Making Sense of Gender, Making Health from Sense

Raewyn Connell, PhD
Professor, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney


Gender is now well recognized as a health issue. But most research, policy, and media discourse about health, treat gender in a simplified, categorical way: “la santé des femmes et des hommes”. This seriously limits our understanding of health and illness issues, and therefore limits our practice. In this presentation I will discuss contemporary gender theory and its uses for health researchers and practitioners, especially the relational approaches to gender that come from the social sciences, and the concept of embodiment as a social process. Since both gender and health are global questions, while our scientific knowledge system is controlled from the global North, I will pay particular attention to research and thinking from the global South. Though the main argument is conceptual, I will discuss approaches to understanding specific issues of policy and practice, such as gender-based violence, chronic illness conditions, health education and the health workforce.

Background reading:

Raewyn Connell, Gender: In World Perspective, Polity Press, 2nd edition, 2009. -----, Gender, health and theory: Conceptualizing the issue, in local and world perspective. Social Science & Medicine, 2012, vol. 74, 1675-1683.

For yet more background:

Keynote speaker biography:

Photographer credit:
Dianne Reggett
Raewyn Connell is University Professor at the University of Sydney, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and one of Australia's leading social scientists. Her most recent books are Southern Theory (2007), about social thought beyond the global metropole; Gender: In World Perspective (2009); and Confronting Equality (2011), about social science and politics. Her other books include Masculinities, Schools & Social Justice, Ruling Class Ruling Culture, Gender & Power, and Making the Difference. Her work is widely cited internationally, and has been translated into fifteen languages. She has taught at universities in Australia, Canada and the USA, in departments of sociology, political science, and education. A long-term participant in the labour movement and peace movement, Raewyn has tried to make social science relevant to social justice.

From cells to society: Conceptualizing gender and sex in health research

Gender and sex are complex, multidimensional constructs. This panel explores how health researchers define and draw boundaries around – and between – sex and gender in their research, and the challenges that arise from doing so as we seek to understand the causes of health and illness. The speakers will discuss how they bridge the theoretical and the empirical in their investigations of how gender and sex influence health in a field marked by increasing interest in the biosocial (i.e., the nexus of biology and social environment).


Greta Bauer, PhD
Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Western University

Greta Bauer is an Associate Professor in Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University. Her research interests are in the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and in viral sexually transmitted diseases. Her research bridges the biological, behavioural and social determinants of health, with a methodological focus on quantitative and mixed methods for studying the health of marginalized communities.
Moshe Szyf, PhD
Professor of Pharmacology, McGill University

Moshe Szyf received his PhD from the Hebrew University working with Aharon Razin on basic mechanisms of DNA methylation. He then went on to a postdoctoral fellowship in Genetics at Harvard Medical School. He was appointed Assistant Professor at McGill University in Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 1989 and was promoted to Full Professor in 2000. He currently holds a James McGill Professorship and GlaxoSmithKline-CIHR Professorship in Pharmacology. He is the founding co-director of the Sackler Institute for Epigenetics and Psychobiology at McGill and is a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Experience-based Brain and Biological Development program.
Sari van Anders, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Neuroscience, University of Michigan

Sari van Anders is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan in Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Neuroscience, and an affiliate in Reproductive Sciences as well as Science, Technology, and Society. Raised in Toronto, Dr. van Anders received her PhD from Simon Fraser University. Dr. van Anders studies hormones and intimacy in social context using mixed methods with attention to gender/sex and sexual diversity. This research program also examines the health implications of dynamic endocrinology, including NIH-supported work on sexual modulation of HIV-relevant immune processes.

Game changers: Sex, gender and scientific breakthroughs

Accounting for sex and gender leads to innovation in how we do health research, how we understand health and illness and how we design interventions. Drawing on examples from research on cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal health and human sexuality, this panel examines gender and sex as the catalysts for scientific breakthroughs. The speakers will highlight key findings and novel methods from their programs of research as a means to illustrate the importance of accounting for sex and gender in health research.


Yitzchak (Irv) M. Binik, PhD
Professor of Psychology, McGill University

Yitzchak (Irv) Binik is a Professor of Psychology at McGill University and director of the Sex and Couple Therapy Service of the McGill University Health Center. He received his B.A. from NYU, his BHL from the Jewish Theological Seminary and his PhD in clinical psychology/experimental psychopathology from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2003, he was awarded the Canadian Psychological Association prize for distinguished contribution to professional psychology. In 2006, he received the Masters and Johnson Award for lifetime achievement from the Society for Sex Therapy and Research. Dr. Binik is a member of the DSM-5 workgroup on sexual and gender identity disorders.
Sonia Anand, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, McMaster University

Sonia Anand is a Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at McMaster University, the Director of McMaster Population Genomics Program and a vascular medicine specialist. She recently received the Canada Research Chair in Ethnic Diversity and Cardiovascular Disease. She also holds both the new Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario/Michael G. DeGroote Chair in Population Health Research, as well as the Eli Lily/May Cohen Chair in Women’s Health Research at McMaster. Her present research focuses upon the environmental and genetic determinants of vascular disease in populations of varying ancestral origin, women and cardiovascular disease, and peripheral vascular disease. In 2004 Dr. Anand received a CIHR and HSFO ICE grant devoted to the study of sex/gender determinants of cardiovascular disease, called the CARdiovascular INvestigations in Gender (CARING Network).
Gillian Hawker, MD
Professor of Medicine and Rheumatology in the Departments of Medicine and Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto

Gillian Hawker is a Professor of Medicine and Rheumatology in the Departments of Medicine and Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto. A clinical epidemiologist and health services researcher, her research has focused on access to and outcomes of care, and the determinants and consequences of pain, in osteoarthritis. She has published over 175 peer-reviewed articles, is past recipient of the Senior Distinguished Research Investigator Award from The Arthritis Society of Canada and the Canadian Rheumatology Association’s Distinguished Investigator Award for 2011. She is a passionate advocate for improved care for people with musculoskeletal conditions and is a founding member of The Arthritis Alliance of Canada.


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