Get started with sex and gender in research and innovation

It has become increasingly clear that differences in sex and gender impact health and healthcare. Symptoms of diseases can be different in women than in men, for example. In order to generate the necessary knowledge, we need to integrate sex and gender in health research.

Attention to sex and gender saves lives

It’s Monday morning, the 5th of November 2018. On waking, Maria notices she is lying on a hard bed. She hears whistling noises and the thumping clogs on a bare floor. She feels a band around her arm being pumped up, then the air is released. Maria is lying in intensive care. A nurse tells her that she just had a heart attack.

In the Netherlands, five women die each day of a heart attack. But the symptoms of cardiovascular disease in women often go unnoticed because they differ from the symptoms in men. Thanks in part to ZonMw, the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, health professionals are learning more about the differences between women’s and men’s cardiovascular systems. This will enable clinicians to provide better care to people like Maria.

While this is a tremendous step forward, cardiovascular disease is just one of many disorders that present differently in women than in men. There are numerous biological sexual differences as well as socio-culturally constructed gender differences between men and women. In recognition of these differences, we are endeavouring to make sex and gender approaches a permanent part of research procedure.  On these pages you can read more about how we aim to achieve that goal.

Attention to sex and gender in grant applications

Ensuring that a grant application takes careful account of sex and gender differences improves the quality and relevance of that research proposal. We have developed resources and aids to support researchers who want to integrate sex and gender into their projects. For example, explore the Frequently Asked Questions, complete with bibliography, and our e-book with tips for researchers.

Attention to sex and gender in grant assessments

It’s the reviewer’s job to evaluate the quality and relevance of grant applications. The baseline is that the research results can be used on anyone. The same holds for sex and gender research. That’s why we created a checklist in the e-book for reviewers to use when assessing an application.

Attention to sex and gender in health care

With the knowledge and expertise that we generate through research, significant improvements can be made to health care. In recent years, we have gained considerable knowledge about how health professionals can incorporate awareness of sex and gender into their work. We have brought together this knowledge about sexual and gendered differences for the fields of general practice, medical specialisations, municipal health care, public health and disease prevention.

We at ZonMw are actively engaged in creating a permanent place for sex, gender and diversity approaches within our research programming.
Arfan Ikram
President of ZonMw

ZonMw and the integration of sex and gender in research

A unique position

Our awareness of the influence of sex and gender on health and care has been steadily increasing for some time. That’s the reason we published a Gender Equality Plan (GEP), for example, which contains our ambitions targeting both grant policy and employer policy. With our Gender and Health Mission, we aim to launch a movement to attract others to the idea that sex and gender analysis must become a more expected approach within research. Our leading role as funding body puts us in a unique position to guide the direction of health care research. We are dedicated to a complete integration of sex and gender issues into research, so that going forward, with more knowledge and understanding, we can reduce the gap between men and women in health care.

Financial impulse

Our ambitions will be given a financial impulse to convert them into actions. We have already funded studies aimed at making research practice sex and gender sensitive in the domains of public health, dementia care and in the biosciences and biomedical research. We are also investing in knowledge development, with such themes as prevention, experimental animal studies and youth. We are looking at how we can integrate sex and gender into ZonMw programmes to create a movement that will keep the momentum going after the mission is completed.

Raising awareness and developing methodologies

In addition to the financial impulse, we are raising awareness among researchers, professionals and ZonMw colleagues about the importance of incorporating sex and gender into research, as well as the providing the relevant tools. We are also making efforts to expand the knowledge and application of sex and gender methodologies in health research, for example by organising an intensive Summer School in collaboration with ErasmusMC. Moreover, we are working to build a community of those working on sex and gender issues, and a pool of experts that researchers can go to with questions. These came together at the first community event on 31 May 2023. These are just some of the ways we are working to promote the development and application of knowledge in the fields of sex and gender in health and care.


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