Understanding the impact of sex and gender in the pandemic

A growing body of evidence is revealing sex-related differences in responses to the COVID-19 disease, with men appearing to suffer more severe effects, while women are more exposed to the impacts of the pandemic through high-risk jobs and disproportionate responsibility for caring for the sick and vulnerable.

Understanding differences in response to the disease and its treatment could benefit everyone, while considering the gender dimension of the pandemic could help mitigate the acute and long-term inequities of its socioeconomic consequences. 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/migration, and disability.

The focus area on behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak response will address in particular the gendered aspects of the response to the pandemic, including consequences for women as frontline healthcare workers, and disruptions in work/school-life balance.

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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