What, Why and How: Gender & COVID-19 Research Agenda-setting

Updated: Feb 11

Post your insights, and rank your top research priorities for a shared global agenda

What: Sex and gender ramifications of the pandemic

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, how it affected and continues to affect women, girls, men, boys, and non-binary gender groups are complex and evolving. Death and severity of COVID-19 by sex are also influenced by age, obesity, pre-existing conditions, disability status, and occupational exposure, amongst other characteristics and inequities. While men were found to be at higher risk of severe infections and death initially, now Long-COVID affects more women,(1) and also young, low-risk people with active lifestyles.

Apart from the direct effects of COVID-19 illness, pandemic responses also amplified existing gender inequalities across multiple dimensions. Women took on higher levels of unpaid care work at home, due to homeschooling or healing loved ones, impacting their own well-being and productivity, amidst changing ways of work, often in lower-paying formal, informal and non-standard (part-time, temporary, gig-based) roles that generally provided lesser access to employer benefits, job security and social protection.(2) Women were also found to be unsafe in their homes, and in their workplaces, even as they served on the front lines of critical pandemic services.(3,4) Context and the intersecting influence of other social determinants or identities (5,6) also worsened the influence of gender during the pandemic, with combined effects on health. Mental health challenges escalated. (7) Disrupted access to necessary healthcare services led to unintended worse health outcomes.

Why: Catalysing evidence-informed action to address gender dynamics in pandemic recovery

Early high-level calls and advocacy from researchers (8) such as through the Gender and COVID-19 working group,(9) were made for gender considerations to be integrated in the crisis response. The first wave of guidance was issued by many multilateral organizations based on lessons learnt from Ebola, Zika and other infectious disease outbreaks. Nevertheless, real-time response to the gender dynamics was limited by extensive invisibility of the evolving situation, due to incomplete data systems and evidence gaps. Anecdotal, experience-based and advocacy narratives plugged these data gaps.

Now as the world steps into the second year of the COVID-19 crises, we need to hasten gender-focused research for future-oriented action and the long-term recovery from the health and socio-economic consequences of the pandemic. This is also our opportunity to #buildbackbetter by advancing further attention and action on gender inequalities that consistently undermine health across all countries.

How: Collaborative research agenda-setting for Gender and COVID-19

Collaboratively undertaking an inclusive research agenda-setting process aims to increase the responsiveness and ownership of the evidence generated. This is critical for collectively advancing strategic and evidence-informed COVID-19 actions, including wide-ranging gender interventions at scale within and beyond the health sector. The United Nations University International Institute for Global Health is implementing this collaborative health research agenda-setting exercise, as part of its Gender and Health Hub’s inaugural scope of work.

The aims of the research agenda-setting exercise are to:

  • Harness current momentum on gender equality to support policy and programming-relevant research and accountability

  • Identify a shared and prioritized research agenda and framework for evidence-informed action to address gender and intersectionality in the global health and intersectoral COVID-19 response.

  • Facilitate feminist solidarity in understanding, voice, and action from multiple communities of stakeholders.

Responding to recent calls for a feminist-oriented focus (10) and decolonizing processes in global health,(11,12) we are integrating feminist research values (10,13) and a decolonizing focus (14–16) within this research agenda-setting process. The process is co-developed through real-time learning, and open calls to a broad range of stakeholders to comment and contribute to the process design, scope and content.

The group conversations and collective contributions to draft research reports and questions for prioritization are now live on a community discussion board ( We are calling for different stakeholder groups, including, community and civil society members, donors, policy-makers, practitioners, product developers, media, clinicians, students, and of course, researchers to participate in this exercise so that we get a rich and diverse view of the research needs. Participants are invited to contribute insights, idea, suggestions for prioritized research questions across five thematic areas and strategies to support the implementation and impact of the research agenda.

The output of the exercise will be a shared research agenda that can be utilized by researchers, funders, and policy-makers to guide COVID-19 research investments and corresponding programming and policy actions by the health sector. Participants will be invited to comment on the draft before it is published publicly.

We need your voice and comments to shape a collaborative and shared global research agenda for gender and COVID-19

Each of our lived identities and professional roles as stakeholders in the pandemic response brings unique insights into the pandemic. We hope that you can share these with all the participants who are contributing to shaping the agenda.

Please visit to post your insights, ideas, and suggestions for priority-research on the gendered dimensions of COVID-19 across any of the five thematic areas you are interested in.

This is a time-limited exercise. Given the devastating and dynamic nature of COVID-19, we must be inclusive but also timely. Please sign up to the discussion boards as soon as possible and at least before the 28th of February 2021, as the community discussions are analysed in real-time, and draft reports are already being shaped and circulated for further input.


Lavanya Vijayasingham, Asha George, Claudia Lopes, Mamothena Mothupi & Michelle Remme


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2 Thomason B, Macias‐Alonso I. COVID-19 and raising the value of care. Gend Work Organ 2020; n/a. DOI:10.1111/gwao.12461.

3 Sharma V, Scott J, Kelly J, VanRooyen MJ. Prioritizing vulnerable populations and women on the frontlines: COVID-19 in humanitarian contexts. Int J Equity Health 2020; 19: 66.

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7 Khan AR, Ratele K, Arendse N. Men, Suicide, and Covid-19: Critical Masculinity Analyses and Interventions. Postdigital Sci Educ 2020; 2: 651–6.

8 Wenham C, Smith J, Morgan R. COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak. The Lancet 2020; 395: 846–8.

9 Gender and COVID19 Working Group. Gender & Covid-19 Working Group. Gend. Covid-19. 2020. (accessed Jan 19, 2021).

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11 Büyüm AM, Kenney C, Koris A, Mkumba L, Raveendran Y. Decolonising global health: if not now, when? BMJ Glob Health 2020; 5: e003394.

12 The Lancet Global Health. Decolonising COVID-19. Lancet Glob Health 2020; 8: e612.

13 Jenkins K, Narayanaswamy L, Sweetman C. Introduction: Feminist values in research. Gend Dev 2019; 27: 415–25.

14 Morgan R, George A, Ssali S, Hawkins K, Molyneux S, Theobald S. How to do (or not to do)… gender analysis in health systems research. Health Policy Plan 2016; 31: 1069–78.

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16 Pederson A, Greaves L, Poole N. Gender-transformative health promotion for women: a framework for action. Health Promot Int 2015; 30: 140–50.


©2020 by United Nations University International Institute for Global Health