Gender, equity and human rights


Hidden cities in Brazil: Sao Paulo, an old man is sewing
WHO/Anna Kari

Gender—gender requires us to ensure that health policy, programmes, services and delivery models are responsive to the needs of women, men, girls and boys in all their diversity.

Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed. While most people are born either male or female, they are taught appropriate norms and behaviours – including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and work places. When individuals or groups do not “fit” established gender norms they often face stigma, discriminatory practices or social exclusion – all of which adversely affect health. It is important to be sensitive to different identities that do not necessarily fit into binary male or female sex categories.

Gender norms, roles and relations influence people’s susceptibility to different health conditions and diseases and affect their enjoyment of good mental, physical health and wellbeing. They also have a bearing on people’s access to and uptake of health services and on the health outcomes they experience throughout the life-course.

There are often misconceptions about terms related to gender. Learn more by reading the glossary of terms related to gender, equity and human rights.

WHO’s UN-SWAP Status

WHO has made great strides in meeting and exceeding requirements on performance indicators detailed in the United Nations System-wide Action Plan towards gender quality and the empowerment of women (UN-SWAP). In 2016, WHO significantly improved its UN-SWAP performance, with 80% of the Performance Indicators either “Meeting” or “Exceeding Requirements” compared to 60% in 2015 and 53% in 2014. Specifically, progress was made on three Performance Indicators, with a remarkable achievement of “Exceeds Requirements” for Indicator 1. Policy and Plan, and “Meets Requirements” for Indicator 8. Resource Tracking and 14. Knowledge Management.

In 2017, only three Performance Indicators remain where WHO’s performance should improve in order to “Meet Requirements”. These are: Indicators 9. Resource Allocation, 10. Gender Architecture and Parity, and 13. Capacity Development.

Gender in the WHO regions