How to consider gender in science reporting

Practical Guide Gender Women Men Reporting
Copyright: Video Volunteers/Suzanne Lee

Speed read

  • Gender-sensitive reporting means taking into account the impact of science on women and men
  • It is important to check whether research was carried out in a gender-sensitive way
  • Tailor your approach according to the topic that you are reporting on

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Many topics within science, or more generally, have a gender dimension; you can tell a more complete, honest, richer and fuller story if you take gender into account.
By applying a gender lens to different aspects of a story you can consider obvious voices, but also the voices that are often missing. But how can you apply this gender lens?
It goes beyond making sure that you interview both men and women, and is more about building the gender dimension in as one of the many that you consider. It is a part of the culture and process of story creation, and certainly not a box-ticking exercise.
As a journalist, you will already be considering geographical, cultural, socio-political, economic and other dimensions to a story. This guide will support you in adding gender to that repertoire.

Pitch-perfect considerations

There are many topics where you can tell more complete stories by considering gender.
For example, if you are writing about Ebola it is fundamental to consider that West African women are disproportionately affected by the virus because they are more likely to be nurses or cleaners in the public health sector. [1]
Not all topics will have such evident gender angles, but starting with the assumption that all subjects have a gender dimension might lead you to some unexpected stories. The following is a list of key considerations that SciDev.Net editors and journalists suggest you employ when developing stories. 

Some important questions to consider

Remember that ‘gender sensitive’ reporting means including both men and women.


Consider: Are women or men invisible in the story and can their presence be surfaced?


Consider: Who is marginalised by the technology/advance/policy/research that you are reporting on?


Pull apart statistics — has the data been separated for men and women?


Has the underlying research you are reporting on considered how it might impact women and men differently? 


Consider: Is it risky to the reporter, interviewees or anyone else to report this with a gender angle? How can this risk be minimised?


Interview a gender analyst if it is relevant. 


Consider tapping into available statistics and data on gender.


How will you avoid stereotyping male and female roles when including a gender angle? 

Ask the right questions about the research

Don’t assume that science is ‘gender neutral’. Question whether the study design has taken into account the needs of both women and men equally.

For example, in the past women were excluded from toxicology research, creating flaws in our understanding of the adverse health effects of exposure to toxic metals. We now know that these affect women and men in significantly different ways. [2] The lack of data on women in toxicology models means that particular drugs might affect men and women differently, and that this can pose a barrier to personalised medicine.

Scrutinise different stages of the scientific method to check if the science you are reporting on is truly gender sensitive. The following are key questions you could ask of research and/or researchers. Here gender refers to sociocultural differences whilst sex to biochemical ones.

This will allow you to assess how rigorous the researchers were, and the validity of claims made in relation to how the research will affect women and men. 
Research-blue.jpg Research questions
Tick-blue-beige.jpg Have gender and/or sex factors been considered as key research variables throughout the whole of the work?
Tick-blue.jpg Does the research question(s) or hypothesis/es make reference to gender and/or sex, or relevant groups, or phenomena (e.g., differences between males and females, differences among women, understanding a gendered phenomenon such as masculinity)?

Research outcomes will be affected by how sensitively the study is designed around differences in gender and sex. 
Study-design-blue.jpg Study design
Tick-blue-beige.jpg Does the research use only male or only female subjects (humans, animals or plants) or both? 
Tick-blue.jpg What assumptions about sex/gender are commonly made in this area of research? 

It is important to collect data for both sexes/genders, recognise where differences exist, and determine why these differences matter to ensure greater safety and effectiveness of the proposed interventions, such as medical products that are used by a diverse population.
Data-collection-blue.jpg Data collection
Tick-blue-beige.jpg Did this study collect data for both sexes/gender or just for one, and if so why?
Tick-blue.jpg Are the commonly used methods (such as questionnaires, surveys) and sources of data (such as biobanks, observational studies) sensitive to gathering sex/gender information? 

Even if data are collected for male and females, it is not always the case that analyses discriminate between the two. This will certainly have implications for the validity of conclusions made.  
Data-analysis-blue.jpg Data analysis
Tick-blue-beige.jpg Have the data been segregated by sex/gender and analysed to demonstrate if there are any significant differences?
Tick-blue.jpg Have the observed effects been different for males and females and if so why? 

