Integrating Gender and Sex in Health Research: A Tool for CIHR Peer Reviewers

As indicated in the Grants and Awards Guide, CIHR expects that all research applicants will integrate gender and sex into their research designs when appropriate. Doing so has the potential to make health research more ethically sound, more rigorous and more useful. Accounting for sex and gender where relevant thus supports the highest standards of research excellence. As a peer reviewer, you play a critical role in ensuring excellence in the research funded by CIHR.

In recognition of the importance of accounting for gender and sex, CIHR has implemented a requirement that all grant applicants respond to mandatory questions1 about whether these concepts are included in their research designs (effective December 2010). These questions are part of CIHR's wider strategy for meeting the requirements of a 2009 federal government (Health Portfolio) policy on gender and sex based analysis.

There are no single agreed-upon definitions of gender or sex, though it is fairly common to associate gender with socially constructed roles, relationships, behaviours, relative power, and other traits that societies ascribe to women and men. Sex is typically understood to refer to the biological and physiological characteristics that distinguish females from males. Gender and sex are interrelated. There is no simple "recipe" for integrating gender and sex in health research (or for accounting for the complex interrelationships between them and other factors or determinants of health).

The purpose of this tool is to give peer reviewers a framework for thinking through whether gender and/or sex are appropriately integrated into CIHR applicants' proposed research designs. This tool for reviewers is being launched in conjunction with the new mandatory questions for CIHR applicants. This resource, currently in its first iteration, will be revised to better meet CIHR reviewers' needs. We have introduced a similar tool for researchers. If you would like to share your feedback on the tool for reviewers, Assistant Director at the Institute of Gender and Health, please e-mail Krystle van Hoof.

Research approach:

  • Are the concepts of gender and/or sex used in the proposed research project?
    • If yes, has the applicant explicitly defined the concepts of gender and/or sex? Is it clear what aspects of gender and/or sex are being examined in the study?
    • If no, do you consider this to be a significant oversight? Given your knowledge of the relevant literature, are there plausible gender and/or sex factors that should have been considered? If you consider sex and/or gender to be highly relevant to the proposed research, your feedback to the applicant should reflect this.

Research questions and hypotheses:

  • Does the research question(s) or hypothesis/es make reference to gender and/or sex, or relevant groups or phenomena? (E.g., differences between males and females, differences among women, seeking to understand a gendered phenomenon such as masculinity)

Literature review:

  • Does the literature review cite prior studies that support the existence of significant differences between women and men, boys and girls, or males and females?
  • Does the literature review point to the extent to which past research has taken gender or sex into account?

Research methods:

  • Is the sample appropriate to capture gender and/or sex based factors? Is it possible to collect data that are disaggregated by sex and/or gender? Are the inclusion and exclusion criteria well justified with respect to sex and/or gender?

    (Note: this pertains to human and animal subjects and non-organismic biological systems)

  • Is the data collection method proposed in the study appropriate for investigations of sex and /or gender?
  • Is the analytic approach appropriate and sufficiently rigorous to capture gender and/or sex based factors?


  • Does the study design account for the relevant ethical issues that might have particular significance with respect to gender and/or sex?

    (e.g., inclusion of pregnant women in clinical trials)

Online Training: Gender Bias in Peer Review

The Institute of Gender and Health and CIHR have developed an online training module to help peer reviewers understand and avoid gender bias in peer review.


Footnote 1

The questions are:

  1. Are sex (biological) considerations taken into account in this study? (Y/N)
  2. Are gender (socio-cultural) considerations taken into account in this study? (Y/N)
  3. (If the respondent answers "yes" for one or both questions) Please describe how the sex and/or gender considerations will be considered in your research proposal. (maximum of 2,000 characters)
  4. (If the respondent answers "no" for one or both questions) Please explain why sex and/or gender are not applicable in your research proposal. (maximum of 2,000 characters)


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