SFU Faculty of Health Sciences research associate Julia Smith.

SFU-led global COVID-19 gender study to expand with $2M grant

July 27, 2020
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This story was originally published on SFU News.

Simon Fraser University research associate Julia Smith and her team will expand their work to identify and document the gendered dynamics of COVID-19 and gaps in preparedness and response. This was made possible through a $1.6 million USD ($2.17 M CAD) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The investment will allow the team, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. and others from Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Nigeria, UK, Hong Kong and Australia, to widen their analysis of gendered risks and impacts of the pandemic on health, social and economic welfare.

“The Gender and COVID-19 Project is unique as its focus is on the gendered effects of the response to COVID-19. It is looking at how health, economic and social policies interact with, exacerbate or mitigate pre-existing inequities,” says principal investigator Julia Smith.

The initial Gender and COVID-19 Project was focused on China, Hong Kong, UK and Canada with support from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).

“SFU researcher Julia Smith and her international team’s research collaboration is leading to a better understanding of how COVID-19 impacts genders differently and how improved policies that capture these differences will result in a more effective global response to the pandemic,” says Dugan O’Neil, SFU vice-president, research and international pro tem. “These contributions exemplify SFU’s commitment to developing international partnerships that accelerate innovations and transformative discoveries for positive social and economic impact.”

The researchers will use the additional funding from the foundation to conduct qualitative case studies and panel surveys on the economic impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable populations in five countries: Kenya, Nigeria, Bangladesh, DRC and Brazil.

These countries are in varying stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, with different types of threats to gender equality, varying economic strength and in some cases, a recent history of outbreak response from Zika in Brazil to Ebola in the DRC.

“It is incredibly exciting to be working with this group of leading scholars on gender and global health,” says Smith. “We anticipate that this project will inform more equitable responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and other outbreaks.”

The team has launched a project website that will host a COVID-19 Gender Matrix to act as a data and evidence hub for each of the countries, demonstrating evidence of gender impacts, noting current policies that address these issues and highlighting gaps in pandemic response.

An online COVID-19 Gender Impact Assessment Toolkit will offer guidance for decision-makers on how to respond to pandemics and epidemics using a gender lens.

Studies show more men are dying of COVID-19 but researchers say women may face more negative secondary social and economic effects as a result of the pandemic. For example, the closure of schools has a different effect on women, who often provide the majority of childcare.

Women are more likely to work in less secure jobs and lose employment due to COVID-19. Self-isolation can be a risk factor in intimate partner violence. Health emergencies can also divert resources from maternal care, sexual and reproductive health to focus on addressing the immediate outbreak.