SFU researcher co-leads international team that examines the impact of COVID-19 on gender

Dr. Julia Smith hopes her team’s research will help to inform policy makers on the gendered impacts of the pandemic

Photo: Michael Cooper / Getty Images

Written by: Devana Petrovic, Staff Writer

SFU researcher and department of Health Sciences faculty member, Dr. Julia Smith, is co-leading an international research project that analyzes the gendered impacts of infectious disease outbreaks like COVID-19. 

Dr. Smith spoke with The Peak about her team’s research. 

“The project aims to better understand [ . . . ] how the COVID response is affecting different genders differently,” explained Dr. Smith.

She clarified that they are taking an intersectional approach; even though the overarching lens that is applied is a gendered lens, they are recognizing that there are other social determinants that affect health equity, including race, ethnicity, religion, and class. She also noted that they are trying to include all genders in relation to their relevant contexts, including non-binary. 

“We’re aiming to inform policy makers about the gender impacts of the response and make sure they have up-to-date information [ . . . ] We’re getting requests from policy makers for more information and they want to understand what’s happening.” 

She hopes that this will lead them towards an in-depth analysis of the implemented policies to identify the gaps in these policies. 

The project includes four case study countries: Canada, China, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. First, the team conducted a gendered matrix for each country. The matrix uses “document analysis from the media, from organizations, from the government,” and attempts to gather data on the gendered impacts of COVID-19.  The team then analyzes this data through a matrix tool they developed. 

Dr. Smith and her team also conducted interviews with various groups of people who they identified as being the most affected by the pandemic, including healthcare workers, those working in long-term care facilities, and foreign domestic workers. According to Dr. Smith, these interviews are necessary because in addition to quantitative research, “it’s really important to fully understand people’s experiences.”

The final part of the research process is policy analysis, where the findings from the matrix and the interviews will be applied in understanding the biggest challenges faced by people, and then compared to already developed policies in order to identify gaps. 

“It’s absolutely shocking how little has been written on this topic,” Dr. Smith said with regard to the gendered impacts of infectious disease outbreaks. She emphasized how gender dynamics are often overlooked, which complicates after-the-fact research initiatives. “It’s been interesting to be able to do the research in real time, we can analyze the policies in real time.” 

Dr. Smith can see her research going beyond COVID-19 and applying to future pandemics. 

“Documenting gender differences and [its] impacts is very important, but it’s only the first step. You don’t only want to write about how bad things are, you want to try and inform policies to make them better.”