Gender issues-key concept


The English-language distinction between the words sex and gender was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s by British and American psychiatrists and other medical personnel working with intersex and transsexual patients. Since then, the term gender has been increasingly used to distinguish between sex as biological and gender as socially and culturally constructed. Gender refers to the roles and responsibilities of men and women that are created in our families, our societies and our cultures. The concept of gender also includes the expectations held about the characteristics, aptitudes and likely behaviours of both women and men (femininity and masculinity). Gender roles and expectations are learned. They can change over time and they vary within and between cultures. Systems of social differentiation such as political status, class, ethnicity, physical and mental disability, age and more, modify gender roles. Gender refers to the array of socially constructed roles and relationships, personality traits, attitudes, behaviours, values, relative power and influence that society ascribes to the two sexes on a differential basis. Gender is an acquired identity that is learned, changes over time, and varies widely within and across cultures.


Gender refers to the economic, social and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female at a particular point in time” (World Health Organization, 2001)

Gender is defined by FAO as ‘the relations between men and women, both perceptual and material. Gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual  characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. It is a central organizing principle of societies, and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution’ (FAO, 1997).

Gender has been defined as: “The commonly shared expectations and norms within a society about appropriate male and female behavior, characteristics and roles. Gender can be considered a social and cultural construct that differentiates females from males and thus defines the ways in which females and males interact with each other. These roles and expectations are learned and they can change over time as well as vary within and between cultures.”


Sex describes the biological differences between men and women, which are universal and determined at birth. ‘Sex’ refers to the biological characteristics or natural biological differences between men and women, for example, the differences in the organs related to reproduction. A person’s sex is biologically determined as female or male according to certain identifiable physical features which are fixed. Women’s marginalisation has often been seen as ‘natural’and a fact of their biology


“Sex refers to the biological characteristics that define humans as female or male. While these sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, they tend to differentiate humans as males and females”. (World Health Organization, 2002)

Difference between gender and sex

1Psychological termBiological term
2Our awareness and reaction to biological sexFunctional difference between male and female
3Determined by biological, psychological and sociological factorsDetermined by genes
4Masculine and feminine are the psychological terms referred to genderMale and female are the biological terms referred to sex
5Can be changed since gender identity is determined by societyDifficult to change
6At different times in history and in different societies, gender roles are differentThroughout the history and across the cultures sex difference exists
7Gender is cultural specificSex is natural, constant and universal


Psychiatrist John F. Oliven of Columbia University coined the term transgender in his 1965 reference work Sexual Hygiene and Pathology.Transgender means someone whose gender differs from the one they were given when they were born. These people may identify as male or female or they may feel that neither label fits them. In order to express their chosen gender, transgender people may transition, or change, from the gender they were given at birth.  They may change their names, pronouns or style of dress.  Some transgender people also choose a medical transition, with the help of medical specialists, who will prescribe hormones and/or surgery. A person who lives in a different gender to the one they were given when they were born.  For example, someone who was called a ‘boy’ when they were born may feel very strongly that they are really a girl.  They would be called a transwoman.  If someone was labelled a ‘girl’ at birth, and they later realise that they are male, they would be called a transman


 Sexuality refers to the total expression of who you are as a human being, your femaleness or your maleness. Our sexuality begins at birth and ends at death. Everyone is a sexual being. Your sexuality is an interplay between body image, gender identity, gender role, sexual orientation, eroticism, genitals, intimacy, relationships, and love and affection. A person’s sexuality includes his or her attitudes, values, knowledge and behaviors. How people express their sexuality is influenced by their families, culture, society, faith and beliefs. It is a multidimensional and dynamic concept.” sexuality is about who we are, our sense of identity as men or women, how we see our places in the world, and what we believe about our potentials and capabilities. It has to do with biology and psychology, with pleasures and values, and with relationships; relationships with ourselves, our friends, and those who might become our partners. Our sexuality has many dimensions, or elements. You might think of sexuality this way:


Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authoritysocial privilege and control of property. In the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. Patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father” and comes from the Greek. Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men. A form of social organization in which the father is the head of the family. A society in which the oldest male is the leader of the family, or a society controlled by men in which they use their power to their own advantage


Patriarchy is  a system of interrelated social structures which allow men to exploit women

-Sylvia Walby


Masculinity is a set of attributes, behaviors and roles generally associated with boys and men. Masculinity is socially constructed, but made up of both socially-defined and biologically-created factors, distinct from the definition of the male biological sex. Both males and females can exhibit masculine traits and behavior.  feminist philosophers have argued that gender ambiguity may blur gender classification. Masculine traits include courageindependence and assertiveness. These traits vary by location and context, and are influenced by social and cultural factors.

