Gender dimension in R&I landscape: An overview with a special focus on the Western Balkans

Before addressing the gender dimension, it is important to understand the basic terminology: Sex refers to biological and physiological characteristics that define humans as female or male. However, sex cannot…

Jul 19, 2021

Before addressing the gender dimension, it is important to understand the basic terminology:

  • Sex refers to biological and physiological characteristics that define humans as female or male. However, sex cannot be fully encapsulated in the female-male binarity. Hence, beyond male-female characterisation we also have non-binary as sex designation.
  • Gender is a social construct of attributes, opportunities and relationships associated with being female and male that are learned through socialisation processes. Thus, it varies depending on context(s), culture(s), and time and place.
  • Intersectionality means that we cannot observe people only through their sex and gender, but take into an account that these characteristics and constructs intersect with person’s other identities (age, class, ethnicity, race, language, culture, ability, education etc.) derived from social relations, history and the operation of structures of power.

Source: EIGE glossary and thesaurus

What do we mean by ‘gender dimension in R&I landscape’?

Gender dimension in R&I landscape means taking into an account gender-sensitive and gender-relevant features within R&I from the following perspectives and levels:

  • Policy perspective:
    • At the global level it means implementation of the wider, global agenda set by the United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the fifth being Gender Equality.
    • At the European level it means creation of policy agendas relevant for gender equality in general and within the R&I sector. It includes setting gender equality as a priority and a cross-cutting issue in strategies and funding programmes (previously H2020 and now Horizon Europe). The European Commission (EC) is committed to promoting gender equality in research and innovation. The EC has set out the broader commitment to equality across all EU policies within its Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025. Within the Strategy, measures targeting R&I sector through the Horizon Europe funding are set, including: the requirement of gender equality plans from applicants to the Horizon Europe calls, initiatives to increase the number of women led technology start ups through the European Innovation Council, and making funding for gender and intersectional research available as well.
    • At the individual country/region level it means aligning the country level policies with the European and UN SDGs, as well as including the gender equality into the priorities within the R&I development policies and national/regional grants requirements for applicants.
  • Organisational perspective:
    • At decision-making level it means encouraging gender-balance and working on having gender equality in decision-making bodies of R&I institutions as research shows that gender diversity pays off in terms that there is a positive correlation between women in leadership positions and business performance.
    • At research team level it means fostering gender balance and contributing to closing the gap in women’s participation. It means also creating structural changes within R&I institutions allowing for equal opportunities for men and women in research. Specifically, this means nurturing working conditions and culture allowing men and women to have equally fulfilling careers.
  • Research perspective:
    • At the research proposal level it is important to take gender into account at all stages of the research cycle, starting with creating gender-sensitive ideas for proposals and gender-sensitive hypotheses, to creating gender-balanced research teams where possible.
    • At the research content level it means taking into account potential sex differences as well as the gendered roles and conducts of women and men in society, but also taking into an account intersectionality. Failing to take that into an account ultimately leads to reproducing stereotypes, biases and inequalities, i.e. gender blind or gender biased research.

Source: RRI Tools; Gender Academy

Why is it relevant?

Gender dimension, or rather gender equality in R&I, creates implications at both country and research performing organisations’ (RPOs) level. Research evidence show that countries that score higher on gender equality indexes unlocking the full potential of their population benefit from increased innovation potential and return on investment in education and training. Observed at RPOs level, again, the research shows that investing in and nurturing gender equality at institutional level results in better innovation and excellence performance of the RPOs, i.e. diverse teams perform better and make better decisions.

At the level of European Research Area, the European Commission designed A new ERA for Research and Innovation with gender equality as one of the key priorities and measures to strengthen the European R&I potential. This will be achieved as well through development of inclusive Gender Equality Plans and nurturing the gender dimension in R&I across the Member States and Associated Countries. WBC-RRI.NET also compiled more information about Gender Equality Plans specifically in this article: Why should you be dealing with Gender Equality in your research organisation?


What the numbers tell us?

According to the EC report She Figures 2018 the numbers show that, even though there have been some positive trends, the gender equality is still to be achieved across European R&I landscape (see also A new ERA for Research and Innovation). For example, despite the share of almost 48% of women among PhD graduates in EU-28, only 33.4% of researchers in the EU-28 are women. Additionally, women make only 24% of highest academic positions in the Higher Education Sector (full professor and equivalent) in EU in 2016. The proportion of women in top level decision making positions, i.e. heading higher education institutions in Europe was only 22% in 2017. The number of women among patent holders, also remain extremely low and only 1.79% of scientific publications of the EU integrate a gender analysis.

According to the She Figures 2018 report, the Western Balkans countries are not doing bad (at least when looking into the numbers). For example, women make almost 68% of PhD graduates in Montenegro, 56.3% in North Macedonia, 55.6% in Albania, 54.9% in Serbia and 44.9% in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The WB countries shows better perfomance in numbers with between 44% to 49% of women among researchers compared to 33.4% as EU-28 average. However, the numbers showing proportion of women as heads of higher education institutions were available only for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the proportion is quite low (19.5%). Finally, one has to be careful when reading the numbers and statistical indicators, as they are not showing the entire picture. What needs to be taken into an account is also what is behind the numbers, i.e. the context and whether such good position of WBC in the She Figures is largely due to the fact that salaries in higher education and research in WBC are not high, and thus the sector is less attractive for men.

Sources: A new ERA for Research and Innovation; She Figures 2018

Useful resources for further reading and understanding:

This article, prepared by Andjela Pepic, University of Banja Luka, is based on the WBC-RRI.NET event Gender Equality Plan Development: Fulfilling the Horizon Europe requirements and beyond! held on July 2, 2021. See