Moving Women’s Health Knowledge Forward: CIHR Introduces New Policy on Gender and Sex-Based Analysis

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The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has made an important new addition to its general grants and contributions policy. As of June 2006, CIHR funding applicants have been asked to demonstrate the use of gender and sex-based analysis (GSBA) in their research proposals. This is good news for women as it increases the likelihood that new research will factor in women’s and men’s biological and social differences or similarities.

To facilitate this process, the CIHR has also released a Guide to Gender and Sex-Based Analysis in Health Research. It provides a clear explanation of GSBA and includes a general checklist of guiding questions for research applicants as well as a range of instructive examples. The Guide is designed to help both CIHR peer reviewers and applicants consider when and how sex and gender are implicated in proposed research projects, and is part of a larger initiative to advance GSBA throughout the CIHR, thereby embedding it in the culture of health research in Canada. Other goals of this initiative include the incorporation of a reference to GSBA in the CIHR Peer Review Process - Policies and Responsibilities of Grants Committee Members, and the inclusion of criteria for GSBA in the program description for clinical trials peer reviews.

Gender and sex-based analysis takes genetic, physiological, social and cultural diversity into account in the production of new knowledge across the gamut of health research. It ensures a more relevant and accurate evidence base on which to develop practice, programs, policies and further research. This new knowledge produces more gender-sensitive information that can enhance the health of all. By encouraging the use of this analytical framework, the CIHR can contribute to knowledge about the ways in which sex and gender-and the interactions between them-influence the health of men and women.

These initiatives are intended to initiate a conversation between CIHR, peer reviewers, and health researchers on the development of guidelines for the application of GSBA in health research. CIHR welcomes feedback to ensure that the resource guide evolves in ways that will meet the needs of as wide an audience as possible.

To access the Guide to Gender and Sex-Based Analysis in Health Research and provide feedback, visit:

Guiding Questions

The following questions are provided as a general checklist for CIHR applicants and reviewers. Applicants are asked to give careful consideration as to how their research addresses these queries and should, where applicable, provide detailed response to these questions in their proposals.


Research Question

  • Are sex and/or gender identified and defined? Are the definitions supported by recent academic literature?
  • Does the proposal demonstrate awareness of what is known about sex, gender and diversity (ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, migration status, etc.) in this area of research?
  • Are the concepts of sex, gender and diversity taken into account in the development of the research question(s)?
  • Are the concepts of sex, gender and diversity applied clearly and appropriately?
  • If used in the study, does the researcher identify and justify the choice of the sex of cells, cell lines, and/or animals?
  • If the applicant asserts that sex and/or gender and diversity are not relevant to the proposed research, what evidence is presented?
  • Does the research question reflect the diversity in and among females and males?

Data Collection

  • Does the sex/gender/diversity composition of the sample reflect the research question?
  • Does the sample match the researchers' plans for generalizing from the data?
  • Have research instruments (i.e., surveys, measurements) been validated to reflect gender/sex and diversity?
  • If sex is used as a proxy for weight, height and body fat/muscle ratios, is there an explicit explanation and analytical strategy provided for employing this approach?
  • In the case of clinical trials: Does the sample reflect the distribution of the condition in the general population? For proposed clinical trials, are sufficient numbers of women and men included in the sample to enable safety as well as efficacy analysis? Where appropriate, how will the clinical trial track and account for female menstrual cycles? Does the applicant plan to analyze results in the context of known sex-specific adverse effects, height-weight-sex relationships, and interactions with commonly used drugs?

Data Analysis and Interpretation

  • Will the researchers disaggregate and analyze data by sex/gender?
  • Does the use of gender as a variable mask or intersect with other potential explanatory factors such as socioeconomic status, physical attributes and/or ethnicity?
  • What assumptions are being made about gender and/or sex-especially as they intersect with other diversity indicators such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, etc.-while formulating the research problem, sampling, data collection, analysis and interpretation?