The characteristics that are traditionally thought to be typical or suitable for men

  • Present – Being in the moment and completely attentive to the person he is with or the event he is at.
  • Grounded – In touch with reality and able to resist pressure and events around him.
  • Contained – Able to provide all his own needs and able to provide the needs of others, allowing them to feel safe.
  • Focused – Completely absorbed by the task in hand and not distracted by what else is happening.
  • Potent – Being strong and powerful and fully in charge of his sexuality.
  • Dynamic – Able keep going, to endure and to be full of energy.


Femininity is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women. Femininity is socially constructed, but made up of both socially-defined and biologically-created factors

  • Free – Open and unrestricted, able to be involved in anything and seeking everything.
  • Spontaneous – Reacts from the emotion of a situation and makes quick assessments.
  • Intuitive- Acts on an innate sense of what’s happening and able to know beyond the senses.
  • Sceptical – Questioning others, particularly those closest to her, looking to be shown certainty.
  • Accepting – Will accept circumstances once trust is established, able to conciliate.
  • Nurturing – Caring for others as well as herself, finding compassion in any situation.

Gender stereotype

Gender stereotypes are over-generalizations about the characteristics of an entire group based on gender. Gender stereotyping is defined as overgeneralization of characteristics, differences and attributes of a certain group based on their gender. Gender stereotypes create a widely accepted judgment or bias about certain characteristics or traits that apply to each gender. If a man or a woman act differently from how their gender is assumed to behave, then they don’t conform to the norm. Gender stereotypes can have negative connotation, like those above, but they can also have positive connotations, even though they’re often over-generalized. For instance, the notion that women are better caregivers than men is a positive connotation, but it is a generalization and not necessarily true in all cases. This is similarly so for the notion that men are better providers than women, which while positive, can be disproved by looking at cases where men have abandoned their families and defaulted on child support.    

Most Common Gender Stereotypes

There are four basic examples of gender stereotypes:

  1. Personality Traits: Women are supposed to be shy, passive and submissive. Women are organized and clean. Men are expected to be tough, aggressive, dominant and self-confident. Men are lazy and messy.
  2. Domestic Behaviors: Women are supposed to cook and do housework. Women are better at raising children. Stay-at-home mothers are better than working mothers. On the other hand: Men are better at household repairs. Men cannot cook, sew or care for their children. Men always tell their wives what to do.
  3. Occupations: Women are supposed to have “clean” jobs such as teachers, nurses, secretaries and librarians. Women are not good at math. Women are supposed to make less money than men. Women are not politicians. Women cannot be presidential candidates. On the other hand: Men are supposed to have “dirty jobs” like mechanics, construction workers, plumbers and engineering. Men are all good at math. Men are better doctors. Men are supposed to be in charge at work and should make more money than women. Men are better politicians.
  4. Physical Appearance: Generally speaking, women are expected to be short and slender, small and delicate while men are supposed to be tall with broad shoulders. However, physical appearance gender stereotyping varies from culture to culture. In cultures where men are small in size, masculinity is determined by acting macho. Acting macho for men would mean getting involved in fights, drinking alcohol, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and getting into fights. Female gender stereotype occurs for women who act “macho” in some cultures. Women who smoke, drink, and swear often are considered “masculine”.

Gender bias

It is the unfair difference in the way women and menare treated. Gender bias is a preference or prejudice toward one gender over the other. Bias can be conscious or unconscious, and may manifest in many ways, both subtle and obvious. It is the unequal treatment in employment opportunity such as promotion, pay, benefits and privileges and expectations due to attitudes based on the sex of an employee or group of  employees. Gender bias can be subtle or overt, and can result in small or large consequences. Most countries have laws eliminating gender bias in work places. Gender bias can be a legitimate basis for a lawsuit under anti-discrimination statutes. Gender bias is behavior that shows favoritism toward one gender over another. Most often, gender bias is the act of favoring men and/or boys over women and/or girls.


It is an oversimplified and/or unfair belief or idea that groups of people have particular characteristics or that all people in a group are the same.

Gender stereotype

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a gender stereotype “is a generalised view or preconception about attributes, or characteristics that are or ought to be possessed by women and men or the roles that are or should be performed by men and women”. A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices about their lives.A gender stereotype is therefore harmful when it limits the capacity of women and men to develop their personal attributes or professional skills and to take decisions about their lives and plans.

Social norms and implications of sexuality

Definition of social norms

Social norms are rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Social Norms are the rules for how people should act in a given group or society. Any behavior that is outside these norms is considered violation of norms. Social norms consist of rules of conduct and models of behavior prescribed by a society. They are rooted in the customs, traditions and value systems that gradually develop in this society

According to Young & Mack: Norms refer to the group shared expectation. q According to Lesh, Larson & Goerman: Social norms are rule s developed by a group of people that specify how people must, should, may, should not and must not behave in various situation. q Social norms are the code of ethics.

