The article featured in Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO), argues that clearly differentiating between the terms “sex” and “gender” is critical for accurately tracking progress on global health initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality. Sex generally refers to biological characteristics, while gender refers to socially constructed roles and norms, though both can exist across a spectrum. The article uses COVID-19 data as an example, explaining that when these terms are conflated in data collection, it becomes difficult to ascertain whether disparities are biologically or socially determined.
Distinguishing sex and gender in health data has important implications for research and interventions. If data intended to capture gender is denoting sex, interpretations of findings become confusing. For example, disparities attributed to sex may require different solutions than disparities driven by gender inequality or discrimination. Similarly, without clarity on whether outcomes relate to sex or gender, policymakers cannot properly target efforts to address health inequities.
Accurately capturing distinctions between sex and gender will lead to better research and solutions. The article suggests adopting standardized processes for data collection, like using two separate questions to collect both assigned sex and gender identity. It also argues for recognizing diversity beyond the male-female binary and calls for commitment across health disciplines to differentiate these concepts. Overall, with more precise terminology and measurement, findings can be translated into interventions and policies tailored to improve outcomes and promote gender equity.