Institute of Gender and Health: A Year in Review

Text Size: Normal / Medium / Large
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Kike Ehigiator, Institute Liason, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

The background: A new era in health research
In June of 2000, the former Minister of Health, Allan Rock, officially launched the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s premier agency for health research. The objective of the organization is to excel nationally and internationally in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system. CIHR was created to support multidisciplinary, integrated health research as well as a wide spectrum of health research—biomedical; clinical; health services and systems; and population health research. The CIHR mandate emphasizes the generation of knowledge and development of research capacity that will contribute to improvements in health and health systems for all Canadians.

The CIHR Institutes and the Campaign for Women’s Health
Part of the mandate of the Interim Governing Council, appointed by Parliament, was to create Institutes. To accomplish this, a Canada-wide consultative process was launched to obtain input on the initial slate of institutes. The virtual nature of these Institutes meant that they would reside at the research site of each Scientific Director within Canada. Each Institute would also focus on a specific field of research such as circulatory and respiratory health, health services and policy, and Aboriginal peoples’ health.

A group of women’s health researchers and activists from across Canada—The Working Group on the CIHR, Gender and Women’s Health Research—submitted a proposal for an institute dedicated to women’s health. This proposal built on an earlier document, “CIHR 2000: Sex, Gender and Women’s Health”. These efforts were successful. In July 2000, former Minister of Health Allan Rock and CIHR President, Allan Bernstein, announced the creation of 13 CIHR Institutes, including the Institute of Gender and Health.

The Institute of Gender and Health
The mandate of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health is "to support research that address how sex (biological factors) and gender (socio-cultural experiences) interact with other factors that influence health to create conditions and problems that are unique, more prevalent, more serious or different with respect to risk factors or effective interventions for women and girls, men and boys." Consistent with this mandate, the IGH supports research capacity building and research initiatives.

The objectives of the Institute of Gender and Health are: generating new knowledge about health status, health behaviour and health services use of males and females across the lifespan, and the influence of gender and sex on these, and their interactions with other determinants of health; providing evidence to inform the design of programs, policies, and practices for women and men, boys and girls in Canada; enhancing research capacity and training in gender and health research; exerting international impact through strategic research and research capacity building; and advancing the gender and health perspective.

Late in 2000, Allan Rock announced the appointments of the Scientific Directors who would lead the Institutes. The Scientific Director of IGH is Dr. Miriam Stewart, Professor in the Faculty of Nursing and in Public Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Alberta. Dr. Stewart is former Director of the University of Alberta Centre for Health Promotion Studies and the Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, and a co-principal investigator and cofounder of the Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health. In the last decade, she has been awarded over $10 million in research grants in her field of study—social support and other social factors that affect health and how better understanding of these can improve programs for people in vulnerable circumstances.

In February of 2001, the Institute Advisory Board was announced. The members of the Advisory Board come from across Canada, and reflect diverse disciplines such as women’s health, sociology, psychology, medicine, nursing, and anthropology and expertise in practice, policy and public arenas. For example, members include Penny Ballem, Vice-President, Children’s and Women’s Health Centre, B.C.; Ian Manion, Director of Research, Mental Health Patient Service, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO); Sandra Bentley, Senior Policy Advisor on the Status of Women, P.E.I.; Irving Rootman, Director, Centre for Health Promotion, University of Toronto and Madeline Boscoe, Executive Director, Canadian Women’s Health Network.

In the spring of 2001, IGH engaged in extensive consultations with varied stakeholders across the country, to generate input about priority directions in gender and health research. This process shaped the Institutes’ five research priorities and "top ten" themes: Improved Access and Equity for Marginalized Populations and Vulnerable Groups (gender, health equity and access to health services for vulnerable groups; gender, violence and health across the lifespan); Promoting Health in the Context of Chronic Conditions (gender and chronic conditions over the lifespan; gender and cardiovascular health); Gender and Health Across the Lifespan (gender and healthy child development; gender and healthy aging; gender, work, leisure and health; gender and mental health in a changing society; gender and reproductive and sexual health); Promoting Positive Health Behaviours (gender, promoting health behaviours and preventing addictions); Gender and the Environment.

IGH launches strategic initiatives in 2001-2002
In their first year of operations, all Institutes have launched strategic research and research capacity building initiatives. These initiatives have increased funding opportunities for researchers in all the four CIHR research pillars, particularly in areas of health services, policy, and population health research.

Strategic Initiatives launched by IGH in partnership with other CIHR Institutes include: New Perspectives on Gender and Health (Seed Grants, Opportunity Grants, and Re-training Awards to stimulate research and build research capacity relevant to the five research priorities of the Institute); New Emerging Teams (NET) program (to promote growth of small existing research teams or formation of new teams to focus on research priorities in gender, violence and health and chronic conditions); Improving Access to Appropriate Health Services for Marginalized Groups (to support innovative projects that will inform policy, program and management decisions related to this research priority), and CIHR Health Research Training Initiative (to support the development of innovative, trans-disciplinary training programs in health research that increase the capacity of health researchers in Canada and that reflect the scope of research priorities across Institutes).

Watch for opportunities, upcoming events and activities

  • Launch of 2002-2003 strategic initiatives focused on the five research priorities (e.g., New Perspectives on Gender and Health, Improving Access to Appropriate Health Services for Marginalized Groups) and initiatives focused on research training and capacity building;

  • International Think Tank on Sex, Gender and Health and Symposium for IGH Award Recipients planned for late August 2002;

  • Cross-Institute collaborations (e.g., Tobacco Control Research Summit, National Workshop on Environmental Influences on Health, Rural Health Research Strategy);

  • Launch of a listserv to communicate with researchers and people in policy, program planning and the community.

For more information on the CIHR, check their website at or the IGH website:
To register on the CIHR mailing list: