Lunch Topic Table: Sex and Gender

By: Laura Pascoe, GHEC Student Advisory Committee

During the lunch hour on Sunday, students, faculty, and other conference participants had the opportunity to discuss a topic that is fundamental to global health work and research, but often not discussed: Sex and Gender.

We broke up across four tables and three themes to discuss how to think about theoretical approaches to sex and gender; empirical methods for researching them; and how to get the word out about the importance of understanding the impacts and implications of sex and gender (knowledge transfer).  One of the important questions that came up in the in terms of theoretical approach was whether we need to study gender in global health, or if we need to mainstream gender (and understand the implications) in global health. The answer, which received wide agreement, was that we need both.

There was also a valuable discussion about the critical nature of understanding a local context before making assumptions about how gender and sex influence life in that environment, and the need for local conceptualisations of gender and feminism to inform our work. It is imperative that we incorporate sex and gender in our work, many agreed, but we must be careful not to perpetuate imperial assumptions of what is ‘best’ for men and women.  

The importance of engaging men and understanding masculinity in our pursuit of promoting gender equality was raised in a few groups. Discussions around empirical methods brought up the challenges of asking people to tick potentially overly simplistic male/female boxes in our data gathering, as well as the importance of doing both quantitative and qualitative research in order to truly understand the complex dynamics of sex and gender that impact daily life in all parts of the world. 

We then finished up with a discussion of knowledge transfer, which raised some great points about how gender is not traditionally given its due place in global health and medical curricula. We need to advocate for greater incorporation of sex and gender on our various campuses and highlight its value in global, public health and medicine, not just because many people are interested in it, but because the impact and implications of sex and gender are integral to improving the health and well being of men, women, and children.

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