Gender refers to the roles, attributes, behaviours and opportunities associated with being male, female, or gender non-binary. It is a complex social structure that patterns power relationships that shape access to and control over resources. Gender has been conceptualised as a process that creates distinguishable social identities, which are then ranked and valued unequally, and consequently produce unequal opportunities and life chances. As such, it is a powerful determinant of health, as it produces unequal living conditions which drive inequalities in health.
Gender shapes health behaviours, exposures and vulnerabilities, and influences health systems responses. It also intersects with other social determinants of health such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and ability.
The relationship between health risks and gender inequality
Gender inequality is transformed into health risk through a variety of factors: discriminatory values, norms, beliefs and practices, differential exposures and vulnerabilities to disease, disability and injuries, biases in health systems, and biases in health research. Gender discrimination across any of these areas impacts health and social outcomes). On a global scale, the burden of gender inequality drives large-scale excess in mortality and morbidity.
While both men and women experience certain aspects of inequality, sustained and pervasive structural gender inequalities frequently and severely impact the health of women and gender non-binary people. Patriarchal gender norms, which determine idealised forms of masculinity, also have a substantial impact on men’s health.
Explore key readings and texts in our reading list.