Group | Gender and Inequities

Gender, in combination with other social determinants of health, plays a critical role in shaping individual health and communal well-being. Although global statistics show that women live longer than men, they are more likely to report poor health across the life course, as are non-binary and transgender people. A complex interplay of biological, social, cultural, political, structural and economic factors contribute to these perceived and lived inequalities. Gender also intersects with other social and biological markers that can marginalize people and negatively affect their health, such as race, social class, religion, age and sexual orientation, physical posture and ability. Such combined structural vulnerabilities can escalate the risk of poverty, violence, and stress, and may lead to gendered health disparities and syndemics.

We live in a changing world with many ongoing transformations such as the introduction of new technologies, information flows, increasing mobility or changing livelihoods and lifestyles at global, national and local levels. Our team conducts research to better understand how social determinants of health including gender affect health and well-being differentially for different groups of people. The team has extensive expertise in conducting research in collaboration with different scientific disciplines and involving practitioners and non-academics.

We carry out health research with a gender and equity lens, often working with and paying attention to the perceptions of people at the margins of their society (e.g., older people; forced migrants; people living in humanitarianly fragile settings, like conflict zones; sex workers; indigenous peoples and minority groups; people with disability). Thematically our team contributes mainly to research on sexual and reproductive health and rights, access and acceptability of healthcare and public health interventions, and livelihoods, aging, and wellbeing. Methodologically, we develop and promote state of art innovation in qualitative and mixed methods approaches that represent the diverse perspectives found within a society.

Sonja Merten

Sonja Merten

MD, PD, PhD, MPH

Improve Safety and Hygiene for the Benefit of Women’s Health

Safety concerns surrounding menstrual hygiene products have garnered global attention from consumer groups and women’s health activists. Significant initiatives now address menstrual health and related products, particularly in low-income countries. However, we are still facing a dearth of evidence on the health impacts of menstrual products. This project seeks to increase the knowledge on this issue by establishing a comprehensive evidence base on the health effects of various menstrual products on the vaginal microbiome, a gatekeeper of women’s health. To achieve its goals, the research team will examine women’s practices and preferences regarding menstrual hygiene products in Peru, and Cameroon, while conducting a systematic global review to provide context. Read more

Monitoring of Baby Friendly Hospitals in Switzerland

Since the launch of the Baby Friendly Hospitals Initiative (BHFI) of WHO and UNICEF in 1991, the Baby Friendly Hospitals (BHF) help towards a goof start in life worldwide. In Switzerland, BFH accredited hospitals implemented the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and adhere to the Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (WHO/UNICEF, 2009). Since 2000, data are collected about every mother-child pair and evaluated by Swiss TPH. Within the scope of the monitoring, it could be demonstrated that the proportion of children who only receive breast milk during their hospital stay has increased continuously in certified hospitals. The analysis of national data on breastfeeding (Swiss Infant Feeding Study project) showed that children born in certified hospitals are breastfed longer. Read full article

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer and leading cause of cancer-related mortality in Tanzanian women.

Towards the Elimination of Cervical Cancer

The TRACCTION study aims to understand the cancer landscape in Tanzania and contribute to the elemination of cervical cancer in the country. The mixed-methods study uses a transdisciplinary approach to explore women's perceptions of cervical cancer care, document the cervical cancer care cascade from screening to treatment for women living with and without HIV, and identify demand-side gaps and opportunities to increase uptake of cervical cancer screening and treatment in Kilombero District, Tanzania. Read more

Bapolisi W.A et al. Engaging men in women's empowerment: impact of a complex gender transformative intervention on household socio-economic and health outcomes in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo using a longitudinal survey. BMC Public Health. 2024;24(1):443. DOI: 10.1186/s12889-024-17717-5

Ekou F.K et al. Randomised controlled trial on the effect of social support on disease control, mental health and health-related quality of life in people with diabetes from Côte d'Ivoire: the SoDDiCo study protocol. BMJ Open. 2024;14(1):e069934. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-069934

Ikuteyijo O.O et al. Demand and supply of adolescent and young adult’s sexual and reproductive health services during COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa: a scoping review. Int J Popul Stud. 2024;10(1):21-33. DOI: 10.36922/ijps.366

Owolodun B, Gmür D, Felber S, Ollier C, Haller T, Merten S. From diversity to uniformity: comparing nutritional transition of food consumption in four regions in Senegal. Food culture & society. 2024(in press). DOI: 10.1080/15528014.2024.2310380

Bapolisi W.A, Bisimwa G, Merten S. Barriers to family planning use in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo: an application of the theory of planned behaviour using a longitudinal survey. BMJ Open. 2023;13(2):e061564. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-061564