Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 3: Gender and Health
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The way we experience gender is a basic part of how we experience life. Children learn early that the differences between girls’ bodies and boys’ bodies mean girls and boys are expected to look, think, feel, and act in very different ways for their entire lives.
Gender roles and expectations vary according to each community’s traditions, culture, laws, and religions. In most places, boys and men have higher status. They have rights and privileges that girls and women do not. When women’s status is much lower than men’s, women experience more violence, have less access to medical care, and less power to make decisions on issues that affect their health. So exploring the unspoken and sometimes even unconscious rules about gender in your community and working for gender equality are important parts of supporting girls’ and women’s health.
Making these changes is not easy! Some people support unequal gender roles — they like things the way they are. Others might not like inequality, but they think it is like the weather — you can’t change it. Don’t let them discourage you. You are joining a growing wave of organizers, health educators, and everyday people who are using their power and creativity to bring about the changes that will ensure improvements in women’s health.