, migrant background and disability.

More specifically, under the focus area “Behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak responses” five sister projects, Covinform, Periscope, Share, Respond and RESISTIRE have been funded, which consider the effects of the pandemic responses on vulnerable and marginalised groups, for instance, in relation to mental health issues and increased socio-economic inequalities.

To mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 crisis on women and girls in particular, the RESISTIRE project (RESpondIng to outbreaks through co-creaTIve sustainable inclusive equality stRatEgies) aims at finding sustainable solutions to gendered inequalities and to strengthen societal resilience to outbreaks. It does this by involving researchers and stakeholders from civil society to co-design policy recommendations and innovative pilot actions working to ensure better future pandemic preparedness and a fairer, social recovery.

Under the third call for expression of interest for “research and innovation to combat the threat of coronavirus variants” gender has also been set as an important cross-cutting priority for relevant topics.

Other recent projects

Gender-SMART

The Horizon 2020 SwafS project carried out a dedicated survey highlighting the impact of the pandemic on the income of permanent and non-permanent researchers, the need for child/family care support, the impact on work arrangements and work activities. Led by French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).

TransCrisis

The project addressed a variety of trans-national crises, including health-related ones, and have a specific outcome on the backsliding in the area of constitutional safeguards and independent institutions, corruption control, and gender equality and minorities. Led by London School of Economics and Political Science.

THEMIS

The project explored the recognition of gender dimension/discrimination in court rulings on human resources and public health in pandemics, issues pertinent to the diverse impact on men and women of disease exposure, transmission & effects (e.g. pregnant/breast-feeding women) as well as differences in access to health information and effect of measures (e.g. quarantines). Led by Queen's University Belfast.

ASSET

The project combined public health, vaccine and epidemiological research, social and political sciences, law and ethics, gender studies, science communication and media, in order to develop an integrated, transdisciplinary, action plan in Science in Society in Epidemics and Pandemics. One of its  outcomes was specifically dedicated to gender issues. Led by ABSISKEY consultancy in France.

  • dedicated Covid-19 and gender equality webpage developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)
  • report prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) entitled How will the COVID-19 crisis affect existing gender divides in Europe?
  • the policy brief developed by the ERA-related Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation
  • a webinar was organised on 20 April 2020 by the Research Funding Organisation Community of Practice (FORGEN) of Horizon 2020 project ACT, funded under the Science-with-and-for-Society (SwafS) work programme, on the importance of putting a gender perspective on COVID-19 funded research

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