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close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 12: Sexual Health
close this folderSex and Gender Roles
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentHow gender roles are learned
View the documentWhen gender roles cause harm

How gender roles are learned

Gender roles are passed down from parents to children. From the time children are very young, parents treat girls and boys differently - sometimes without realizing they do so. Children watch their parents closely, noticing how they behave, how they treat each other, and what their roles are in the community.

As children grow up, they accept these roles because they want to please their parents and. because parents have more authority. These roles also help children know who they are and what is expected of them. So in the same way that children learn their own names, they also learn about their gender - that is, what it means to be a woman or a man.

As the world changes, gender roles also change. Many young people want to live differently from their parents. But they sometimes find it difficult to change, because the family and community expect them to continue following old ‘rules’. As women struggle to gain the freedom to redefine their gender roles, they can also gain more control over the things that determine sexual health.