Gender Equality Glossary
The UN Women Training Centre’s Glossary is an online tool that provides concepts and definitions with gender perspective structured according to the thematic areas of UN Women. It includes gender concepts as well as international conferences, agendas, initiatives and partnerships related to gender equality.
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The act whereby a state becomes a party to a treaty already negotiated and signed by other states. It has the same legal force as ratification. Accession usually occurs after the treaty has entered into force.
Approval of the final text of a convention by the committee which wrote it. It is then open for signatures, ratification or accession.
The concept of autonomy refers to people’s capacity to make free and informed decisions about their lives, enabling them to be and act in accordance with their own aspirations and desires, given a historical context that makes those possible. Women’s autonomy is often conceptualized as having three dimensions:
Source: Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Annual report 2011. Women’s autonomy: From the margins to the mainstream.
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
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
An international agreement among nations. Such agreements may have different names: treaty, covenant, convention or pact.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
CEDAW, which was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is also known as the international bill of rights for women. Currently, over 90% of the members of the United Nations are party to the Convention, making it the second most ratified convention, following the Rights of the Child.
CEDAW articulates the nature and meaning of sex-based discrimination and gender equality, and lays out State obligations to eliminate discrimination and achieve substantive equality. The Convention covers not only discriminatory laws, but also practices and customs, and it applies not only to State action, but also State responsibility to address discrimination against women by private actors. The Convention covers both civil and political rights (rights to vote, to participate in public life, to acquire, change or retain their nationality, equality before the law and freedom of movement) and economic, social and cultural rights (rights to education, work, health and financial credit). CEDAW also pays specific attention to particular phenomena such as trafficking, certain groups of women, such as rural women, and specific areas where there are special risks to women’s full enjoyment of their human rights, such as matters related to marriage and the family. CEDAW also specifies the different ways in which States Parties are to eliminate discrimination, including through appropriate legislation prohibiting discrimination, or positive action to improve the status of women.
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.
Decision-making and participation
Women’s participation in public life, specifically in the realm of public decision-making, is a key measure of the empowerment of women and a strategy for bringing about gender equality. The Beijing Platform for Action has two related strategic objectives: Take measures to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making (G.1) and Increase women's capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership (G.2). Women's equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women's interests to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women's perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.
It is important to recognize that decision-making refers to many different areas of public life, including but not limited to decision-making positions in Governments, legislative bodies, and political parties. It is also necessary to seek equal representation of women and men in decision-making positions in the areas of art, culture, sports, the media, education, religion and the law, as well as employer organizations and trade unions, transnational and national corporations, banks, academic and scientific institutions, and regional and international organizations, including those in the United Nations system.
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.
Discrimination against girls and women
Discrimination against girls and women means directly or indirectly treating girls and women differently from boys and men in a way which prevents them from enjoying their rights. Discrimination can be direct or indirect. Direct discrimination against girls and women is generally easier to recognize as the discrimination is quite obvious. For example, in some countries, women cannot legally own property; they are forbidden by law to take certain jobs; or the customs of a community may not permit girls to go for higher education. Indirect discrimination against girls and women can be difficult to recognize. It refers to situations that may appear to be unbiased but result in unequal treatment of girls and women. For example, a job for a police officer may have minimum height and weight criteria which women may find difficult to fulfill. As a result, women may be unable to become police officers.
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”.
Feminization of poverty
A series of phenomena within poverty affect men and women differently, resulting in poor women outnumbering poor men, women suffering more severe poverty than men, and female poverty displaying a more marked tendency to increase, largely because of the rise in the number of female-headed households. This set of phenomena has come to be termed the ‘feminization of poverty’.
Although the idea of the feminization of poverty has been questioned, it has pointed out the need to acknowledge that poverty affects men and women in different ways, and that gender is a factor — just like age, ethnic factors and geographical location, among others — which influences poverty and increases women’s vulnerability to it.
Source: United Nations Economic Commission of Latin America (ECLAC). 2004. Understanding poverty from a gender perspective. Women and Development Unit. Santiago, Chile.
Gender refers to the roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society at a given time considers appropriate for men and women. In addition to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, gender also refers to the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/ time-specific and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man in a given context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context, as are other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis including class, race, poverty level, ethnic group, sexual orientation, age, etc.
