Gender: It is Time to go Beyond the Binary

At Plan International Canada, we spend a lot of time talking about girls and how across the globe they are undervalued, underappreciated and represent an untapped resource of potential. So, for an organization that works to achieve gender equality and advocates for girls’ rights, is it possible to effectively move beyond the binary? binary?*The notion that there are only two possible sexes (male/female) and genders (man/woman), and that they are opposite, distinct and uniform categories. This view also asserts that gender is determined by sex. 

In order to have a meaningful conversation about this, we first need to establish some definitions. What do we mean by gender equality, gender identity and inclusion?

  • Gender Equality
  • Gender Identity
  • Inclusion

As an organization, we are committed to the inclusion of all gender identities. And will, according to our policy, advocate for equality regardless of gender identity.

“Plan International believes that everyone — regardless of their gender, age, sex, race, class, religion, ethnicity, ability, language, sexual orientation, or gender identity — should have equal access to opportunities and services, and their safety be prioritized and protected.”

Gender Gender*Gender is a system that operates in a social context to classify people, often based on their assigned sex. In many contexts this takes the form of a binary classification of either ‘man’ or ‘woman’; in other contexts, this includes a broader spectrum.  is a spectrum and people do not always identify with their assigned sex (male or female). And often people that don’t fit the binary are more vulnerable and at a higher risk of their rights being violated or denied. They also face unique vulnerabilities and marginalization.

Our work targeting transgender men and women is not extensive but we are continuing to increase the number of projects that work to address their specific needs. It is important to note that in our work, transgender people are still considered to be a part of the binary.

Person holding up sign

Youth Team Leader from Vietnam, who raises awareness about the prevalence of bullying, harassment, discrimination and gender-based violence at schools. Youth Team Leaders Clubs are part of Plan International Vietnam and the UN Trust Fund’s Gender-Responsive School pilot project, which works to ensure that all schools are safe, inclusive and free from discrimination.

See also: Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated equally

Unleashing the potential of girls

We are sometimes accused of being sexist because we only focus on the plight of girls. Not only is that statement inaccurate it actually presents an interesting point of contention. Is it “sexist” to focus on girls when girls continue to be disproportionately subjected to injustices based on their sex and notions about their gender roles and status?

In every report – old or new – there is proof that girls continue to be discriminated against. And they experience this discrimination in all aspects of life including education, health, work and family life. This is not to say that girls or women are weak or victims only.

Girl standing in the middle of a circle, talking.

Sandra has been trained as “Champion of Change” and is now using her skills to teach other young people about the value of gender equality!

In fact, the incredible gains we have made thus far for gender equality can be attributed to the work of incredibly strong and courageous women and girls themselves.

See also: Gender inequality is keeping girls out of school

A gender equal future

Years from now, maybe we’ll be having a different discussion about gender. Maybe we won’t be talking about gender at all. For now, do we think it’s time to move on from the binary? Yes and no – as it is not a simple matter of either or. We must continue to take steps to actively include and advocate for people who don’t identify within the confines of the gender binary; while at the same time advocating for girls’ rights because equality within the binary remains elusive. And equality in the binary will indeed pave the way to equality across all gender identities.

The good news is that our strategy and approach to making change happen is flexible and adaptable. The not so good news is that values, beliefs, social positions, and power structures are not as fluid. And they take a really long time to change.

We’re in the business of making change happen in a world that is constantly changing. And the only promise we can make is that we’ll continue to fight for gender equality.