Women and men may have different needs and expectations for research outcomes and this should be reflected in the results, it will also have implications for the validity of conclusions made.  
Results-blue.jpg Results
Tick-blue-beige.jpg Has the researcher identified if being male or female impacts on the outcomes of the intervention and explained these?    
Tick-blue.jpg Do the results account for differences within the group (men or women) depending on age, ethnicity, and physical characteristics such as obesity or height of the subjects?   

Science-led development initiatives are not uncommon but they frequently fail to integrate gender research. Reporting research in a way that highlights impacts on women and men will help mainstream this knowledge into sustainable development initiatives. 
Conclusion-blue.jpg Conclusions
Tick-blue-beige.jpg Who will benefit from this research in terms of sex/gender?
Tick-blue.jpg If for whatever reason benefits are gender/sex biased, what are the next steps in terms of research to counteract this?

Choose the right image for your story

The image you choose to go with your story will often be the first thing readers respond to. Photos are not always just about their overt content; there are often different layers of meaning that can be unpicked upon closer inspection.

This is important because the subjects of the photo, what they are doing, how they relate to each other, the photo’s composition, and many other characteristics will have an impact on the message that the reader might take away from the article or story.

Photos also have an important role to play in terms of gender equality and it is worth asking a few questions when choosing an image. Does it challenge or reinforce stereotypes? Does it promote inclusion by portraying men and women in a diverse range of roles? Does it make the reader consider how the story might realistically affect men and women differently? Is the image really appropriate for what the story is about?
There are a whole host of questions like this to consider. The following are three images from SciDev.Net articles with their respective headlines. They have been annotated for key features that made them suitable for the article or story in question. 

Image 1 How to target a journal
Headline: How to target a journal that’s right for your research
Tick-green.jpg Men and woman playing an active role — does not reinforce any stereotypical gender roles.
Tick-green-beige.jpg Conveys diversity through colour — the subject matter affects a diverse range of people. 
Tick-green.jpg Men and women are equally involved in being informed because research has an impact on men and women. 

Image 2 PG
Headline: Urban sustainability should look outside cities
Tick-green.jpg Urban sustainability needs to take into account the development needs of those outside of cities too; this image shows an important daily activity that both men and women engage in. 
Tick-green-beige.jpg Image shows rural area as opposed to urban area — contrasts well with the title, and makes it more memorable or striking.
Tick-green.jpg Shows people with their backs to the viewer, which might symbolise the outskirts of cities being ignored.

Image 3
Headline: Give landlocked nations a tech boost, says UN Chief
Tick-green.jpg Image shows collaboration between men and women.
Tick-green-beige.jpg In this image, both the woman and man have access to the technology; it can convey the need for technology to be inclusive. 

Tailor your approach to the topic

How you choose to approach a story will depend on the subject matter or topic; not just the scientific research. There will be different aspects to consider depending on whether you are talking about the implications of a new policy or writing about biofuels.
SciDev.Net editors and journalists have suggested the following general and gender-specific points to consider for key development topics.

  • Technology, mining, transport, urbanisation
  • Tick-purple-beige.jpg The indirect impact of technologies. For example, mining might have environmental and labour dimensions.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg The affordability differentials for a new technology, or the impact on other resources required by a family.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg The impact on health of different individuals within families.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg How the labour movement/migration required by some industries affect individuals within families.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg Who receives the income from the technology.
  • Climate, health, nutrition
  • Tick-purple-beige.jpg Women’s input into health/nutrition stories as parents, and their involvement in child health.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg Will female or male beneficiaries have different levels of access to what’s being reported on e.g. food, aid, health initiative.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg Think of a maternal health angle.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg Lifestyle/physiological and cultural aspects of disease vectors.
  • Policymakers, implementing technologies
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg The impact of change at a community level.
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg What needs to be asked of policymakers? For example, inclusion, barriers, participation, opportunity. 
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg Are policies being implemented in gender-blind fashion?
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg If policymakers are deciding on a new technology, have civil society/user groups been consulted about access and usability? 
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg Have implementers considered women as participants/beneficiaries of a technology? What are the barriers to technology use? 
    Tick-purple-beige.jpg Have implementers considered women as a market, or considered gender balance as an issue? 

