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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


Each person is born with either a girl’s body or a boy’s body. These physical differences determine a person’s sex, which does not change overtime.

A person’s gender role refers to the way a community defines what it is to be a woman or a man. Each community expects women and men to think, feel, and act in certain ways, simply because they are women or men. In most communities, for example, women are expected to prepare food, gather water and fuel, and care for their children and partner. Men, however, are often expected to work outside the home to provide for their families and parents in old age, and to defend their families from harm.


Unlike the physical differences between men and women, gender roles and the activities associated with them are created by the community. Some activities, like preparing food and caring for children, are considered ‘women’s activities’ in many communities. But others vary from place to place - depending on a community’s traditions, laws, and religions. Gender roles can even vary within communities, based on how much education a person has, her race, or her age. For example, in some communities women of a certain race are expected to do domestic work, while other women have more choice about the jobs they hold.