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Glosario: Gender Equality Glossary

Gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is the chosen approach of the United Nations system and international community toward realizing progress on women’s and girl’s rights, as a sub-set of human rights to which the United Nations dedicates itself.  It is not a goal or objective on its own.  It is a strategy for implementing greater equality for women and girls in relation to men and boys. 

Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels. It is a way to make women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.

Sources: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”, ECOSOC agreed conclusions 1997/2

Gender norms

Gender norms are ideas about how men and women should be and act.  We internalize and learn these “rules” early in life. This sets-up a life-cycle of gender socialization and stereotyping. Put another way, gender norms are the standards and expectations to which gender identity generally conforms, within a range that defines a particular society, culture and community at that point in time. 

Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”.

Gender roles

Gender roles refer to social and behavioral norms that, within a specific culture, are widely considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex. These often determine the traditional responsibilities and tasks assigned to men, women, boys and girls (see gender division of labor). Gender-specific roles are often conditioned by household structure, access to resources, specific impacts of the global economy, occurrence of conflict or disaster, and other locally relevant factors such as ecological conditions. Like gender itself, gender roles can evolve over time, in particular through the empowerment of women and transformation of masculinities.

Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”.

Gender-based Violence (GBV)

GBV is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between females and males. The nature and extent of specific types of GBV vary across cultures, countries and regions. Examples include sexual violence, including sexual exploitation/abuse and forced prostitution; domestic violence; trafficking; forced/early marriage; harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation; honour killings; and widow inheritance.

Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”.

There are different kinds of violence, including (but not limited to) physical, verbal, sexual, psychological, and socioeconomic violence.

  1. Physical violence: Physical violence is an act attempting to or resulting in pain and/or physical injury. It includes beating, burning, kicking, punching, biting, maiming, the use of objects or weapons, or tearing out hair. At its most extreme, physical violence may lead to femicide, or the gender-based killing of a woman. Some classifications also include trafficking and slavery in the category of physical violence because initial coercion is often experienced, and the young women and men involved end up becoming victims of further violence as a result of their enslavement.
  2. Verbal violence: Verbal abuse can include put-downs in private or in front of others, ridiculing, the use of swear-words that are especially uncomfortable for the other, threatening with other forms of violence against the victim or against somebody or something dear to them. Other times the verbal abuse is related to the background of the victim, insulting or threatening her on the basis of religion, culture, language, (perceived) sexual orientation or traditions.
  3. Sexual violence: Sexual violence includes many actions that are equally hurtful to every victim and are used similarly in the public and private sphere. Examples include rape (sexual violence including some form of penetration of the victim’s body), marital rape and attempted rape. Other types of forced sexual activities include being forced to watch somebody *****, forcing somebody to ***** in front of others, forced unsafe sex, sexual harassment, and, in the case of women, abuse related to reproduction (forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilization).
  4. Psychological violence: Psychological violence can include, for example, threatening behaviors that do not necessarily involve physical violence or even verbal abuse. It can include actions that refer to former acts of violence, or purposeful ignorance and neglect of the other. Psychological violence may also be perpetrated through isolation or confinement, withholding information, disinformation, etc.
  5. Socio-economic violence: Socio-economic violence is both a cause and an effect of dominant gender power relations in societies. Some of the most typical forms of socio-economic violence include taking away the victim’s earnings, not allowing her to have a separate income (forced ‘housewife’ status, working in the family business without a salary), or making her unfit for work through targeted physical abuse. In the public sphere this can include denial of access to education or (equally) paid work (mainly to women), denial of access to services, exclusion from certain jobs, denial of the enjoyment and exercise of civil, cultural, social, or political rights.

Glass ceiling

The term “glass ceiling” is a metaphor that has often been used to describe invisible barriers (“glass”) through which women can see elite positions, for example in government or the private sector, but cannot reach them (coming up against the invisible “ceiling”). These barriers prevent large numbers of women and ethnic minorities from obtaining and securing the most powerful, prestigious, and highest-paying jobs in the workforce.

