Sex and gender

Sex refers to the biological and physiological attributes that typically characterise men and women.

Gender is rooted in social conventions, not biology. It stems from successive societies’ preconceptions of what men versus women look and act like.

Gender is not a binary thing, an ‘either/or’. It is a spectrum. Most people have some characteristics that are considered ‘male’ and some that are considered ‘female’.

What are gender norms, roles and stereotypes?

Gender norms are a society’s prevailing views about how men and women should behave and appear differently. Examples might include: ‘men shouldn’t cry’ and ‘women should wear makeup’.  

Gender roles are the separate sets of responsibilities a society expects men and women to take on. Examples include: ‘women should take care of children’ and ‘men should be the breadwinners’.

Gender stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about people based on their gender. Examples include: ‘women like to gossip’ and ‘men are better at maths than women’.

These three things are all connected and reinforce each other. To reduce inequality between men and women, the gender norms, roles and stereotypes that can hinder anyone in reaching their full potential need to be tackled.

What is gender equality?

Gender equality is the belief that everyone should receive equal treatment and not be discriminated against based on their gender.  Gender equality is one of the objectives of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Sustainable Development Goals put gender equality at the heart of the global development agenda – a pre-condition for sustainable development and the realisation of human rights for all.