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Gender analysis missing from European research

Europe’s institutions are failing to take existing evidence into account when establishing equality policies in research and higher education, academics have said.

After a conference on gender equality in research organisations, held in Vilnius on 21 and 22 November, attendees complained that the topic had not been sufficiently addressed in the conference resolution, and that gender research is still marginalised in policy-making.

“There was a gap in the resolution,” Teresa Rees of Cardiff University told Research Europe. “In order to understand what goes on with women in science and research, you need social scientists to analyse the issues.” However, she says, gender studies “aren’t terribly well funded”. Other attendees echoed her view, saying that universities and research councils should increase funding in the area.

“This kind of research is important because it can improve, inform and even question policy—it’s a critical, scientific voice,” says Liisa Husu of Örebro University in Sweden. “We need to make better use of the results and knowledge produced by gender research so that we don’t reinvent the wheel.”

Husu adds that gender researchers must work more closely with policymakers to ensure their work is taken into account. At the moment, she says, some countries, such as the Nordic nations, excel, whereas other member states have only just started to address the issue.

The academics also called on other research fields to appreciate the importance of gender theories to their work, and suggested that more funders make statements on gender aspects a requirement of project proposals.

Rees says that studies without gender expertise could suffer from bias or harmful consequences. She cites the development of crash test dummies, which were based on men, as an example, as body differences between the sexes mean that women experience more seatbelt injuries.

“Gender theories developed in the social sciences and humanities have become extremely useful for innovation purposes in the biomedical sciences,” says Ineke Klinge, a researcher in gender medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. “Traditionally, these sciences had no notion of gender and the processes influenced by gender.”

Both Rees and Husu would like to see gender analysis brought into the curriculum of schools and undergraduate education, so researchers are more aware when they progress into academic careers.