Source: UN Women, OSAGI Gender Mainstreaming - Concepts and definitions
Gender (or sexual) division of labor
This is an important concept in basic gender analysis that helps deepen understanding about social relations as an entry point to sustainable change through development. The division of labor refers to the way each society divides work among men and women, boys and girls, according to socially-established gender roles or what is considered suitable and valuable for each sex. Anyone planning a community intervention needs to know and understand the division of labor and allocation of assets on a sex-and-age disaggregated basis for every community affected by development interventions. Within the division of labor, there are several types of roles:
Responsibility for implementation of the gender mainstreaming strategy lies with the senior management in each United Nations entity, as clearly stated in the Letter from the Secretary-General to heads of all United Nations entities in October 1997. In many parts of the United Nations system Gender Advisor posts have been established to support management to undertake their roles in implementing gender mainstreaming.
Gender advisors promote and support gender-sensitive approaches to policy and program work within a given mission, office, team, etc. They provide strategic advice in planning and policy making processes, in coordination meetings and task forces, as well as through existing gender units or gender focal points. They may be responsible for strategies such as: advocacy and awareness raising; training and capacity building; monitoring and advising; evaluation and reporting; and technical advice and support. Their work often focuses as much on in-house operations as it does liaising with national and regional partners to ensure that gender issues are adequately addressed.
Gender analysis is a critical examination of how differences in gender roles, activities, needs, opportunities and rights/entitlements affect men, women, girls and boys in certain situation or contexts. Gender analysis examines the relationships between females and males and their access to and control of resources and the constraints they face relative to each other. A gender analysis should be integrated into all sector assessments or situational analyses to ensure that gender-based injustices and inequalities are not exacerbated by interventions, and that where possible, greater equality and justice in gender relations are promoted.
Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”.
A participatory gender audit is a tool and a process based on a participatory methodology to promote organizational learning at the individual, work unit and organizational levels on how to practically and effectively mainstream gender. A gender audit is essentially a “social audit”, and belongs to the category of “quality audits”, which distinguishes it from traditional “financial audits”. It considers whether internal practices and related support systems for gender mainstreaming are effective and reinforce each other and whether they are being followed. It establishes a baseline; identifies critical gaps and challenges; and recommends ways of addressing them, suggesting possible improvements and innovations. It also documents good practices towards the achievement of gender equality. A gender audit enhances the collective capacity of the organization to examine its activities from a gender perspective and identify strengths and weaknesses in promoting gender equality issues. It monitors and assesses the relative progress made in gender mainstreaming and helps to build organizational ownership for gender equality initiatives and sharpens organizational learning on gender. The International Training Centre of the ILO offers a certification process for gender auditors.
Source: ILO (2008) ILO Participatory Gender Audit: A tool for organizational change. Geneva.
This term refers to the failure to recognize that the roles and responsibilities of men/boys and women/girls are assigned to them in specific social, cultural, economic, and political contexts and backgrounds. Projects, programs, policies and attitudes which are gender blind do not take into account these different roles and diverse needs. They maintain the status quo and will not help transform the unequal structure of gender relations.
Source: UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women. “Gender Equality, UN Coherence and You”.
Gender discrimination is defined as: “Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” [United Nations, 1979. ‘Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women’. Article 1]
Discrimination can stem from both law (de jure) or from practice (de facto). The CEDAW Convention recognizes and addresses both forms of discrimination, whether contained in laws, policies, procedures or practice.
Gender diversity is a term that recognizes that many peoples' preferences and self-expression fall outside commonly understood gender norms.
Source: Gender Spectrum, Understanding Gender
Gender equality (Equality between women and men)
This refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a women’s issue but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.
Source: UN Women, OSAGI Gender Mainstreaming - Concepts and definitions
The preferred terminology within the United Nations is gender equality, rather than gender equity.Gender equity denotes an element of interpretation of social justice, usually based on tradition, custom, religion or culture, which is most often to the detriment to women. Such use of equity in relation to the advancement of women has been determined to be unacceptable. During the Beijing conference in 1995 it was agreed that the term equality would be utilized.
This was later confirmed by the CEDAW committee in its General Recommendation 28: “States parties are called upon to use exclusively the concepts of equality of women and men or gender equality and not to use the concept of gender equity in implementing their obligations under the Convention. The latter concept is used in some jurisdictions to refer to fair treatment of women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment, or treatment that is different but considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities”.
