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Covid committee Sage needs a gender advisor

10/05/21 . News

The government has been urged to include a gender advisor on Sage.

Currently the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which has played a lead role in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has no such advisor.

Research from the LSE suggests ‘The UK government has consistently failed to consider gender in its response to Covid-19, despite the fact men and women have been affected in distinct ways.’ The research shows just how little gender was mentioned at Sage. Out of 73 sets of minutes, only 13 (17.8%) had any explicit mention of gendered terminology, with further analysis showing that these mentions were all sex-related rather than relating to gender.

Sage itself states: ’once policies are formulated, SAGE should review them through the lenses of epidemiological modelling and behavioural science’ . The LSE researchers argue in their public policy review that this means a raft of other academic perspectives are potentially excluded including gender. They give the example of the Sage discussion on the ‘heavily gendered issue’ of school closures observing that ‘the focus was on the behavioural science and whether parents would keep their children out of school regardless or whether children might congregate in other areas, proving a risk for disease transmission’. There was little social science persepective at all and nothing on gender.

Men's Health Strategy

Researchers conclude that the ‘gender blindness’ across Sage minutes is not the fault of Sage members but of the Secretariat who selected them. ‘We need to consider why a gender advisor did not have a seat at the table, perhaps in the same way we might question why an advisor in black, Asian and minority ethnic integration was only introduced to Sage in June despite decades of NHS work and policy on ethnic health inequalities’.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Guardian: ‘Our new Women’s Health Strategy will help us learn lessons from the pandemic and take action that will improve the health and wellbeing of women across the country.’

But this response only goes half way at best. Women’s health and gender are not the same thing. The LSE research calls explicitly for a gender advisor - a call the Men’s Health Forum echoes. The government is obliged to have due regard to equality in all aspects of its work under the Public Sector Equality Duty. It is currently failing in that.

A women’s health strategy alongside a complementary men’s health strategy? Now that might work.






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