Both sex and gender-related factors and gendered inequalities can give rise to inequities between men and women in health status and access to health care.

Consider the following, for example:

  • A woman cannot receive needed health care because norms in her community prevent her from travelling alone to a clinic.
  • A teenage boy dies in an accident because of trying to live up to his peers’ expectations that young men should be “bold” risk-takers.
  • A married woman contracts HIV because societal standards encourage her husband’s promiscuity while simultaneously preventing her from insisting on condom use.
  • Despite improvements in tobacco control activities, a country’s lung cancer mortality rate for men continues to grow as smoking is considered an attractive marker of masculinity (4)

Health promotion can either improve or exacerbate health outcomes and gender equality.

Defining Sex and Gender

Both sex and gender matter in understanding health:
“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that are used to define men and women.
“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.5