Gender-neutral, Gender-sensitive, and Gender transformative

The primary objective behind gender mainstreaming is to design and implement development projects, programs and policies that:

  1. Do not reinforce existing gender inequalities (Gender Neutral)
  2. Attempt to redress existing gender inequalities (Gender Sensitive)
  3. Attempt to re-define women and men’s gender roles and relations (Gender Positive / Transformative)

The degree of integration of a gender perspective in any given project can be seen as a continuum (adapted from Eckman, 2002):

Gender Negative Gender Neutral Gender Sensitive Gender Positive Gender Transformative

Gender inequalities are reinforced to achieve desired development outcomes

Uses gender norms, roles and stereotypes that reinforce gender inequalities

Gender is not considered relevant to development outcome

Gender norms, roles and relations are not affected (worsened or improved)

Gender is a means to reach set development goals

Addressing gender norms, roles and access to resources in so far as needed to reach project goals

Gender is central to achieving positive development outcomes

Changing gender norms, roles and access to resources a key component of project outcomes

Gender is central to promoting gender equality and achieving positive development outcomes

Transforming unequal gender relations to promote shared power, control of resources, decision-making, and support for women’s empowerment

Source: UN-INSTRAW (now part of UN Women), Glossary of Gender-related Terms and Concepts

UN Women

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The creation of UN Women came about as part of the UN reform agenda, bringing together resources and mandates for greater impact. It merges and builds on the important work of four previously distinct parts of the UN system, which focused exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment:

  • Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW)
  • International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW)
  • Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI)
  • United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

The main roles of UN Women are:

  • To support inter-governmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards and norms.
  • To help Member States to implement these standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it, and to forge effective partnerships with civil society.
  • To hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.

Source: UN Women, About UN Women

Power

Power involves the ability, skill or capacity to make decisions and take action; physical force or strength. The exercise of power is an important aspect of relationships. The more power a person has, the more choices are available to that person. People who have less power have fewer choices and are therefore more vulnerable to abuse. When women’s movements, feminist groups and development organizations help people acquire “power” individually and collectively, they do not necessarily understand power in its traditional sense of domination or “power over.” Instead, they have agreed that there are several kinds of power involved in the empowerment process. These four dimensions are called: power over, power to, power with and power from within.

Power with: Social or political power which highlights the notion of common purpose or understanding, as well as the ability to get together to negotiate and defend a common goal (individual and collective rights, political ideas such as lobbying, etc.). Collectively, people feel they have power when they can get together and unite in search of a common objective, or when they share the same vision.

Power within: This notion of power refers to self-awareness, self-esteem, identity and assertiveness (knowing how to be). It refers to how individuals, through self-analysis and internal power, can influence their lives and make changes.

Decent work

Decent work is the availability of employment in conditions of freedom, equity, human security and dignity. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), decent work involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

United Nations Economic and Social Council has also given a General Comment that defines decent work and requires satisfaction of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Sources: ILO Decent work; United Nations Economic and Social Council (2006) The right to Work, General comment No. 18.

Time use

Time use is an important measure of women and men’s activities in their productive, reproductive, and community roles. Time use can be measured through surveys which are carried out on the activities people perform during a given period of time (usually a day or a week). While time use surveys can and have been used for a wide variety of purposes, the most common reason for carrying out such surveys in developing countries is to provide better information about the work performed by men and women, and to highlight the time spent on unpaid activities, which are often invisible in ordinary census data. This unpaid work, which includes work for others, is considered a major contributing factor to gender inequality and women’s poverty (Mohammed 2009).

In spite of the changes that have occurred in women’s participation in the labor market, women continue to bear most of the responsibilities for the home: caring for children and other dependent household members, preparing meals and doing other housework. In all regions, women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work. When unpaid work is taken into account, women’s total work hours are longer than men’s in all regions (UN 2010).

In many ways, the 24 hour day time use analysis signaled the end of the Women-In-Development (WID) approach and the desire to “put” women in development as if they were not already involved, and the beginning of a gender approach that more systematically analyzed the differences between women’s and men’s lives and reality.

Sources: Mohammed, Margaret (2009) Making invisible work more visible; gender and time use surveys with a focus in the Pacific and unpaid care work. Suva, Fiji: United Nations Development Programme Pacific Centre; United Nations, The World’s Women 2010, Trends and Statistics, UN, ST/ESA/STAT/SER.K/19

Related terms:

Paid labor refers to time spent on productive activities for which the individual receives payment in exchange for labor

Unpaid labor refers to time spent on productive activities in which the individual does not receive payment. This category predominantly refers to household maintenance and care work, including care for children, disabled and elderly persons.

