Key concepts and terms
When conducting gender analysis, it is important to clearly understand certain concepts and terms. Review the following key concepts and terms, then take the quiz to see how they are used in real-life contexts.
Sex and gender
Sex and gender do not have the same meaning and cannot be used interchangeably.
Someone's 'sex' is the biology that defines whether they are female or male. It refers to biological differences between females and males such as chromosomes, reproductive organs and hormones.
'Gender' refers to society's expectations about how someone should think and behave as girls and boys, and then as women and men. It involves people's roles, responsibilities and behaviours. Because gender is learned, it may change over time and vary within and between cultures.
Values and attitudes about gender
Gender equality or inequality is driven by society's broader values and attitudes toward gender. Values and attitudes influence, and are influenced by, social practices, institutions and systems.
Hypothetical attitude: Men are better at certain occupations—such as being a scientist—because they have a more analytical disposition than women.
- Educational institutions, industries and society may reinforce this view with stereotypes of scientists being male, use of the term ‘female scientist’, and lack of strategies to encourage participation by female students in science classes which are often dominated by male students.
- This may lead to girls not choosing subjects and career paths in science, and result in gender segregation in scientific study, occupations and industries.
Other identity factors
Sex and gender often interact with other identity factors to affect a person’s life, called ‘intersectionality’. These other factors include age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, Indigenous status and disability status.
The interaction of identity factors means that certain groups of women may be affected by gender inequality in diverse ways. For example, elderly, disabled and migrant women are particularly vulnerable to disadvantage and discrimination. Not considering these other factors and their impacts may result in greater inequality.
Reflect on what factors may contribute to your identity, such as:
- where you live
- interests and hobbies
- sexual orientation
- cultural/racial background.
Gender equality and gender equity
The terms 'equality' and 'equity' are often misunderstood and used incorrectly, especially when applied to gender.
'Equality' is about ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their potential and receive equal treatment. For gender, this means ensuring equal treatment of women, men and people of other genders in all aspects of their lives, without allowing gender stereotyping to affect or restrict their rights and choices.
'Equity' is about recognising and enacting the strategies needed to achieve equal outcomes. This means allocating resources and opportunities in ways that allow people to reach their full potential. Gender equity recognises that women face a range of challenges and may require extra help to create fair and equal outcomes. Gender equity ‘levels the playing field’ so gender equality can be achieved.
Note: Use the term ‘gender equity’ with caution. Equitable treatment of women based on tradition, custom, religion or culture risks reinforcing unequal gender relations and stereotypes. The United Nations prefers the term ‘gender equality’ rather than ‘gender equity’ for this reason. Learn more from the UN Women Training Centre.
Take this quiz to see how these concepts and terms are used in real life contexts. The correct answers will display when you have completed the quiz.