Gender, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), comprises the socially constructed characteristics of women, men, girls, and boys, including norms, behaviors, and associated roles with being a woman, man, girl or boy and interactions with each other. 

Gender can change over time and varies from place to place and in fact, in many countries today includes a third gender — people who are non-binary. The fact that gender can vary from time to time and place to place means that we all need to re-learn what we know about gender on a regular basis.

Group of laughing women

The WHO created a 5-Level Gender Responsive Assessment Scale that can be used as criteria for assessing programs and policies. This scale serves as a guideline for nations, organizations and individuals striving to integrate gender equity. 

It is critical to highlight that this scale is a reference to help improve programs and policies all over the world. It is not pointing fingers, casting blame, or assigning shame at programs that are not yet gender equitable. It is designed to assist all of us in making progress towards achieving gender equity in our programs and policies. 

You can take the WHO Gender Assessment Quiz to learn where your work falls on the scale, and what you can do to move gender integration forward as a champion. 

Level 1: Gender Unequal

Gender unequal policies are biased against one gender, making it more advantageous to belong to the favored gender, which is most often male. 

Examples of Gender Unequal Policies

  1. Countries and regions where men dominate public decision-making and control economic resources, even when the culture is matrilineal. 
  2. Countries and regions where women are not allowed by law or regulation to participate in politics. 

Level 2: Gender Neutral

Gender neutral policies ignore gender customs, responsibilities, and relations, while often supporting traditional gender-based roles that favor males. Gender-neutral policies treat everyone the same in the spirit of fairness, ignoring the differences in opportunities and resource allocation based on gender.

Example of Gender Neutral Policies

  1. Countries where there are no laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Level 3: Gender Sensitive

Gender sensitive policies and programs consider different gender norms, roles, and relations, but do not consider the consequences of the existing inequalities between genders. These programs and policies acknowledge that there is a problem without providing solutions.

Example of Gender Sensitive Policies

  1. Countries that have frameworks that defend the rights of LGBT+ community members, yet related laws remain unenforced.

Level 4: Gender Specific

Gender specific policies purposely target and benefit a group of women or men, or in countries where it is legal, people who are non-binary, based on their needs, gender norms, roles and relations. 

Examples of Gender Specific Policies

  1. Countries and regions that have policies that maximize the participation of women in society and advance their economic status. 
  2. Countries that have quota laws to increase female representation in public institutions, such in Rwanda where at least 30% of parliament must be comprised of females.

Level 5: Gender Transformative

Very few policies or programs are gender transformative. Gender transformative policies consider and address the differences in gender roles and norms, identifying the root causes, while simultaneously looking for ways to change them based on the specific needs of each gender. 

Examples of Gender Transformative policies 

Countries and regions where governmental leaders are trained in gender equitable budgeting, and government institutions all have to contribute to the annual progress report on gender-based budgeting, such as in Morocco.