Useful networks and resources

One of the challenges of including gender as a dimension of your story is knowing where to look for reliable and relevant information regarding the topic, region or the science itself. The following is a collection of resources that you might find useful for effectively applying a gender lens to science and development topics.

  • GenderInSITE
  • An international network to raise awareness among decision-makers on the gender and Science, Innovation, Technology, and Engineering (SITE) dimensions of global development challenges. 

    This is useful if you are working on a story to do with agriculture and food security; energy; education and workforce; climate change; water and sanitation; transportation; and infrastructure.

  • Gender Summits
  • The Gender Summits are a series of interconnected action-based conferences held across the globe under the theme Quality Research and Innovation through Equality.

    This is useful to gain an understanding of what gender equality means within research and innovation quality. 
  • Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender
  • A global network that brings together 12 UNESCO Chairs on gender; developing gender research, training and advocacy in different fields around the world.

    This is useful if you are looking for regional/country information and perspectives on key gender and development issues from around the world.
  • Gendered Innovations
  • The peer-reviewed Gendered Innovations project develops practical methods of sex and gender analysis for scientists and engineers; and provides case studies as concrete illustrations of how sex and gender analysis leads to innovation.

    This is useful to better understand the relevance of sex and gender in research. Practical resource with checklists, guidelines, cases studies and much more on a number of topics.
  • Pacific Science Association
  • The initiative Human Resources for the Future: Women and Young Scientists in Asian and Pacific Science works towards a more equitable, sustainable global community where all women and men have equal opportunities to contribute to the challenges facing the global community.

    This is useful if you want to learn more about gender in science, technology, engineering and mathematic South East Asia and Pacific Region.  
  • Forum for African Women Educationalists
  • Promotes gender equity and equality in education in Africa by fostering positive policies, practices and attitudes towards girls’ education.

    This is useful if your story explores educational issues in Africa. 

  • An international network on gender and sustainable energy, founded in 1996, focusing on Africa and Asia.
    This is useful if you are working on a story about sustainable energy in Africa and Asia.


  • Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources Management is an international membership network of women and men professionals that provides expertise to agriculture and natural resource management organisations.

    This is useful if you are working on a story about agriculture or natural resource management. 
  • UN-Habitat is the United Nations programme working towards a better urban future. The gender page focuses on women and girls’ right to land and housing; safety and security of women and girls in cities; women and slums; livelihood and economic empowerment of women and girls; women and girls in local and urban governance; women and girls’ health; promote gender-equal towns and cities.

    This is useful if you are working on a story about cities or urbanisation. 

  • IRC Women and Water
  • IRC is an international think-and-do tank that works with governments, NGOs, entrepreneurs and people around the world to find long-term solutions to the global crisis in water, sanitation and hygiene services.

    This is useful if you are working on a story about sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Gender-sensitive reporting will be a new way of working for many journalists. But if you apply these tips and mine these information sources, you’ll soon be telling richer stories — and ones that more completely reflect the lives of both men and women.

This practical guide was written in collaboration with the following people:

Shirley Malcom, head of the directorate for education and human resources programmes at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is also co-chair of the gender advisory board at the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development and the global GenderInSITE (Gender in Science, Innovation, Technology and Engineering) campaign. 

Elizabeth Pollitzer, the director of Portia; a not-for-profit organisation that promotes effective institutional strategies for gender equality in science, engineering and technology, and the inclusion of the gender dimension in the research and innovation process.

Sophia Huyer, director of GenderInSITE, an international network to raise awareness among decision-makers on the gender and SITE dimensions of global development challenges.
Felicity Mellor, course leader for the MSc in Science Communication, and lecturer on media theory and science journalism at Imperial College London. 


[1] Ebola outbreak takes its toll on women (UN Women, 2 September 2014)
[2] Gender-based differences in the toxicity of pharmaceuticals — The Food and Drug Administration’s perspective (Office of Women’s Health, Food and Drug Administration, 2001)