Fact sheet
9 March 2012

Key facts

  • Gender" refers to women’s and men’s roles and responsibilities, which are socially determined. Unlike men and women's biological characteristics, their gender characteristics are dynamic, varying across cultures and generations. Gender determines men's and women's roles and relations, their access to and control over resources, and their needs, including health needs.
  • Gender is a significant determinant of health. Analysis increasingly reveals differentials between men and women, arising from sex and gender, across health conditions. Specifically, because of gender roles and relations, significant gender-based differentials exist between men and women with regard to the following:
    • Exposure to disease and injury lead to differential exposures: For example, due to the norms of maleness and femaleness, it may be considered normal for men to visit sex workers but “unmanly” to use condoms or admit to ignorance about the health risks in not using them. On the other hand, women may be expected to be shy, unassertive and submissive in sexual matters, which can reduce their ability to negotiate safe sex. Similar gender-based differences are observed across a range of health risks.
    • Household-level investment in nutrition, care and education : For example, compared to boys and men, girls and women are often disadvantaged in education, although improved education for women has been found to produce better health outcomes for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren.
    • Access to and use of health services : Gender-related barriers to access to service include the following: limited mobility; lower control over household income; women may be expected to remain in the private sphere of the home, while men may move freely in the public sphere; women may need the permission of men in the household to seek health care; a male family member may need to accompany them.
    • The social impact of ill-health : For example, silence and stigma continue to surround domestic violence and rape in many countries. Similarly, women and girls in households usually shoulder the burden of home-based care-giving responsibilities, in addition to their other activities.
  • Given the influence of gender on health, efforts to improve health need to include due attention to gender. Addressing gender inequalities can strengthen programme planning and implementation, reducing delay, improving diagnosis, and improving access to services, as well as adherence and treatment outcomes.
  • Gender analysis is a method that can help identify:
    • the relations between men and women;
    • their roles and activities;
    • the resources they have access to and control over;
    • the norms that define their behaviours; and
    • the constraints they may face.
  • Gender analysis can be used to assess an existing health issue, a health project, programme or policy, health research, or health service delivery. It can also inform the development of new health policies, programmes and projects.
  • The results of gender analysis can be used in gender planning. This involves analysing from a gender perspective questions regarding the vision, goals and principles; design and planning; resource mobilization; implementation of intervention; and monitoring and evaluation of policies, programmes, projects or interventions.
  • Gender mainstreaming is a strategy for promoting gender equality. It involves changing policies and activities, as needed, to ensure that the goal of gender equality becomes central. Examples of what can be done include: identifying and reducing gender-related barriers to access; improving service quality; intensifying public education; improving sex-disaggregated information collection; and creating gender-sensitive indicators.

WHOs’ response

  • WHO supports Member States to create, sustain and support evidence-based policies and programmes to achieve gender equality and health equity and improve women's health.
  • In May 2007, the World Health Assembly, WHO’s governing body, adopted resolution WHA60.25, which urges Member States to mainstream gender in any planned health action and requests the WHO Director-General to ensure full implementation of the WHO Strategy for integrating gender analysis and actions into the work of WHO. WHO takes action in four strategic directions:
    • Building WHO capacity for gender analysis and planning
    • Bringing gender into the mainstream of WHO’s management
    • Promoting the use of sex-disaggregated data and gender analysis
    • Establishing accountability