Hide menu



What do the terms “gender”, “gender equality” and “gender-aware teaching” mean?


When we talk about gender and gender-awareness, several concepts and underlying theories are fundamental to an understanding of how the field of gender science believes that ideas about sex are created. First of all, “gender” can be seen as a principle for social organisation and cultural categorisation. This distinguishes the concept from that of “sex”, which is based on the biological body. Gender, or social sex, is not a categorisation that has arisen from the natural world, but has been created by us and has in this way become a part of the social and cultural environment. The fundamental idea is, thus, that the properties, characteristics, abilities, etc., that we associate with either women or men and that we refer to as expressions of femininity or masculinity in everyday speech do not depend on biological sex, but are a result of social influences (Hirdman 2004).


The word for “gender”, “genus” in Swedish, was introduced in Sweden by historian Yvonne Hirdman. In a report to Maktutredningen (“Study of Power and Democracy in Sweden”) entitled Genussystemet – Teoretiskafunderingar kring kvinnors sociala underordning (“The Gender System: Theoretical Reflections on the Social Subordination of Women” (1988), she wrote: “I suggest that we use the term “genus” in Swedish to denote the evermore complex knowledge we have of ‘male’ and ‘female’, our increasing understanding of how male and female ‘are made’.”

The English word “gender” started to be used to distinguish between biological sex and sexual identity in American psychological research in the 1960s.

“Gender” is used today in many contexts. This means that the word may come to mean different things in different contexts. It is also possible that gender scholars mean somewhat different things when they use the term. One way to start to sort out these different meanings is to draw a distinction between “gender” and ”biological sex”. While biological sex refers to the biological division into two categories, women and men, the term “gender” refers to the norms, expectations, expressions and traits that a society imposes on them. To help understand the difference between gender and sex, the terms “masculinity” and “femininity” are also often used. Femininity and masculinity are socially and culturally defined in different ways in different contexts, and also vary in their definitions across cultural boundaries and throughout different historical periods (https://www.genus.se/kunskap-om-genus/om-kon-och-genus/ Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research).


Gender-aware teaching thus deals with the ability to see these constructs and how they are reflected, in your case, in a course, labwork, a lesson, a classroom, or course literature.

In your role as teaching assistant, it is important to reflect on potential imbalances in your group, for example, in the attention paid to the verbal contributions of students, and the significance given to the contributions of men versus women.

The section below entitled “Seeing through gender-tinted glasses” gives practical advice to consider in preparation for different types of courses, while the section entitled “Behaviour to be counteracted” gives examples of various types of oppression and methods used to secure power. It also describes how these can be counteracted and neutralised.


Equal opportunities and gender equality: more than gender balance


Sweden’s first gender equality law, The Law on Equal Opportunity between Women and Men in the Labour Market, was passed in 1979. Working towards greater gender equality means working to ensure that all people are able to live their lives as individuals, without being limited by expectations based on sex. The objective of Swedish gender equality policy is that women and men should have the same power in shaping society and their own lives.

Gender equality deals not only with an even gender balance, but also with drawing attention to attitudes, norms, values and ideals that influence the conditions of life for women and men within various areas of society. For this reason, work for gender equality is often carried out with two different points of focus. The first of these helps us to gain greater insight into various situations and conditions with the aid of measurable factors, while the second analyses and examines the problems created by the norms and values that lie behind the data that is presented.

Neither women nor men constitute uniform groups. The opportunities available to an individual are also influenced by one’s socioeconomic group, the location in Sweden where one lives, and by ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability, and other factors that fall within the framework of the grounds for discrimination. When working with gender equality, therefore, it is important to reflect on how all of these categories interact, counteract and influence each other. Only then is it possible to understand how different causes of inequality and discrimination can create different conditions for groups or individuals. This understanding is required to be able to design the correct measures to take (jämställ.nu).

Gender equality has both quantitative and qualitative aspects. Quantitative gender equality involves an even balance of women and men within all areas of society, for example spanning different levels of education, professions, leisure activities and positions of power. If the members of a group are more than 60% women, the group is predominantly female. If the members of a group are more than 60% men, the group is predominantly male. Qualitative gender equality means that the knowledge, experience and values of both women and men are nurtured, and allowed to enrich and influence development within all areas of society (SCB På tal om kvinnor och män. Lathund om jämställdhet, 2016, “Statistics Sweden: Women and men in Sweden. Facts and Figures, 2016).


Further definitions and relevant concepts, together with information about the grounds for discrimination laid down in legislation, can be found at the end of the course through the following links:


The Equality Ombudsman



The Higher Education Authority




The Swedish Secretariet for Gender Research




The Human Resources Division (HRA) at LiU




1. Facts and figures

2. The teaching assistant

3. Gender in practice

4. Behaviour to be counteracted

5. Examples from courses

6. Teaching assistant experiences

7. Reflection

8. Plan for the gender-awareness course


Do you have any questions or comments? Or if you represent another organization or academy, and want to use this material? Please contact course coordinator:


Page manager: vivian.vimarlund@liu.se
Last updated: Wed Oct 17 15:29:57 CEST 2018