3. Gender Equity & Justice

Thematic Area Research & Innovation Goals:


Examines impacts of power, oppression and discrimination on gender and health equity. Develops, implements and evaluates initiatives to advance gender and health equity resulting in more peaceful and prosperous societies.

Image credit: Brunoat/Getty Images ©

Concept Summary

Rationale for prioritizing Gender Equity & Justice

Gender includes the “social roles, social status, culturally established patterns, stereotypes, behaviors and attributes thought to be appropriate and expected for the genders, men and women” (Jewkes, Flood, & Lang, 2015). Gender-based power disparities and limited access to justice are primary drivers of health inequity around the world. Women’s equality shapes health, particularly reproductive health and infant and child health outcomes. (Varkey, Mbbs, Kureshi, & Lesnick, 2010).  Bolstering education, economic and decision-making power can enable a cascade impact on health and well-being through access to care, and ability to implement health promotion.


Gender-based violence (GBV) is a powerful example of how gender influences health and equity. Intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence are the most common forms of gender based violence experienced by women and girls regardless of country. The global acceptance of violence in the home and in public reflects restrictive gender and social norms, and is thus a critical metric of women’s equity.  Globally, an estimated 1 in 3 women experience violence by a husband/intimate partner in their lifetime, while men are more likely to be assaulted by a stranger or acquaintance than a wife or intimate partner (WHO, 2005). The multiple consequences of violence are both immediate and long lasting with negative health (e.g. injuries, sexually transmitted infections, depression, chronic pain), economic (e.g. loss of employment, insecure housing) and social (e.g. isolation, stigma) consequences for the woman, her children, family and community (Campbell, 2002). Gender-based violence is not limited to women; and includes violence perpetrated based on sex, gender identity, or perceived adherence to socially defined gender norms; thus victims include populations who are high risk, marginalized, or criminalized, such as men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender population and sex workers (USAID and Department of State, 2012). Lifting the stigma that stems from lack of adherence to socially-defined gender norms may also support gender equity, health, and justice.  Social identities and related systems of power, oppression and discrimination can intersect; gender identity and other biological, social and cultural characteristics, such as sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration, caste or economic status interact on multiple levels (individual, family, community, institutions, and society) to constrain gender and health equity. 

African woman from Borana tribe using mobile phone, village in Southern Ethiopia, Africa. The Borana Oromo are a pastoralist tribe living in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Image credit: Bartosz Hadyniak/Getty Images

African woman from Borana tribe using mobile phone, village in Southern Ethiopia, Africa. The Borana Oromo are a pastoralist tribe living in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Image credit: Bartosz Hadyniak/Getty Images

The intersectionality of oppression, power and discrimination and the negative impact on gender and health equity is uniquely evident in humanitarian settings. The displaced population globally continues to grow in parallel with the size of the population displaced by conflict, which is presently estimated at 59.5 million forcibly displaced worldwide (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2015).  Women and girls are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence. They are forced to leave their homes to seek shelter from conflict or crisis in camps or informal settlements, often isolated from family and living with little resources to provide for safety.

Proposed Research Priorities

areas needing further focus

  • How can we reduce gender-based discrimination and violence, and mitigate health impact, acting across levels of social determinants?

  • What health and equity gains can be achieved through enhancing empowerment for gender-marginalized groups?

  • How can we design, promote, implement and evaluate local or national programs / policies to promote gender and health equity?

  • How can we design, promote, implement and evaluate equitable health systems?

  • How can we best address and promote gender and health equity in humanitarian settings?

  • What are the implementation barriers and facilitators to meaningful social change in this area, and how can they be addressed?

Thematic Leaders

Nancy Glass co-leads the AHW Gender Equity & Justice theme, and is Professor and Independence Foundation Chair at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She is adjunct professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Medicine. She also serves as an Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health. Her clinical and community-based intervention research aims to improve safety, health, and economic security and address gender inequity in diverse community and clinic settings.

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Michele Decker is the AHW theme co-Leader for Gender Equity & Justice and Associate Professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She directs the Women's Health & Rights Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health & Human Rights

Further updates & resources about this AHW thematic Priority

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