Gender as a Social Structure
Gender is a social structure within society that is as important as politics, economy, race and class and it is also relational, meaning that it is constructed through interactions between individuals, groups and institutions. As it intersects with other structures such as race and political economy, gender is performed differently, influencing how we eat, dress and work, our social practices and preferences, as well as the limitations on our movement, health seeking behaviour, self-care and harmful behaviour.
In defining gender as a social relational structure, we understand behaviour and actions to be a result of both structure and agency: individuals and groups act, resist and make choices about their health and wellbeing, but these are to differing degrees constrained by institutions and structures from the macro: political, economic etc; to the micro: family, marriage, community, peer group etc.
What is a Critical Feminist Stance?
Our critical feminist positionality means that we pay particular attention to the balance and use of power, with a focus on how power operates differentially to prioritise certain groups and knowledge. Globalisation has ensured that most of the world operates within a capitalist and patriarchal economy that has historically given men more power than women in almost all areas of life. As Global health 50/50 has demonstrated, gender inequality in the balance of power and decision making has permeated global health institutions and policy at every level. On an individual and interpersonal level, inequality between genders also influences decisions that affect our healthcare such as the distribution of resources, use of violence and access to care.
Other key theoretical perspectives that are important for understanding interactions between gender and global health include the coloniality of gender and decolonial feminism, gender as a non-binary category, understandings of masculinity and the role of hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity and LGBTQ critiques, theories of violence and intersectionality. At the Centre for Gender and Global Health we reflect on how these conceptual tools can help us understand global and local experiences of health and wellbeing as well as inform gender responsive and gender transformative work in Global Health.