What is the difference between gender and sex?
• ‘Sex’ refers to the biological differences between males and
• Gender describes roles, rights and responsibilities that
communities and societies consider appropriate for women/girls and
Read posts about gender from VOY
We often talk about gender as a social construct. That means that
gender roles are not a ‘natural’ result of biological differences,
but are determined by the systems and cultures in which we live. We
are born as males and females, but we learn to become girls and
boys, men and women, from our families and societies.
These assumptions are what create gender identities and in turn
gender-based discrimination and gender inequality. Gender is a
fluid concept and often changes over time, as well as from one
culture to another. This means that we can address and contribute
to changing these roles by challenging the status quo and seeking
How does gender inequality affect girls?
Gender inequalities can impact many different aspects of girl’s
lives. While each country and community is different, we can
observe the following global trends:
• Girls are less likely than boys to go to school. • Girls are more
likely than boys to be married before the age of 18.
• Girls are
more likely than boys to become infected with HIV. • Girls are more
likely than boys to have experienced sexual violence. • Women hold
fewer leadership positions both in politics and in the
Often we see that girls from minority populations and rural areas
are especially affected. Gender roles intersect with discrimination
based on age, ethnicity, poverty, belonging to indigenous groups,
caste, disability and other factors to create ‘double
discrimination’ towards girls. We have to address these factors
together to reduce discrimination against girls.
Discrimination heightens in
The discrimination girls face heightens during adolescence (10-19
years old). When we look at programs that typically target children
under 10 years old, such as primary education and immunization, the
differences between girls and boys are often quite small. But when
girls reach adolescence they face a set of new challenges, such as
child-domestic labour, child marriage, reproductive health, and
sexual violence. The differences between girls and boys in these
areas are much greater. So it is important to continue to address
the specific needs of girls also when they reach adolescence.
How can we achieve gender equality?
Governments have made commitments to gender equality through
ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and adopting the Beijing
Platform for Action. These international frameworks promote the
rights of girls and women and what governments must do towards
achieving gender equality.
However, governments also need to make sure that standards and laws
that protect the rights of girls and women are enforced. This is
not always the case, and we need to continue to advocate with
governments to play their part and support girls and women through
laws and policies.
It is also important to change existing stereotypes and behaviours
among all members of society who do not fully recognize the rights
of girls and women. That can be difficult and involves challenging
long-standing beliefs and attitudes in a community. But it is only
when all girls and women are respected as equals that we can
achieve gender equality.
Boys for gender equality
Gender equality can only be achieved by working on both sides of
the equation – with girls and women and with boys and men. It is
important to make boys aware of the effects of discrimination
against girls and include them in developing responses and