Sex, Gender and Health Research Guide: A Tool for CIHR Applicants

As indicated in the Grants and Awards Guide, CIHR expects that all research applicants will integrate sex and gender into their research designs when appropriate. CIHR has implemented a requirement that all grant applicants respond to mandatory questions about whether their research designs include sex and gender (effective December 2010). These questions1 are part of CIHR's wider strategy for meeting the requirements of a 2009 federal government (Health Portfolio) policy on sex and gender based analysis.

Sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. It is primarily associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy. Sex is usually categorized as female or male but there is variation in the biological attributes that comprise sex and how those attributes are expressed.

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people. It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources in society. Gender is usually conceptualized as a binary (girl/woman and boy/man) yet there is considerable diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience, and express it.

Gender and sex are interrelated. There is no simple "recipe" for integrating sex and gender 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 health researchers a framework for thinking through how sex and/or gender might be integrated into their research designs. We are introducing it in conjunction with the new mandatory questions for CIHR applicants. This resource, currently in its first iteration, will be revised to better meet CIHR applicants' needs. If you would like to share your feedback on it, please e-mail Krystal van Hoof, Assistant Director at the Institute of Gender and Health, at

Research approach:

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

Research questions and hypotheses:

  • Does your research question(s) or hypothesis/es make reference to sex and/or gender, 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 your literature review cite prior studies that support the existence of significant differences between women and men, boys and girls, or males and females?
  • Does your literature review point to the extent to which past research has taken sex or gender into account?

Research methods:

  • Is your sample appropriate to capture sex and/or gender 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 your study appropriate for investigations of sex and/or gender?
  • Is your analytic approach appropriate and rigorous enough to capture sex and/or gender based factors?


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

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


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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