Key Gender Concepts

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 What do we mean by Gender?

Gender is used to refer to a set of roles, responsibilities, rights, expectations and obligations that are socially and/or culturally associated with being male or female. Gender also includes the power relations between and among women and men, and girls and boys. It’s based on widely shared beliefs and norms within a society or culture about male and female characteristics and capacities. Similarities and differences will vary within and between societies and can change over time.

Gender is different from ‘sex,’ which refers to how people are classified biologically as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a group of characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs and genitalia (USAID, 2012a).

 What are Gender norms?

Gender norms are widely shared beliefs within a society or culture about male and female characteristics, acceptable roles and behaviors, and capacities. Similarities and differences will vary within and between societies and can change over time. From the time a person is born, he or she is taught ways of being that are defined by how society believes women or men should behave.

 What is the difference between Gender Equity and Gender Equality?

Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men, and girls and boys. To ensure gender equity, action must be taken to compensate for ingrained economic, social and political disadvantages that prevent women and men, and girls and boys from operating on a level playing field (PRB, n.d.).

Gender equality is a state or condition that affords women and men equal enjoyment of human rights, socially valued goods, opportunities and resources. Genuine equality means more than equality in numbers or laws; it means expanded freedoms and improved overall quality of life for all people (PRB, n.d.; USAID, 2012a).

Gender gap is a measure of gender inequality. It is a useful social development indicator. For example, one can measure the gender gap between boys and girls in terms of health outcomes, as well as educational levels achieved and labor income.

 What is Gender Bias?

Gender bias is the tendency to make decisions or take actions based on preconceived notions of capability according to gender.

 What is Gender-based Violence?

Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence directed at individuals based on their biological sex, gender identity or perceived adherence to culturally defined expectations of what it means to be a woman or man, girl or boy. Whether occurring in public or private, GBV includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation. Common types of GBV include violence against women (VAW) more broadly and sexual violence, particularly intimate partner violence (IPV). GBV can occur throughout an individual’s life, from infancy to old age, and can affect women, men, girls, boys or individuals who identify across the gender spectrum. Specific types of GBV include, but are not limited to:

  • Female infanticide
  • Early and forced marriage and “honor” killings
  • Female genital cutting/mutilation
  • Child sexual abuse and exploitation
  • Human trafficking
  • Sexual coercion, harassment and abuse
  • Neglect
  • Domestic and intimate partner violence
  • Economic deprivation

Elder abuse (USAID, 2012b)

 What are some common concepts for addressing Gender inequalities?

Gender integration involves identifying and then addressing gender inequalities during strategy and program design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Gender transformation attempts to transform the underlying social structures, policies and social norms to achieve gender equality and promote positive change by:

  • Fostering critical examination of inequalities and gender roles, norms and dynamics
  • Recognizing and strengthening positive norms that support equality and an enabling environment
  • Highlighting the position of women and girls relative to men and boys while taking into account the added effects of marginalization (e.g., the intersections of gender and social class or gender, class and ethnicity)

Gender Transformation in SBCC and Health

Using a gender transformative approach in SBCC creates opportunities to actively challenge gender-related determinants that impact health outcomes. Such approaches may include:

  • Shifting gender norms related to perceptions of femininity and masculinity to positively influence health behaviors
  • Promoting positions of social and political influence for women in communities
  • Addressing power inequalities between persons of different genders that impact decision-making related to health, including at the household level, in the community or at the point of service delivery

Research on gender transformative approaches shows that women’s empowerment and greater gender equality contribute to better health for families and communities as a whole.

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