A Conceptual Guide to Gender

A Conceptual Guide to „Gender“

The term „gender“ refers to economic, social and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female. In almost all societies, women and men differ in their activities and undertaking, regarding access to and control over resources, and participating in decision-making. Gender roles and responsibilities, therefore, refer to the differences between women and men in societies based upon their sex. The use of the word „gender“ highlights the insight that these differences are not innate or predetermined and are not the same as the biological differences between women and men. Gender differences have been built up and reinforced by socio-cultural and economic institutions, over time and are therefore different in diverse contexts and societies. Gender roles, responsibilities and differences are not the same in different societies, but differ according to the historical development and institutions of that particular society, although there are similar inequalities between women and men, girls and boys, globally.

A focus on gender inequalities does not imply that all women are worse of than all men. Rather, the argument is that gender (being male or female) is an important social division characterized by inequality. Whether you are a woman or a man will influence how people see you, the social expectations about how you should behave, people’s assumptions about what you might be „good at“ or what skills you might have, and your life chances. (Sida, 1997)

There is a danger, and a frequent mistake, to confuse „gender“ with „women“; it is therefore important to understand the differences between these two concepts. In order to focus on gender inequalities one must have knowledge of both women and men’s roles and responsibilities as it is the comparative analysis between these that will highlight the gender (in-) equalities of any society. An analysis of women or men separately can be of importance but can never replace a gender analysis or perspective as it only highlights part of the reality. To only state that girls don’t go to school adequately isn’t necessarily based upon gender inequalities as boys might attend in equally low numbers, it is when you compare these two data that a gender analysis can be made and its origin further investigated.

For UN-HABITAT’s work, this implies that the Programme must take into equal consideration and equally address equality in control over and access to land, equal participation and roles in decision-making forums as well as an equal say in urban planning and development.

Women, or men, as a constituency can organise themselves around any common cause or interest but it is equally important to remember that these groups are not homogenous. There is a need to take into consideration a variety of different criteria, such as class, ethnicity, backgrounds and so on. Consequently, the interests of women and men, separately or linked, may be determined as much by their class positions or their ethnic identity as by their sex or gender roles. (UNCHS, 1996)


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