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Why we need a gender advisor on SAGE

Wenham, Clare ORCID: 0000-0001-5378-3203 and Herten-crabb, Asha (2021) Why we need a gender advisor on SAGE. LSE Public Policy Review, 1 (4). ISSN 2633-4046

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Identification Number: 10.31389/lseppr.25


The UK government has largely failed to consider gender in its COVID-19 response, despite the many and varied differential impacts of policy interventions on women and men. Since government policy is informed by the advice ministers receive, we sought to understand whether and how gender had been considered by the UK government’s COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE). This paper uses two forms of policy analysis to assess 73 SAGE meeting minutes and background documents for 1) the explicit references to sex and/or gender, and 2) references to issues evidenced in the literature to be gendered, to understand whether the gendered implications of policy were considered. We find that the acknowledgement of the gendered dynamics of particular issues, such as school closures and feminised (or masculinised) employment sectors, were largely absent in SAGE meeting minutes and that explicit references to women were largely of a biological (sex) nature, rather than social (gender). Over time we saw increased references to the gendered impacts of policy in meeting background documents, though these references largely reproduced gendered stereotypes and roles rather than actively engaging with the gender issues. However, not all blame can be put at the feet of SAGE members, who did show awareness of equity issues and were predominantly epidemiologists and behavioural scientists likely untrained in gender analysis. SAGE members are selected based on the government’s framing of the type of emergency at hand, and COVID-19 has been treated by the government as a an epidemiological emergency, rather than a social, political and economic one. We argue that reframing emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic in a more holistic way enables us to redefine the scientific advice deemed necessary for SAGE membership, and facilitates the inclusion of gender advisors to mitigate the downstream gendered impacts of nonpharmaceutical interventions associated with the government’s COVID-19 response.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors
Divisions: Health Policy
International Relations
LSE Health
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 11 May 2021 09:45
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2021 23:17

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