182 Sexual Health
Each person is born with either a girl’s body or a boy’s body.
These physical differences determine a person’s sex.
A person’s gender role refers to the way a community
defines what it is to be a woman or a man. Each community
expects women and men to look, think, feel, and act in certain
ways, simply because they are women or men. In most
communities, for example, women are expected to prepare
food, gather water and fuel, and care for their children and
partner. Men, however, are often expected to work outside
the home to provide for their families and parents in old age,
and to defend their families from harm.
Unlike the physical differences between men and women,
gender roles are created by the community. Some activities,
like washing and ironing clothing, are considered ‘women’s
work’ in many communities. But others vary from place to
place—depending on a community’s traditions, laws, and
religions. Gender roles can even vary within communities,
based on how much education a person has, her social status,
or her age. For example, in some communities
women of a certain class are expected to do
domestic work, while other women have more
choice about the work they do.
In most communities, women and men
are expected to dress differently, and
to do different work. This is part of
their gender role.
How gender roles are learned
Gender roles are passed down from adults to children. From
the time children are very young, parents and others treat girls
and boys differently—sometimes without realizing they do so.
Children watch their elders closely, noticing how they behave, how
they treat each other, and what their roles are in the community.
As children grow up, they accept these roles because they
want to please their parents and other respected adults, and
because these people have more authority in the community.
These roles also help children know who they are and what is
expected of them.
As the world changes, gender roles also change. Many
young people want to live differently from their parents or
grandparents. It can be difficult to change, but as women and
men struggle to redefine their gender roles, they can also
improve their sexual health.
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012