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Definitions and operational issues


Gender identity

Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of being wholly female, wholly male, or having aspects of female and/or male.

Gender identity is understood to refer to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex recorded at birth (adapted from International Commission of Jurists, 2007, p6). A person’s gender identity can change over their lifetime, and can be expressed in a number of ways and forms. This expression includes outward social markers, such as name, clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms, voice, and other behaviours.

Gender diverse

Gender diverse is having a gender identity or gender expression that differs from a given society’s dominant gender roles (adapted from Open Society Foundations, 2013).

Operational issues

Collecting gender identity and sex

The statistical standard for sex acknowledged that understanding and representing the complexities of diverse gender identities required “new and separate definitions, questions, classification, and statistical standards” (Statistics NZ, 1995, p1). A person’s gender identity may or may not correspond with their biological sex (Human Rights Commission [HRC], 2008). (Protection from discrimination because of one’s gender identity is covered under section 21(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1993, under the grounds of sex.) Gender identity categories outside the binary female/male exist and need to be recognised in the collection and provision of gender identity information.

Additionally, New Zealand legislation guarantees non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity through the Human Rights Act 1993 (HRC, 2008). The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (International Commission of Jurists, 2007) affirms the international legal standards that United Nations’ member states must comply with to provide human rights for populations defined by gender identity. The statistical standard for gender identity was created within these international guidelines and supports the legal requirements of the Human Rights Act 1993.

In some situations, knowing a person’s gender identity is important, to ensure the individual is treated with respect, that adequate services are provided, and that the individual is addressed correctly.

In other situations, it is important to know someone’s sex as recorded at birth. For example, in clinical situations when various medications react differently to the presence of the hormones and DNA that represent each sex. It may be vitally important to know the patient’s physiological make-up. Sex is also required to assist in population-growth calculations.

Gender identity changing with context

The context in which the gender identity question is asked can influence the response. Due to the sensitivity of gender identity information, it is possible that a person may give a different response depending on the context. Situations where this may occur would be:

  • the reason why the information is being sought; for example, medical form versus employment form
  • who will see the form, for example the respondent may be concerned about the level of knowledge and understanding that the people who see the form will have about gender diversity, and the overriding confidentiality of the data collection
  • the social and/or cultural setting.

Gender identity changing over time

A person’s gender identity may change over time. It is necessary to allow for gender identity changing in longitudinal surveys and administrative data collections. Changes in gender identity over time and across contexts may affect the integration of different datasets. Individuals may give different gender identity answers in different collections. The decision on what is appropriate to use for integrated datasets needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.


Gender identity is self-defined. The age at which a person can provide their own response will be determined by the protocols of the data collection and should be consistent with the collection of other similar information. There is an expectation that generally teenagers are able to self-define their gender identity.

Gender identity collection by proxy

In some circumstances a person may be unable to answer the question asked (eg in the case of death, or incapacity because of disability, injury, or sickness). In this case, the next-of-kin, parent, legal guardian, spouse, or partner needs to respond on their behalf. Parents, caregivers, or guardians of a child may also complete a gender identity question on behalf of their child. This is collection of information by proxy. Gender identity information should only be obtained by proxy when there is a clear need established for this information and when the individual is unable to respond by themselves. A person answering by proxy needs to think carefully about these points before providing a response on behalf of someone else.

Explanatory notes

The related concepts of sex, gender, and sexual orientation

These are related but different concepts. Care needs to be taken to ensure the correct concept/term is used, depending on the context, collection, and dissemination method, as the terms are not interchangeable.


Sex is the distinction between males and females based on the biological differences in sexual characteristics. These characteristics are determined by biological, chromosomal, and physical attributes.

Indeterminate sex is where physical appearance and/or genetic testing does not enable a person to be classified as male or female. They can have a combination of male and female features, or features which are not characteristic of either sex.

See Statistical Standard for Sex for more information.


Gender is the social and cultural construction based on expectations of what it means to be a man and/or a woman, including roles, expectations, and behaviour.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation refers to the sex and/or gender of people that an individual is sexually and emotionally attracted to. It is derived from someone’s sexual attraction, behaviour, and/or identity.

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