What is gender inequality?

Gender inequality is a social phenomenon studied by sociology that happens when there is discrimination and/or prejudice against another person because of their gender (female or male).

This discrimination is mainly observed with regard to the professional scope (female people with lower salaries than male people, both performing the same function).

There is also discrimination when creating family hierarchies (women subordinate to a male entity), especially with regard to domestic tasks.

For some international institutions, the fight against gender inequality is directly related to human rights .

These institutions consider it necessary to ensure that all citizens have the same civil and political rights, regardless of race, social status or gender.

gender concept

Despite being a subject increasingly discussed by society, the concept of gender still raises many doubts.

It is common, for example, to have confusion between the concepts of gender and sex.

What is gender?

According to the traditional concept, the word gender can be defined as synonymous with the word sex, that is, a female person is also female.

In fact, it is a social concept that indicates cultural and social aspects associated with a certain gender.

It is important to mention that the particularities of each genre are not stony. They may vary, for example, depending on a given cultural reality.

Some habits and customs may be considered characteristic of a certain gender in one place and of another gender in a different location.

An example of this is the use of the skirt, which in most countries is characteristic of the female gender, but which in Scotland, for example, is also part of the reality of male individuals.

In other words, we cannot say that the use of the skirt is an exclusive feature of the female gender.

Another relevant factor with regard to the concept of gender is an individual 's gender identity .

Learn more about gender and straight .

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is the way in which an individual identifies with the sex to which he or she biologically belongs, and may or may not conform to this biological factor.

A person born with the biological sex female, for example, may not feel comfortable socially and identify more with the male gender, thus choosing to live according to this identification.

We can say that gender defines an individual's sexual identity.

Learn more about gender identity .

What is sex?

The sex of an individual is related to the biological scope, that is, it defines the sex with which a person was born, regardless of the sex with which that person identifies.

This mainly encompasses biological characteristics common to a given sex, such as, for example, the reproductive system (male or female), certain physical characteristics (such as musculature, voice, ...)

Gender inequality in Brazil

In Brazilian society, gender inequality is still a phenomenon that is part of the reality of different social segments.

It was found, for example, that Brazil occupies the 90th place in the ranking of the World Economic Forum, responsible for analyzing equality between men and women in 144 countries.

Even more worrying than the poor ranking is the fact that Brazil has dropped about 11 positions in this ranking in recent years, which shows that there has been a setback in the process of fighting for gender equality .

Below are some highlights of this analysis, which refer to factors related to the possible causes of gender inequality.

Learn more about gender equality .


Motherhood is considered one of the biggest prejudices based on gender.

Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) carried out a study with 247,455 women who were on maternity leave between 2009 and 2012 and followed the professional path of each one until 2016.

The study concluded that half of the research participants were fired up to two years after the end of the leave, thus showing that the possibility of resignation of new mothers is 10%.


Considering the world scenario, Brazilian politics is still considered somewhat sexist.

A 2017 report by the World Economic Forum shows that Brazil went from 86th to 110th in the ranking of “Political Empowerment.” In government ministries, for example, only 2 out of 28 ministries were held by women.

In 2009, the Elections Law (Law nº 9.504, of 1997) established that “each party or coalition will fill a minimum of 30% and a maximum of 70% for candidacies of each sex”.

However, some parties present women candidates only to comply with the law, that is, without any real interest and investment in their candidacies.

Disproportion between dedication and encouragement

Another area where gender inequality becomes clear is the educational context.

Although the female gender overlaps the male gender in terms of frequency in studies, the International Student Assessment Program shows that, in Brazil, the male gender has a better performance in areas such as exact and biological sciences.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) states that these skills are not related to innate characteristics, but to cultural factors and gender bias in Brazil.

It is believed that there is a greater incentive given by teachers and parents to the male gender with regard to the areas of mathematics, for example.

A 2016 survey by the IBGE ( Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics ) revealed that the attendance rate of women in high school is 73.5%, against 63.2% for men.

This shows that there is a greater dedication of time on the part of the female gender.

This higher rate of attendance by females is also maintained in terms of access to Higher Education and graduation.

Job market

Although the education rate of the female population is higher than that of the male population, women face an unfavorable scenario in the search for a job and in the allocation of their salaries.

An IBGE survey showed that in the second half of 2017 the average salary for women was equivalent to 87% of the average salary for men.

Unemployment also points to a disadvantage for women: the female unemployment rate was 13.4%, while that of the male gender was 10.5%.


Harassment has already been, at least at some point, part of the reality of most Brazilian women.

Sometimes in the form of disrespectful comments, sometimes in the form of physical harassment (especially on public transport).