Non-productive activities refer to personal and recreational activities such as learning, leisure and personal hygiene. Activities falling in this category are not part of the economy.

Source: Gross, Jocelyn and Swirski, Barbara (2002). Time Use Surveys and Gender Equality.

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Established in 1946, the CSW is dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of the status of women. It is the principal global policy-making body, meeting annually to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide.

CSW prepares recommendations and reports to ECOSOC on the promotion of women’s rights in all fields: political, economic, civil, social and educational. CSW also prepares recommendations to ECOSOC on problems relating to women’s rights that require immediate attention.

Source: UN Women, Commission on the Status of Women

Beijing Platform for Action (BFA)

The Beijing Platform for Action is a landmark document that came out of the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace, convened in Beijing, China in September, 1995. Member States, in dialogue with a vast mass of women and men representing civil society from around the world, reviewed past progress and new requirements to accelerate the global march towards gender equality and the empowerment of women. The articulation of their understanding and agreement was contained in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Declaration embodies the commitment of the international community to the advancement of women and to the implementation of the Platform for Action, ensuring that a gender perspective is reflected in all policies and programs at the national, regional and international levels. The Platform for Action sets out measures for national and international action in critical areas of concern for the advancement of women for the five years leading up to 2000.

Source: UN Women, The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)

Taken together, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) can be understood as the right for all, whether young or old, women, men or transgender, straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual, HIV positive or negative, to make choices regarding their own sexuality and reproduction, providing they respect the rights of others to bodily integrity. This definition also includes the right to access information and services needed to support these choices and optimize health. 

Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”.

Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

In 1993 the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which serves as a complement to CEDAW in efforts to eliminate violence against women. The Declaration defines “violence against women” as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. It establishes that violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, within the general community and perpetrated or condoned by the state. Finally, it argues that states should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition, or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.

Source: Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

Empowerment of women and girls

The empowerment of women and girls concerns their gaining power and control over their own lives. It involves awareness-raising, building self-confidence, expansion of choices, increased access to and control over resources and actions to transform the structures and institutions which reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality. This implies that to be empowered they must not only have equal capabilities (such as education and health) and equal access to resources and opportunities (such as land and employment), but they must also have the agency to use these rights, capabilities, resources and opportunities to make strategic choices and decisions (such as is provided through leadership opportunities and participation in political institutions).

In addition, UNESCO explains, “No one can empower another: only the individual can empower herself or himself to make choices or to speak out. However, institutions including international cooperation agencies can support processes that can nurture self-empowerment of individuals or groups”. 

Inputs to promote the empowerment of women should facilitate women’s articulation of their needs and priorities and a more active role in promoting these interests and needs. Empowerment of women cannot be achieved in a vacuum; men must be brought along in the process of change. Empowerment should not be seen as a zero-sum game where gains for women automatically imply losses for men. Increasing women’s power in empowerment strategies does not refer to power over, or controlling forms of power, but rather to alternative forms of power: power to; power with and power from within which focus on utilizing individual and collective strengths to work towards common goals without coercion or domination.

Sources: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”; Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (now part of UN Women) (2001) “Important Concepts Underlying Gender Mainstreaming”; UNESCO GENIA Toolkit for Promoting Gender Equality in Education

Equal representation of women and men (in UN system)

The goal of gender balance/equal representation of women and men applies throughout the United Nations system, and in every department, office or regional commission, overall and at each level. It applies not only to posts subject to geographical distribution but to all categories of posts, without regard to the type or duration of the appointment, or the series of Staff Rules under which the appointment is made, or the source of funding.

Equal representation of women and men in the United Nations system is a longstanding mandate. Articles 8 and 10 of the UN Charter, for example, stipulate that there shall be no restrictions on the eligibility of men and women to participate under conditions of equality in its principal and subsidiary organs. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also states that there can be no distinction or discrimination on the basis of gender. Acting on these principles, the General Assembly has repeatedly called for gender balance. Most recently, on 4 February 2009, the General Assembly asked the Secretary-General to “review and redouble his efforts to make progress towards achieving the goal of 50/50 gender balance at all levels in the Secretariat and throughout the United Nations system.”

Source: UN SWAP, Panel: Making the UN system accountable for gender equality and women’s empowerment: progress, gaps and challenges; OSAGI (now part of UN Women) (2010) “Achieving Gender Balance is Imperative for a Strengthened United Nations”.