Sources: UN Women, OSAGI Gender Mainstreaming - Concepts and definitions; Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2010), General recommendation No. 28 on the core obligations of States parties under article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
Gender focal point
Gender focal points are change agents whose overriding role is one of advocating for increased attention to and integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment in his or her agency’s policy and programming and in the related work of development partners. Gender focal points serve as a hub for new information on gender equality and as a conduit for information on what has worked well in the organization. The role of gender focal points differs somewhat from country to country and agency to agency, depending on where she or he is placed within the organization and what kind of gender architecture the organization has in place. A gender focal point is not, however, intended to serve as a substitute for a full-time institutional gender specialist. The focal point’s role is often more one of advocacy and facilitating communication and connections related to gender equality and women’s empowerment, but may at times involve providing gender expertise or assisting colleagues and development partners to identify potential national or international consultants or organizations that have this expertise. Basic functions may include: coordinating the organization/office/program gender mainstreaming strategy; contributing gender information and technical support for inclusion of gender issues; supporting capacity development on gender equality within the organization; knowledge management; and coordination on interagency initiatives, among others.
Source: UN Women and ITC-ILO. 2013. Blended course for UN System Gender Focal Points.
The term gender gap refers to any disparity between women and men’s condition or position in society. It is often used to refer to a difference in average earnings between women and men, e.g. “gender pay gap.” However, gender gaps can be found in many areas, such as the four pillars that the World Economic Forum uses to calculate its Gender Gap Index, namely: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.
Source: See Hausmann, Ricardo, Laura D. Tyson, Saadia Zahidi, Editors (2012). "The Global Gender Gap Report 2012". World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland.
Gender identity refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond to the person’s physiology or designated sex at birth. It includes both the personal sense of the body, which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical, or other means, and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech, and mannerisms.
Sources: UNFPA and Promundo (2010). Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Equality and Health. A Global toolkit for action; UNAIDS (2011). UNAIDS Terminology Guidelines.
Gender inequality index (GII)
In 2010, the UNDP developed a new index for measuring gender disparity, called the Gender Inequality Index (GII). This index is a composite measure which shows the loss in human development due to inequality between female and male achievements in three dimensions: (1) reproductive health, (2) empowerment, and (3) the labor market. The index ranges from zero, which indicates that women and men fare equally, to one, which indicates that women fare as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions. The new index was introduced in the 2010 Human Development Report as an experimental measure to remedy the shortcomings of the previous, and no longer used, indicators, the Gender Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), both of which were introduced in the 1995 Human Development Report. According to the index, there is no country in the world where women are equal to their men. In other words, gender equality remains a distant reality still.
Source: UNDP, Gender Inequality Index
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 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 parity is another term for equal representation of women and men in a given area, for example, gender parity in organizational leadership or higher education. Working toward gender parity (equal representation) is a key part of achieving gender equality, and one of the twin strategies, alongside gender mainstreaming.
The term ‘gender perspective’ is a way of seeing or analyzing which looks at the impact of gender on people's opportunities, social roles and interactions. This way of seeing is what enables one to carry out gender analysis and subsequently to mainstream a gender perspective into any proposed program, policy or organization.
Gender relations are the specific sub-set of social relations uniting men and women as social groups in a particular community, including how power and access to and control over resources are distributed between the sexes. Gender relations intersect with all other influences on social relations – age, ethnicity, race, religion – to determine the position and identity of people in a social group. Since gender relations are a social construct, they can be transformed over time to become more equitable.
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 stereotypes are simplistic generalizations about the gender attributes, differences and roles of women and men. Stereotypical characteristics about men are that they are competitive, acquisitive, autonomous, independent, confrontational, concerned about private goods. Parallel stereotypes of women hold that they are cooperative, nurturing, caring, connecting, group-oriented, concerned about public goods. Stereotypes are often used to justify gender discrimination more broadly and can be reflected and reinforced by traditional and modern theories, laws and institutional practices. Messages reinforcing gender stereotypes and the idea that women are inferior come in a variety of “packages” – from songs and advertising to traditional proverbs.
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.