Sometimes, harassment ends up gaining greater proportions, thus reaching physical violence.

Because of this, in 2006 the Maria da Penha Law came into force, which aims to support women victims of aggression.

Fight for equal rights

Feminism is one of the great precursors of the fight against gender inequality.

The concept of feminism is often related to the concept of machismo, as a kind of synonym.

Contrary to what many think, while machismo actually preaches the idea that men are superior to women, feminism does not defend that women are better than men or that they have more rights than men.

In fact, the struggle of the feminist revolution is for the right to equality; it is so that people of the female gender have the same political and social rights as people of the male gender.

Many of the rights acquired by women, such as the right to vote, are the result of the feminist struggle.

The fight against gender inequality is also a fight against patriarchy, which institutes a male-dominated society where women have secondary roles.

Learn more about sexism and feminism.


See below some important milestones in the history of the fight against gender inequality in Brazilian society.

right to vote

The first women's vote in Brazil took place on February 24, 1932.

The right to vote became a right of Brazilian women in 1932.

Before that, the vote could only be exercised by women who: 1. if single or widowed, had their own income; 2. if married, they had their husband's authorization.

That same year, women won the right to hold positions in the executive and legislative branches.

The 24th of February , the day of the first female vote after the achievement of the right to vote by women, was instituted as part of the official calendar of the federal government as the Day of the achievement of the female vote in Brazil .

Right to studies

Rita Lobato Velho Lopes, the first woman to complete higher education in Brazil

In 1827, women were allowed to attend studies. However, the authorization covered only Elementary Education.

Later, in 1879, the female gender was also authorized to attend Higher Education.

Despite the achievement of this authorization, all women who chose to follow this path were the target of a lot of prejudice and discrimination.

In 1887, Rita Lobato Velho Lopes was the first Brazilian woman to complete a higher education course, having completed a medical degree at the Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia.

Learn more about prejudice and discrimination.

Autonomy for married women

According to the Civil Code of 1916 , a woman was considered incapable of performing certain actions, such as, for example, receiving an inheritance, thus being dependent on her husband's authorization to do so.

On August 27, 1962, the Statute of the married woman was approved , a law that came to contribute to the emancipation of women, allowing married women to have more autonomy and no longer need authorization from their respective husbands to, for example, work.

Through this statute, women were also guaranteed the right to request custody of their children in the event of marital separation.

This statute certainly marked the beginning of progress towards the achievement of the right to equality between the sexes guaranteed later by the 1988 Constitution .

Gender and ethnic inequality

Studies in different contexts show that, within the scope of gender inequality, it is still possible to notice a disfavor that affects people of female gender and black ethnicity.

In the educational context, the percentage of females completing elementary school corresponds to 21.5%.

However, when analyzing the ethnicities of these 21.5%, only 10.4% correspond to black women. Even so, it is higher than the percentage of 7% corresponding to black men who complete this segment of education.

In terms of work, according to the 2017 results of the IBGE, the unemployment rate of black women corresponds to 15.9%, while that of white women corresponds to 10.6%.

Harassment and violence are also two factors most often suffered by black women.

See the meaning of racial prejudice.

Gender inequality in sport

Gender inequality in sport can be observed at an early stage; in a simple attempt to practice a certain sport activity, for example.

Sometimes, sports complexes provide groups for the practice of certain sports, such as football, only for male people.

The same happens with gymnastics groups, mostly available for female people.

This classification of sports as “for men” and “for women” ends up generating a prejudice that sometimes makes it impossible for anyone to practice sports.

Inequality is also clearly perceived with regard to sponsorship and encouragement of sports.

Men's football, for example, has great visibility around the world. During World Cup periods, all matches of the Brazilian men's soccer team are broadcast.

The women's World Cup, for example, is rarely mentioned by the television press and its games are rarely broadcast.

Brazil X Sweden in game at Maracanã. (Author: Agência Brasil Fotografia/Creative Commons)

Gender inequality in the world

The World Economic Forum recorded, in 2017, an increase in the index of gender inequality.

The research estimates that the average salary, for example, corresponds to about 80 thousand reais for men and about 46 thousand reais for women.

In the global gender equality rankings, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Rwanda and Sweden occupy the top spots, while Iran, Chad, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen occupy the bottom, respectively.

See below some data from UN Women on gender inequality in the world.

  • Females represent two-thirds of the world's illiterate population.
  • Women represent only 21.8% of the world's national parliamentarians.
  • A woman is less likely to hold leadership roles in businesses and companies than men are likely to do the same.
  • Three-quarters of human trafficking victims are female.

See also the meaning of gender ideology and racial inequality.

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