Gender Essentials


What is Gender?

Gender refers to socially constructed characteristics of women, men, girls, boys and LGBTQI+ identities. This course is about gender intentionality. In other words, what you do and how you do it should take gender into consideration.

Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys (and gender minority individuals) that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviors and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. (Source: World Health Organization 2022)

LGBTQI+ is an acronym including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people and other gender identities. (Source: United Nations)

Why is it important to address gender in programming?

Norms, roles and behaviors associated with gender can prevent programs from reaching their objective of equal access to information and services for all people. They can shape content and approaches in ways that are biased and that create barriers. Gender is one of the most important considerations in health programs, including family planning and AYSRH programs.

Many steps can be taken to put people on an equal footing:

The TCI Gender Strategy is a vision for change

Our Gender Strategy affirms a commitment to gender mainstreaming and integration, and describes how and why TCI will bring about the change required to achieve this commitment. Implementing the TCI Gender Strategy calls for action from TCI as a platform as well as local governments working with TCI.

TCI is committed to:

How is TCI mainstreaming and integrating gender into its internal operations?

Looking internally, TCI as a platform creates an enabling environment, promoting gender equitable partnerships with local governments by ensuring internal policies and procedures address potential harm, identifying gender champions throughout the TCI consortium, ensuring gender balance and diversity especially among leadership positions, conducting trainings on gender, including development of this course, and using inclusive language in communications.

Three areas that show why gender inequity needs to be addressed

TCI seeks to address three areas in which gender inequities and their related barriers and constraints can limit the reach, scale and uptake of interventions.

To ensure demand for and access to health services
Programs must account for the ways inequity manifests at the household and community level. This includes the extent to which men control access to health services and fertility decisions. It also includes access to resources, roles and practices, norms and beliefs, and decision-making power and autonomy.
To ensure uptake of services
Programs must not ignore existing gender norms. Ignoring norms can lead to resistance by users, health providers, communities and decision-makers. Use of services requires awareness of preferences (e.g., a women provider) and care that is respectful and non-discriminatory (e.g., toward unmarried women and girls).
To ensure quality of care in service provision
Programs must not reinforce gender inequities. Gender inequity is a factor when services view family planning as the responsibility of women and target only women, ignoring the role of men in contraceptive decision-making. Services that require a woman to be accompanied by a man can exclude women who do not have a male partner. Consider how services are shaped by and even reinforce gender inequities.

Learn More about TCI’s Approach to Gender

Why does gender matter?

We need to identify the barriers to sexual and reproductive health information and services if we are to overcome them.

Gender as a social inequity affects such things as:

  • Vulnerability to illness
  • Exposure to risk factors
  • Exposure to illness
  • Access to prevention and curative measures
  • Burden of ill-health
  • Quality of care
  • Roles and responsibilities in relation to care
  • Treatment received

Gender also affects:

  • Who provides services
  • Who makes health care decisions
  • What services are offered/covered
  • Who is included in medical research
  • Who medical products and supplies are designed for

Key Terms

Gender equality: The concept that all human beings are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, or discrimination ― no matter their sex or gender identity.

Gender equity: The process of being fair to someone regardless of their sex or gender.  To ensure fairness, measures must be taken to compensate for cumulative economic, social, and political disadvantages based on sex or gender that prevent someone from operating on a level playing field.

Is gender considered in every aspect of an organization?
➤ That is gender mainstreaming.
Are programs viewed through a gender lens from design to implementation to evaluation?
➤ That is gender integration.
Do programs consciously promote gender equality and address inequalities?
➤ They are gender intentional.
Do components reflect the realities and needs of women and girls, e.g., site selection, staff and monitoring?
➤ That is gender responsive programming.

To what extent is gender incorporated in programming?

Gender integration efforts often focus specifically on assessing desired improvements in outcomes for women and girls. This is because gender inequality and power relations systemically disadvantage women and girls.

The WHO Gender-Responsive Assessment Scale defines five stages for policy and programming:


Illustrative examples of gender responsive approaches

  • Engaging communities in discussions of gender inequality and its consequences for women, men, boys and girls.
  • Promoting the adoption and supporting the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education curricula.
  • Encouraging women’s meaningful participation and leadership in all project activities, from design through monitoring and evaluation.
  • Linking family planning programs to existing work on gender-based violence (GBV). This can be done by raising awareness among communities and health providers of potential increases in violence, training family planning providers to probe for and respond to reports of violence, and providing information on available GBV support services through family planning programs. GBV messages are an important part of social and behavior change communication (SBCC) programs.
  • Incorporating training on safe-sex negotiation and communication skills that emphasizes equitable relationships between women and men.
  • Introducing SBCC campaigns that demonstrate the benefits of equitable partnerships between women and men.
  • Engaging men in supporting the health needs of their partners and in challenging harmful gender norms.
  • Engaging men as family planning clients, promoting the importance of men taking responsibility for their health and the health of their partners, including condom use and vasectomy.
  • Identifying and training religious leaders to become gender champions who support more gender equitable partnerships among their congregants.
  • Supporting girls’ and women’s empowerment (especially economic empowerment) so that they can better advocate for their rights.
To learn more about how to design gender responsive programs, see the next lesson on mainstreaming and integrating gender into TCI stages.


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