Lessons on Gender (2)



Donated by Ron Haarms

NOTE: This is the second file for this module. Download the first file here.

Information on Gender

Often, ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are understood to be the one and the same. In reality, they are quite different. There is a difference between what our bodies are physically able to do, such as producing sperm or giving birth, and what our society expects us to do. Sex is determined by our bodies: a person is either male or female from before the

Moment he or she is born. Gender, on the other hand, is socially defined. Gender depends on historic, economic and cultural forces, and by definition is constantly changing. This means that people have different understandings of what gender is, depending on their context. People learn about what it means to be male or female from many places, including from their families, communities, social institutions, schools, religion and media.


The result of traditional gender roles is often that people are not able to reach their full potential. Both men and women would benefit from a perspective that does not limit what people can and cannot do. To stereotype is to categorize individuals or groups according to an oversimplified standardized image or idea. For example, in many cultures, education for girls and women is given a lower priority than for boys and men. However, according to UNICEF, girls denied an education is more vulnerable to poverty, violence, abuse, dying in childbirth and at risk of diseases including HIV/AIDS (State of the World’s Children 2004, press release). As another example, in many cultures, men are expected to display traditional traits of masculinity. This can often result in sexual promiscuity, heavy alcohol consumption, or violence, all of which are unhealthy behaviors, both for men and their families.


 All people can be ‘feminine’ in some ways, and ‘masculine’ in other ways. There is a diversity of masculinities and femininities that exist beyond the narrow gender models they are familiar with. There is no one way to be a man or be a woman. Our goal is to promote a flexible and tolerant attitude toward gender, rather than reinforcing rigid roles and expectations w

Gender is hierarchical; in most societies, it gives more power to men than to women. Also, it preserves the existing power structure. Work that women do revolve around the physical, emotional and social wellbeing of other people, especially, their husbands/partners and children. Work that men do is related to their role as bread winners/providers for their families, which leads them to seek out paid work. For example, many women love to cook, and many women cook better than men. Then why is it that mostly men are cooks at hotels and restaurants while women cook at home, unpaid?


Often, society defines what is right for men and women. It is not our fault that the system is that way. However, when we recognize that there is injustice, we can do something to change it. Society is made up of people, and people are capable of change. This is a very personal process. First we have to recognize what is happening in our own lives, and then we can begin to make changes.


Most of us feel that culture, religion, tradition, and social norms dictate gender roles. But where does change happen if not in our individual circumstances? How does a fashion trend start if not by one or two people one day starting to wear or do a certain thing? Ideas about gender affect us both privately and publicly; that means we have the opportunity to make changes at both the personal level, as well as in society

Information on HIV/AIDS

What is HIV/AIDS?

The Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV leads to acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS refers to a state where the immune system is extremely weak and prone to severe opportunistic infections.


How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted primarily through blood, semen and vaginal fluid. The main modes of transmission are:

1. Unprotected sexual contact where body fluids are exchanged (vaginal, anal or oral intercourse);

2. Infected blood transmission;

3. Sharing infected needles/syringes; and

4. Infected mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth.

HIV is not spread through casual contact such a hugging, sneezing, mosquito bites, or sharing utensils with a person who is infected.


What are the symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

People infected with HIV often have no symptoms for many years. Once HIV enters a person’s body, s/he may experience flu-like symptoms within 2 to 6 weeks. After infection, there is a window period of between 6 to 12 weeks during which a routine blood test will not show a positive result. HIV can be transmitted during this time, even before symptoms appear. Persons living with HIV may experience chronic fever, diarrhea and weight loss. As the disease pr ogresses, the body is prone to opportunistic infections such as thrush, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

How is HIV prevented?

There is no cure for HIV, although antiretroviral (ARV) drugs help boost the body’s immune system to fight opportunistic infections and increase the life span.

HIV can be prevented through:

1. Safer sex: Abstinence, being faithful in a monogamous relationship, or using condoms correctly and consistently for every sexual act can prevent sexual transmission; 2. Using sterilized needles and syringes and avoiding sharing needles; 3. Screening blood and blood products and avoiding transfusion of untested blood; and 4. Preventing mother to child transmission through counseling on the options and risks involved, provision of available drugs during pregnancy and appropriate breastfeeding practices.

Women and HIV

Women are biologically, culturally and socially more vulnerable to HIV. Women are more likely (four to ten times) to contract HIV through vaginal intercourse, as there is more entry points for the virus in the female genitalia compared to men. Gender dynamics render women more vulnerable through discriminatory practices, lack of decision making power and unequal status in social or cultural affairs. Women are thus often placed in circumstances in which it is difficult to negotiate the terms or safety of sex