Chapter 6: Gender, Sexuality, and Culture


In this section, we will begin by exploring the concept of gender itself. It is essential to define the concept of gender as we explore what it means to apply a gender lens as a worker in the settlement sector. As you read the following definitions of gender, take note of key ideas and the differences between them, then complete the activities to understand how we will think about gender in this chapter.

Definition 1

Statistics Canada (2021) uses the following definition of gender:

Gender of Person

Gender refers to an individual’s personal and social identity as a man, woman, or non-binary person (a person who is not exclusively a man or a woman). Gender includes the following concepts:

    • gender identity, which refers to the gender that a person feels internally and individually;
    • gender expression, which refers to the way a person presents their gender, regardless of their gender identity, through body language, aesthetic choices, or accessories (e.g., clothes, hairstyle, and makeup), which may have traditionally been associated with a specific gender.

A person’s gender may differ from their sex at birth and from what is indicated on their current identification or legal documents such as their birth certificate, passport, or driver’s licence. A person’s gender may change over time.

Some people may not identify with a specific gender.

Definition 2

The following is an excerpt from the World Health Organization’s (2022, para. 1–2) description of gender as it is related to health:

Gender and Health

Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls, and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours, and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl, or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

Gender is hierarchical and produces inequalities that intersect with other social and economic inequalities. Gender-based discrimination intersects with other factors of discrimination, such as ethnicity, socio-economic status, disability, age, geographic location, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among others. This is referred to as intersectionality.

Definition 3

Margaret Robinson, a Two-Spirit Indigenous scholar, a Mi’kmaw woman, and a member of the Lennox Island First Nation, writes about the interrelationships among the concepts of gender, land, relationships, and nature:

To write about Indigenous gender I have to start with land. A Mi’kmaw Creation Story suggests that we have sprung from the land, like a plant, and that my continued existence and identities are rooted in my relationship with the land that birthed me. Land shapes my relationship with humans and other animals in the web of life around me, creating culture and identity. Land shapes language, teaching us what can be said about anything (including gender) and what must remain ineffable. And if we’re starting with land, we need to frame our analysis of gender and sexuality around the fact that the land, and the people who spring from it, are actively being colonized (Robinson, 2021, p. 1676).

Learning Activity 10: Gender Definitions

What are the key attributes that make up a definition of gender?

Drag the missing words from the definitions of gender provided by Statistics Canada, the World Health Organization, and Margaret Robinson above into the correct boxes.

Further Reading

Human Rights in Canada by the Canadian Human Rights Commission is a webpage that outlines national and provincial/territorial frameworks for human rights protections in Canada.

Our Stories: First Peoples in Canada by Centennial College (2018) is an e-textbook and multimedia resource developed with Indigenous peoples from across Canada. It includes a chapter dedicated the topic of gender identities, which provides further descriptions of gender within Indigenous communities, including Two-Spirit identities, Indigenous masculinities, and women’s issues.

Indigenous Canada by the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta (2016) is a popular massive open online course (MOOC) that explores the historical and present-day realities of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It includes a unit on Indigenous women featuring scholars Dr. Tracy Bear and Dr. Billy-Ray Belcourt.

Racialized Bodies, Disabling Worlds: Storied Lives of Immigrant Muslim Women by Parin Dossa shares Canadian women’s narratives and analyzes how gender intersects with other identity factors to shape women’s experiences, including disability, race, immigration status, and gender.


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