Want to systematically apply gender analysis? Use a gender analysis matrix

By Rosemary Morgan, PhD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

A gender lens can and should be applied to all health research and intervention topics that involve people. This is because gender power relations affect everybody. Despite this, there has been a historic neglect of gender-based analysis in health. There is also the problem that a gender lens is often applied in an unsystematic way. A gender analysis matrix is a tool to help you systematically apply a gender lens.

The Gender and COVID-19 project has been working to address the lack of evidence on gender and pandemics. We used a gender analysis matrix to conduct rapid, real-time analyses while the pandemic was unfolding to examine the gendered effects of COVID-19. In our paper – Using gender analysis matrixes to integrate a gender lens into infectious diseases outbreaks research – we report on what a gender analysis matrix is, how we used it, ways in which the findings from the matrix were applied and built upon, and challenges encountered when using the matrix methodology.

As a gender specialist, I have used a gender analysis matrix within most, if not all, of my projects. I even teach about matrixes in my gender analysis class at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In my reading about how to conduct gender analysis, I found much of the guidance to be a quite vague and unsystematic. I don’t doubt that gender specialists and advisors knew how to do gender analysis – it’s just that there wasn’t a lot of guidance that explained how to do it.

What is a gender analysis matrix?

The simple answer is that it is a tool to assist in the application of applying a gender lens. The gender analysis matrix I use advances standardized approaches to conducting gender analysis, including matrixes originally developed by the World Health Organization. It is of course not the only tool out there and when I apply, it is often one of multiple steps I incorporate. For additional guidance on undertaking a gender analysis, including the different steps researchers and implementers can use, I recommend the toolkit Incorporating intersectional gender analysis into research on infectious diseases of poverty: a toolkit for health researchers published by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR).

A gender analysis matrix – which is essentially a table – can help you to explore how gender power relations manifest to create inequities between and among women, men, and sexual and gender minorities. It uses established gender frameworks, such as the Morgan et al and Jhpiego frameworks, alongside relevant topic domains that are chosen by the researcher or implementer. Gender analysis domains include: access to resources, roles and practices, norms and beliefs, decision-making power and autonomy, and laws, policies and institutions. Exploring the ways in which inequities manifest across all these domains ensures that a gender lens is being systematically applied and that one area is not privileged over another.

How did we use the matrix?

We used the matrix for two purposes: to brainstorm and to record the different ways in which gender power relations affect infectious disease outbreaks. Our topic specific domains included such things as: risk and vulnerability, illness and treatment, and social, economic, and security impacts.

For brainstorming the initial matrix included questions in each cell which were posed for further reflection and analysis related to the intersection of each topic-specific domain and gender analysis domain. These were used to identify evidence of how gender power relations manifested in each area. For example, questions under risk and vulnerability and access to resources included: “To what extent do men, women, and gender minorities have access to financial resources to purchase equipment and material needed to protect themselves from infection? This question was meant to direct the researcher to find evidence related to differential access to supplies (and why), and how this might affect a person’s vulnerability to infection.

To record the different ways in which gender power relations affect infectious disease outbreaks, we used the gender analysis matrix to assess media sources and grey literature, which provided a useful source of information to understand the real-world effects of political responses and government policy. These sources (compared to more traditional sources of data) were especially useful given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic and the need to collect information quickly. While we used media sources and grey literature, gender analysis matrixes can be used to systematically integrate gender analysis into any health or health systems qualitative or quantitative research or intervention.

Building off the matrix

While our initial aim was to systematically and clearly demonstrate the wide-ranging gendered effects to inform policy and practice, we also used the matrix to identify gaps and inform future research. Within the matrix, we found that what was missing was just as important as what was included. Gaps demonstrated less prioritized or reported upon areas – or in other words the unseen issues or those at the margins. We also used the results from the matrix to inform further research tools – to structure our data collection tools and include specific follow-up questions.

Challenges to using the matrix

Using a gender analysis matrix is not without its challenges. One challenge was organizing data, as data does not always fit neatly into each domain, or it cuts across multiple domains, which can make it difficult to know where to input it. Another was the potential for minimizing complexity, especially due to the multi-faceted way in which gender power relations are produced and reproduced. And a third was ensuring the matrix is intersectional – it is important that an intersectional lens is intentionally included to ensure that the analysis does not further marginalize people by not representing a diverse range of experiences.

Increasing impact

We used the matrix to study the gendered impacts of COVID-19, but it could also be used for any health or health systems topic. In my work, I’ve used a matrix to explore: gender and community health workers, gender and infectious diseases, gender and maternal and child health, and gender and nutrition, among others. Gender analysis matrixes can be used at any stage of the research or intervention process to inform primary data collection or implementation. They can be used to make sure you are asking the right questions and collecting appropriate data, or to ensure that considering the ways in which gender power relations may affect the ability of your research or intervention to meet its objectives. Without doing so, we not only minimize the impact of our work, but risk perpetuating and reinforcing harmful gender power relations.

Image credit: Taken from www.genderandcovid-19.org/.


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