Human rights-based approach (HRBA)

A human rights-based approach entails consciously and systematically paying attention to human rights in all aspects of program development. A HRBA is a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. The objective of the HRBA is to empower people (rights-holders) to realize their rights and strengthen the State (duty-bearers) to comply with their human rights obligations and duties. States’ obligations to human rights require them to respect, protect and fulfill women’s and girls’ rights, along with the rights of men and boys. When they fail to do so, the United Nations has a responsibility to work with partners to strengthen capacity to more effectively realize that duty.

A human rights-based approach (HRBA) to gender issues uncovers how human rights issues affect women and men differently and how power relations and gender-based discriminations affect the effective enjoyment of rights by all human beings. HRBA and gender mainstreaming are two of the five UN programming principles (the others are results-based management, environmental sustainability and capacity-development). As such, every UN staff member should use them in their programming work.

Sources: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”; HRBA portal

Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE)

The Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE) is a network of Gender Focal Points in United Nations offices, specialized agencies, funds and programmes and is chaired by UN Women. UN Women also serves as the Secretariat for the Network. All UN member entities are represented in the Network. The network supports and monitors the implementation of:

  • the Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women and the outcome of the twenty-third United Nations General Assembly special session "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century" (Beijing+5); and
  • gender-related recommendations emanating from other recent UN General Assembly special sessions, conferences and summits, especially by ensuring effective co-operation and coordination throughout the UN system.

The Network also monitors and oversees the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the programmatic, normative and operational work of the UN system. IANWGE's work follows guidelines recommended by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board (CEB) for Coordination, and its two high level committees, the High Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) and the High Level Committee on Management (HLCM).

Source: UN IANGWE

Masculinity

A gender perspective, or way of analyzing the impact of gender on people's opportunities, social roles and interactions, allows us to see that there is pressure on men and boys to perform and conform to specific roles. Thus, the term masculinity refers to the social meaning of manhood, which is constructed and defined socially, historically and politically, rather than being biologically driven. There are many socially constructed definitions for being a man and these can change over time and from place to place. The term relates to perceived notions and ideals about how men should or are expected to behave in a given setting. Masculinities are not just about men; women perform and produce the meaning and practices of the masculine as well.

Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”.

Sex-disaggregated data

Sex-disaggregated data is data that is cross-classified by sex, presenting information separately for men and women, boys and girls. Sex-disaggregated data reflect roles, real situations, general conditions of women and men, girls and boys in every aspect of society. For instance, the literacy rate, education levels, business ownership, employment, wage differences, dependants, house and land ownership, loans and credit, debts, etc. When data is not disaggregated by sex, it is more difficult to identify real and potential inequalities. Sex-disaggregated data is necessary for effective gender analysis.

Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”; UNESCO (2003) Gender Mainstreaming Implementation Framework

Unpaid care work

The term unpaid care work encompasses all the daily activities that sustain our lives and health, such as house work (food preparation, cleaning, laundry) and personal care (especially of children, the elderly, people who are sick or have a disability). These activities are most commonly performed by women in the household for free.

According to the United Nations Millennium Campaign to halve world poverty by the year 2015, the overwhelming majority of the work that sustains daily life – growing food, cooking, raising children, caring for the elderly, maintaining a house, hauling water – is performed by women, and this work is universally accorded low status and little or no pay.

The little social and economic value assigned to this work contrasts sharply with its actual importance to families and society at large. In fact, feminist economists have shown that care is the invisible base of the socio-economic system. However, because care work is considered “women’s work” it is mostly unpaid; because it is not assigned a monetary value, it is not measured; because it is not visible, it is not taken into account in policymaking (Orozco 2010).

The Rio+20 Outcome Document recognises for the first time that unpaid care work contributes substantially to human well-being and sustainable developed but poses a disproportionate burden on women and girls (par 153). Unpaid care work supports the market sector by lowering the cost that employers must sustain to maintain employees and their families. It also supports the public sector by offering health services, sanitation, water and child care when public provision of such services is lacking or insufficient.

Sources: Orozco, Amaia. (2010) Global Care Chains. Toward a rights-based global care-regime. INSTRAW (now part of UN Women): Santo Domingo; United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (2010) Why Care Matters for Social Development, UNRISD Research and Policy Brief 9, UNRISD: Geneva; United Nations (2012) Resolution adopted by the General Assembly 66/288. The future we want. A/RES/66/288.