Genomic resource centre

Gender and Genetics

Introduction: Genetics and Gender Mainstreaming

Sex and gender are both important determinants of health. Biological sex and socially-constructed gender interact to produce differential risks and vulnerability to ill health, and differences in health-seeking behaviour and health outcomes for women and men. (1) ‘Gender’ describes those characteristics of women and men that are largely socially created, while ‘sex’ encompasses those that are biologically determined. However, these terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably in scientific literature, health policy, and legislation.

The World Health Organization’s Constitution states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” (2) It is clear, however, that there are differences in the factors determining health and the burden of ill-health for women and men. Gender analysis identifies, assesses and informs actions to address health inequity arising from the different roles of women and men, or the unequal power relationships between them, and the subsequent consequences of these inequalities on their lives and health.

This section of the GRC presents an overview of the major ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) associated with gender and genetics. The principal issues addressed are

  • the genetic components of sex and gender, including sex chromosome abnormalities and sexual ambiguity;
  • behavioural genetics pertaining to sexuality and gender;
  • gender differences between male and female genetic carriers and stigmatization;
  • sex selection and discrimination;
  • unsafe abortion following identification of a genetic disorder; and
  • assisted reproductive technologies and issues of social and distributive justice.