The challenges of including sex-gender analysis in systematic reviews: a qualitative surveyReport as inadecuate

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Systematic Reviews

, 3:33

First Online: 10 April 2014Received: 19 November 2013Accepted: 31 March 2014DOI: 10.1186-2046-4053-3-33

Cite this article as: Runnels, V., Tudiver, S., Doull, M. et al. Syst Rev 2014 3: 33. doi:10.1186-2046-4053-3-33


BackgroundSystematic review methodology includes the rigorous collection, selection, and evaluation of data in order to synthesize the best available evidence for health practice, health technology assessments, and health policy. Despite evidence that sex and gender matter to health outcomes, data and analysis related to sex and gender are frequently absent in systematic reviews, raising concerns about the quality and applicability of reviews. Few studies have focused on challenges to implementing sex-gender analysis within systematic reviews.

MethodsA multidisciplinary group of systematic reviewers, methodologists, biomedical and social science researchers, health practitioners, and other health sector professionals completed an open-ended survey prior to a two-day workshop focused on sex-gender, equity, and bias in systematic reviews. Respondents were asked to identify challenging or ‘thorny’ issues associated with integrating sex and gender in systematic reviews and indicate how they address these in their work. Data were analysed using interpretive description. A summary of the findings was presented and discussed with workshop participants.

ResultsRespondents identified conceptual challenges, such as defining sex and gender, methodological challenges in measuring and analysing sex and gender, challenges related to availability of data and data quality, and practical and policy challenges. No respondents discussed how they addressed these challenges, but all proposed ways to address sex-gender analysis in the future.

ConclusionsRespondents identified a wide range of interrelated challenges to implementing sex-gender considerations within systematic reviews. To our knowledge, this paper is the first to identify these challenges from the perspectives of those conducting and using systematic reviews. A framework and methods to integrate sex-gender analysis in systematic reviews are in the early stages of development. A number of priority items and collaborative initiatives to guide systematic reviewers in sex-gender analysis are provided, based on the survey results and subsequent workshop discussions. An emerging ‘community of practice’ is committed to enhancing the quality and applicability of systematic reviews by integrating considerations of sex-gender into the review process, with the goals of improving health outcomes and ensuring health equity for all persons.

KeywordsGender Qualitative methods Sex Sex-gender analysis Systematic review methods  Download fulltext PDF

Author: Vivien Runnels - Sari Tudiver - Marion Doull - Madeline Boscoe


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