Social Norms are unwritten rules about how to behave. They provide us with an expected idea of how to behave in a particular social group or culture. For example we expect students to arrive to lesson on time and complete their work. Social norms are not found among the animals. It exists only human society. Animals have no norms in their life.

Functions of Social Norms:

  1. Social norms control our behavior in the way that they provide a set pattern for our behavior.
  2.  Making behaviour systematic and pattern: Another function is that the behavior of the people becomes systematic and pattern.
  3. Due to systematic and pattern behavior law and order can be maintained in society. For disorderly society no law can work because of the unsystematic behavior of the people.
  4. Social norms helps in self-control: norms are also helpful in making self-control.

Sexuality and social norms

Sexuality is much more than body parts and the sexual act. It includes sexual ideas thoughts and fantasies.It includes gender identities and gender roles. Being sexual is an essential part of being human. Sexuality can be a source of great pleasure and satisfaction. Sexuality is the means by which we reproduce, bringing life into this world and becoming parents. Paradoxically, sexuality can also be a source of guilt and confusion, anger and disappointment, a pathway to infection, and a means of exploitation and aggression. Throughout our lives we make sexual choices based on our experiences, attitudes, values, and knowledge. Our sexuality evolves as we, ourselves, change.

What we see as natural in our culture may be viewed as unnatural in other cultures. These cultural norms are called as social norms. Culture takes our sexual interests and molds and shapes them.

Sometimes these cultural views celebrate sexuality, and other times they condemn it. Among the variety of factors that shape how we feel and behave sexually, culture is possibly the most powerful.

All cultures assume that adults have the potential for becoming sexually aroused and for engaging in sexual intercourse for the purpose of reproduction. But cultures differ considerably in terms of how strong they believe sexual interests are. These beliefs, in turn, affect the level of desire expressed in each culture.

Between the 1960s and mid-1970s significant challenges to the ways that society viewed traditional codes of behavior took place within the United States. This movement is referred to as the sexual revolution or sexual liberation. This counterculture movement questioned previously established rules and regulations, including individual self-expression and autonomy, sexual activity outside the context of marriage, acceptance of homosexuality, and the rights to sexual education. The diversity of sexual behaviors across cultures and times immediately calls into question the appropriateness of labeling these behaviors as inherently natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal by the social norms the culture follows.

Gender sensitization and women empowerment

Gender inequality is a long-term problem in our society and female are discriminated in many ways in the social context of India, although legally women have equal right. Thus, there is a great need to sensitize the society on gender issues so that there would be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Women empowerment through gender sensitization is one of the key criteria to unlock the potential of women.

Gender sensitization 

Gender sensitization refers to the modification of behavior by raising awareness of gender equality concerns. This can be achieved by conducting various sensitization campaigns, workshop, programs etc. Sensitization in the domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, is seen an awareness informed propensity or disposition which aims at changing behavior so that it is sensitive to certain issues. Gender sensitization may be seen as “the awareness informed disposition or propensity to behave in a manner which is sensitive to gender justice and equality issues.” It is interlinked with gender empowerment. Gender sensitization theories claim that modification of the behavior of teachers and parents (etc.) towards children can have a causal effect on gender equality. Gender sensitizing “is about changing behavior and instilling empathy into the views that we hold about our own and the other genders.” It helps people in “examining their personal attitudes and beliefs and questioning the ‘realities’ they thought they know.”

Importance of Gender Sensitization                

Gender Sensitization is one basic requirement for the normal development of an individual. Without being sensitive to the needs of a particular gender, an individual may refrain from understanding the opposite gender and in some acute cases even him or herself. The need for this sensitivity has been felt and realised through times immemorial and in almost all kinds of human existence, across the globe. But somehow in the recent times, a much stronger need is felt and realized to talk and discuss about this sensitive topic both on a Personal and Professional front. Particularly in a country like India, with the vast diversity existing in terms of its customs, traditions, rituals, social values, family beliefs and individual perception, the need for a More Systematic, Well Planned and More Professional Approach is desired to inculcate this sensitivity and primarily highlight the contribution of both the genders in creation and development of a well balanced society.

Programmes for women empowerment

  • Setting up community managed family counseling centers
  • Convergence meeting held with women and child welfare department
  • Encouraging the girl to join the school
  • Training conducted on gender equality and gender integration
  • Advocacy against domestic violence and women breaking silence
  • Eradicating child marriage