Técha Noble, sketch for 'Key to Hyperborea' digital print on silk, 2015

The term gender refers to a socially constructed understanding of masculinity and femininity. It is different to a person’s sex – the biological characteristics of males or females.

Gender involves the roles that men and women are perceived to fulfill in society, their behaviours, activities and attributes that different cultures perceive as appropriate for them.

The World Health Organisation lists examples of how we can understand the characteristics of sex compared to the culturally imposed characteristics of gender.

Some examples of sex characteristics :

  • Women menstruate while men do not
  • Men have testicles while women do not
  • Women have developed breasts that are usually capable of lactating, while men have not
  • Men generally have more massive bones than women

Some examples of gender characteristics :

  • In the United States (and most other countries), women earn significantly less money than men for similar work
  • In Viet Nam, many more men than women smoke, as female smoking has not traditionally been considered appropriate
  • In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not
  • In most of the world, women do more housework than men

The LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual) community includes people who may have male or female sex characteristics but gender identify differently. For instance, some people who were born with male sex characteristics may identify as women. In some circumstances they may undergo reconstructive surgery to change their physical characteristics, in other cases they may live as women but retain their male characteristics. Often these people identify as transgender. Some transgender people identify as being both male and female. Intersex refers to diversity in physical sex characteristics, referring to people whose bodies have natural variations from conventional male or female bodies including genital, chromosomal and other physical characteristics.