Understanding Gender

This unit defines some Fundamental Gender Concepts and by the end of this unit, the teacher should: Understand the meaning of gender and related concepts, Understand the social construction of gender in society
Understanding Gender
Understanding Gender

Gender is a concept that is widely used and perceived in many quarters to mean “women’s  issues”. In reality, gender refers to socially determined roles and relations between males and females. From the wider picture, the term “gender” refers to a socio cultural classification of women and men. This classification is based on societal norms and values that define the roles men and women should play in society.

Gender roles are quite different from sex roles of men and women. Sex roles are purely biological, natural and God-given. They cannot be changed. The man makes the woman pregnant and the woman gives birth to the child and breastfeeds. Gender  roles,  on the other hand, are determined by the society, which assigns different responsibilities to men and women, e.g., cooking for women and decision-making for men. Gender roles can therefore be changed and vary over time and from community to community. These gender roles are consciously or unconsciously carried into the classroom dynamics by both teachers and students.

Some Fundamental Gender Concepts

A number of related concepts underlie the development of a clear understanding of gender:

Gender discrimination:  Denying  opportunities and rights or giving preferential treatment to individuals on the basis of their sex.

Gender equality: The elimination of all forms of discrimination based on gender so that girls and women, boys and men have equal opportunities and benefits.

Gender equity: Giving equal treatment to  both  girls and boys, women and men to access resources and opportunities.  In the provision of education   it refers to ensuring that girls and  boys  have  equal access to enrolment and other educational opportunities.

Gender  relations:   Relationships   between women and men acquired through the process of socialization in terms of power sharing, decision – making, and division of labour within the household and in the society at large.

Gender stereotype: The  constant  portrayal,  such as in the media, conversation, jokes or books, of women and men occupying social roles according to a traditional gender role or division of labour.

In children’s textbooks, for example, women are seen as cleaners, caregivers and nurses, and men are seen as drivers, doctors and leaders. The images reinforce gender roles, which are socially constructed.

Social construction: A process through which a given community assigns, institutionalizes and legitimizes gender roles.

Gender mainstreaming: The consistent integration of gender concerns into the development and implementation of policies, plans, programmes and projects at all levels, including national, community, school and classroom.

Feminism: A theory and social movement that focuses on women’s rights and seeks to redress in equalities.

Patriarchy: An ideology and social system that propagates male supremacy or male power and superiority over women as natural and God given. The operating premise is that men are biologically, intellectually and emotionally superior to women. Conversely, women are considered to be  weak  and dependent on men for protection, guidance, upkeep and general survival. The ideology is institutionalized through active formal and informal systems, backed up by ideas,  beliefs,  practices  and culture – and sometimes force. A patriarchal ideology is the key factor in the structural gender inequality in most of our societies.

Gender neutral: The claim some people  make when they want to present themselves as not practising gender-based discrimination. What it often masks, however, is the failure to take gender issues into consideration, and this can translate into discrimination against girls as it fails to pay attention to the distinct and special needs of girls and boys.

Gender blindness: The failure to recognize the differences between males and females and therefore leading to failure to provide for the differences.

Gender sensitive: The ability to recognize gender issues. It is the beginning of gender awareness.

Gender awareness: Implies the ability to identify problems arising from gender inequality and discrimination, even if these are not apparent on the surface.

Gender  responsiveness:  Refers  to  taking  action to correct gender bias and discrimination so as to ensure gender equality and equity.

Empowerment: The process through which marginalized people such as the poor, minorities, and girls and women become aware of their subordination, and acquire the skills and knowledge they need to analyse and overcome their marginalization.

You can watch the video below on introduction to gender concepts.

The Social Construction of Gender

Gender is a social construct that is manifested at various levels and reinforced by various structures:

Household: Girls and boys are assigned different roles, rights and benefits. This begins when they are small, and persists through issues of succession and inheritance.

Community: Socially constructed roles are reinforced through differential allocation of roles, rights and privileges. Women and girls cook and serve at community meetings, while men deliberate on issues and make decisions.

School: Teachers treat girls and boys differently,  by reinforcing stereotyped gender roles and using texts, curricula and management styles that rein- force gender stereotypes.

Religion: Religion is used to reinforce gender inequalities in society by positioning women in a subordinate status to men. Text in the Christian Bible, for example, saying that wives should submit to their husbands is often used to dominate or even abuse women.

Government: Gender insensitive policies  and  plans, as well as the absence of women in decision making processes and positions, reinforce gender stereotyped roles, rights and privileges.

Media: The media play a big role in portraying stereotypical images of women and men that rein- force gender inequalities.

All these forces position women in a lower social status compared with men – socially, economically, politically and culturally.


Find out information in your school about the following:

  1. How many women and men are there in the following positions: school board, heads of departments and prefects?
  2. Is the school head a man or a woman?
  3. Is the head prefect a girl or a boy?
  4. How many male students and how many female students are there?
  5. How many female teachers and how many male teachers?

Discuss the gender equality implications of this situation.

When visitors come to the school, who does the following tasks between female and male teachers, girls and boys:

  1. Receiving the visitors
  2. Cooking and serving
  3. Giving a brief on the school
  4. Presenting the visitor with gifts
  5. Any other activity or situation

Discuss the gender equality implications of this situation.

What are the specific gender roles in the community surrounding the Make a list of the tasks performed by men, by women, by boys and by girls.

Discuss if this is a fair distribution of the tasks.

What impact do these have on the education of the girls and boys?


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