U of A profs, including Prof. Linda Reif, part of international team that dug into intersectionality in COVID-19 research

Scoping review is part one of a longer project to improve practice and policy in healthcare

Doug Johnson - 04 March 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in hundreds of thousands of academic research papers from around the globe. In some cases, this research dealt with the disproportionate impact the disease, and efforts to curb its spread, had on women, 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, racialized people and other traditionally marginalized groups. 

Now, a few years after lockdowns and similar measures have ended in most countries, a team of academics — including Professor Linda Reif of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law — have published a paper looking at how intersectionality was used in research during this tumultuous period.

In all, the article highlights the importance of intersectionality in public health policy, though it notes there’s room for improvement in how researchers deploy intersectional research methods. It also aims to improve the impact that intersectional research can have on policy and practice. 

Funding for the project came from a World University Network Grant in 2022. The team of researchers includes Reif, Bukola Salami, lead researcher on the project, former professor at the Faculty of Nursing and currently professor at the University of Calgary, as well as academics from other universities in and outside of Canada. 

“It broadened my interest in interdisciplinary work to participate in a research project that involved health science, humanities and other social sciences researchers from a number of countries,” Reif said. “The diversity of expertise made a real difference to the content of the work. As the only legal scholar involved, I enjoyed applying intersectionality scholarship in the public health area, far beyond its original law roots.”

In the study, the researchers performed a scoping review of available papers that used intersectional methods in their study of COVID-19. They developed a set of search criteria and keywords to find these articles and then, between February and April of 2022, they conducted their search using numerous databases and academic journals.  The team winnowed down the search to meet their intersectionality criteria to focus on 14 articles.

The team then used thematic analysis — a process that involves looking for patterns in the meaning of sets of qualitative data — to study the papers. The research process identified key findings about the included papers, and the ways in which they engaged with intersectional concepts like oppression, comparison and relationality. The team also compared the methods used in the papers to a framework for intersectional research methods drafted in 2021. 

Reif and her colleague’s paper shows that the identified COVID-19 research largely studied gender, mental health, social ties, finances and others. Indeed, all the studies considered the intersections of class and either race or gender. Class, race and gender were also considered alongside other factors like education, religion, family status and others.  

The researchers found that the COVID-19 research always addressed oppression when exploring intersectionality and marginalization. However, the research paper noted that the studies paid less attention to other important facets of intersectionality: relationality, complexity, comparison and deconstruction. For intersectional research to make a bigger impact in healthcare policy and implementation, these concepts also need to be considered and integrated into the methods.