The Ottawa Charter on which health promotion is based postulates health equity for all and demands among other issues that health promotion (and prevention) take into account the different realities of girls/women and boys/men when planning, implementing and evaluating projects and interventions. The intention is to consider gender aspects increasingly, which does not mean to neglect other powerful determinants of health such as ethnicity, social class or age.
'Gender' usually refers to psychological or socially/culturally constructed characteristics and is distinct from 'sex' which is biological,
Lifestyle and behaviour patterns including individual health behaviour are determined by environmental, economic and structural factors (i.e. housing, income, employment) as well as by social group and gender. Due to different socialization and development patterns everyday realities and social expectations regarding behaviour and roles continue to be different for the two sexes.
Gender studies have shown that the two sexes differ in many ways - not only in terms of life expectancy and occurrence of disease but also in regard to risk behaviour and different coping strategies.
To include the criteria of 'gender' in a project is to contribute significantly to its quality as it is a sign that the needs and realities of the target-groups have been given careful consideration.
Why you would disregard these aspects
- You worry about the extra work that the inclusion of gender issues might create.
- You do not believe you have the required know-how in order to do justice to the gender perspective.
- You imagine that it means implementing projects for girls or women primarily.
- You worry that other aspects such as ethnicity, social class or age might be neglected.
- You assume that all projects must be gender differentiated whether it makes sense or not.
What you have to gain
By considering gender aspects you contribute to reducing health inequalities.
To differentiate the target-group according to gender improves the reach and the quality of the project because your interventions will be tailor made and respond to the differing needs of the target-groups.
Knowing the different contexts in which men and women live is a prerequisite for achieving individual behaviour change and sustainable structural changes.
You contribute to enabling women and men to improve their own health and well-being.
What you can actually do
Use the check-list 'Gender aspects in health promotion and prevention' and check if your work is already 'engendered' and where there is potential for improvement.
If you encounter opposition from the team you can consult Health Promotion Switzerland's website and find a ready made list of points that will help you argue the 'gender' issue with your collaborators. You will find a statement of principles, a glossary, links to relevant literature and web pages and some other useful tools.
Other information regarding health equity can be found on 'genderhealth.ch'.
Questions for critical reflection
- Are you aware of your own gender role and are you sensitive to gender issues?
- In each project phase test if circumstances and facts mean the same for girls/women and boys/men and thus avoid possible bias.
- Are you consciously taking account of gender differences when you think about individual and social resources, individual life skills and needs as well as social and societal factors?