Key Gender Concepts

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 What do we mean by Gender?

The socially constructed and culturally defined roles, responsibilities, attributes, and entitlements assigned to people based on their sex assigned at birth in a given setting, along with the power relations between and among the assigned groups.

Additional points to consider:

  • The definition and expectations of gender, and sanctions for not adhering to those expectations, vary across cultures and over time, and often intersect with other factors such as race/ethnicity, class/caste, age, sexual orientation, nationality.
  • Because gender is socially constructed it is therefore subject to change.
  • Some people identify as “non-binary” meaning that their gender identity does not fit neatly into or exists beyond the gender binary of “man/masculine” and “woman/feminine.” They might not identify exclusively as “man/masculine” or “woman/feminine”. They might identify as a blend of both. They might not identify at all with either.

 What are Gender norms?

The informal rules and shared social expectations that distinguish expected behaviour on the basis of gender.

Additional points to consider:

  • Norms are learned and reinforced from childhood to adulthood through observation, instruction, positive and negative sanctioning, the media, religion, and other social institutions. At times, norms can be so pervasive that individuals mistakenly assume that they are “natural” or “ordained” and thus immutable.
  • Restrictive gender norms are those that permit only a narrow range of gender expressions and/or behaviours as acceptable. Individuals who do not conform to prevailing gender norms may experience sanctions.

 What is the difference between Gender Equity and Gender Equality?

Gender equity is the process of being fair to someone regardless of their sex or gender. To ensure fairness, measures must be taken to compensate for cumulative economic, social, and political disadvantages based on sex or gender that prevent someone from operating on a level playing field.

Gender equality is the concept that all human beings, irrespective of their sex or gender identity, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, or discrimination.

Additional points to consider:

  • Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations, and needs of men, women, and people of other gender identities are considered, valued, and favoured equally. It does not mean that all people become “the same”, but that the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of individuals will not depend on their sex assigned at birth.

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?

Violence that is directed at individuals based on their biological sex or gender identity.

Additional points to consider:

  • Gender-based violence includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation, whether occurring in public or private.

 What are some common concepts for addressing Gender inequalities?

Gender integration: Strategies applied in programmatic design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation to take gender considerations into account and compensate for gender-based inequalities.

Gender Transformation Approaches: Strategies that address the causes of gender-based inequalities and works to transform harmful gender roles, norms and power relations 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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