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 have a more analytic disposition than women and therefore certain occupations, such as scientist, are best undertaken by men.

  • 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 is often dominated male students.
  • This, in turn, 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 different ways and to a different degree. 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 contribute to your identity using the following diagram. You may like to add more factors.

Your identity can be shaped by such factors as gender, sexual orientation, age, language, religion, where you live, your interests and hobbies and your cultural or religious 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 that are needed to achieve equal outcomes. This means allocating resources and opportunities in a way that allows people to reach their full potential. Gender equity recognises that women face a range of challenges and may require additional help to create fair and equal outcomes. Gender equity ‘levels the playing field’ so that gender equality can be achieved.

Note: The term ‘gender equity’ should be used with caution. Equitable treatment of women based on tradition, custom, religion or culture risks perpetuating unequal gender relations and gender stereotypes. For this reason, the term ‘gender equality’ is preferred by the United Nations, rather than ‘gender equity’. See the UN Women Training Centre for further information.

Quiz

Take this quiz below to see these concepts and terms used in real-life contexts. Once you have completed the quiz, the correct answers will be highlighted in green and incorrect answers in red.