Gender-neutral, Gender-sensitive, and Gender transformative
The primary objective behind gender mainstreaming is to design and implement development projects, programs and policies that:
The degree of integration of a gender perspective in any given project can be seen as a continuum (adapted from Eckman, 2002):
Source: UN-INSTRAW (now part of UN Women), Glossary of Gender-related Terms and Concepts
Gender-responsive budgeting or GRB is a method of determining the extent to which government expenditure has detracted from or come nearer to the goal of gender equality. A gender-responsive budget is not a separate budget for women, but rather a tool that analyzes budget allocations, public spending and taxation from a gender perspective and can be subsequently used to advocate for reallocation of budget line items to better respond to women’s priorities as well as men’s, making them, as the name suggests, gender-responsive.
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.
Global care chains
This is a concept used to describe the ways in which care responsibilities are transferred from one household to another, across national borders, forming chains. As individuals move, work in the care sector is internationalized. Through these chains, households in different places around the world are interconnected, as they transfer care giving tasks from one household to another based on power hierarchies such as gender, ethnicity, social class, and place of origin. Global care chains are a phenomenon which is taking place within the context of globalization, feminization of migration, and the transformation of social welfare states. Chains are formed when women migrate to work in the care sector (domestic work, personal healthcare services, etc.), while transferring care work in their own households in origin and sometimes in destination to other women.
Sources: Orozco, Amaia. (2009) Global care chains: Toward a rights-based global care regime? Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: UN-INSTRAW (part of UN Women); Petrozziello, Allison. (2013) Gender on the Move: Working on the Migration-Development Nexus from a Gender Perspective. Santo Domingo: UN-WOMEN.
Heteronormativity is an expressed used to describe or identify a social norm relating to standardized heterosexual behavior, whereby this standard is considered to be the only socially valid form of behavior and anyone who does not follow this social and cultural posture is placed at a disadvantage in relation to the rest of society. This concept is the basis of discriminatory and prejudiced arguments against LGBT, principally those relating to the formation of families and public expression.
Source: LGBT Communication Manual, Brazilian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transsexual Association and UNAIDS.
Human rights are commonly understood as being those rights which are inherent to the human being. The concept of human rights acknowledges that every single human being is entitled to enjoy his or her human rights without distinction as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Human rights are legally guaranteed by human rights law, protecting individuals and groups against actions which interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity. They are expressed in treaties, customary international law, bodies of principles and other sources of law. Human rights law places an obligation on States to act in a particular way and prohibits States from engaging in specified activities.
All human rights and instruments that concern them apply equally to men and women. In addition, the CEDAW has specified and complemented some of them from the perspective of women’s rights.
Source: OHCHR (2000) Human Rights. A basic handbook for UN staff.
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.
The term informal sector refers to employment and production that takes place in small and/or unregistered enterprises. It includes self-employment in informal enterprises (small and unregistered enterprises) and wage employment in informal jobs (unregulated and unprotected jobs) for informal enterprises, formal enterprises, households or for no fixed employer.
Source: Hussmanns, Ralf. (2003) Statistical definition of informal employment: Guidelines endorsed by the Seventeenth International Conference of Labour Statisticians. International Labour Office: Geneva.
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 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
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”.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Set for the year 2015, the MDGs are an agreed set of goals designed to respond to the world's main development challenges and to the calls of civil society. The MDGs represent a global partnership that grew out of the commitments and targets established at the world summits of the 1990s. The eight MDGs seek to promote poverty reduction, education, maternal health and gender equality and aim at combating child mortality, AIDS and other diseases. As 2015 approaches, consultations are underway to establish the Post-2015 Development Framework or Agenda, which will succeed the MDGs.
Concept used to describe the complexity of discrimination implicating more than one ground, also known as “additive,” “accumulative,” “compound,” “intersectional,” “complex bias” or “multi-dimensional inequalities.” Though the terminology may seem confusing, it tends to describe two situations: (1) situation where an individual is faced with more than one form of grounds-based discrimination (i.e. sex plus disability discrimination, or gender plus sexual orientation). In such circumstances, all women and all persons with disabilities (both male and female) are potentially subject to the discrimination. (2) Situation where discrimination affects only those who are members of more than one group (i.e. only women with disabilities and not men with disabilities), also known as intersectional discrimination.
Regarding discrimination against women, CEDAW General Recommendation no. 25 recognizes the following: “Certain groups of women, in addition to suffering from discrimination directed against them as women, may also suffer from multiple forms of discrimination based on additional grounds such as race, ethnic or religious identity, disability, age, class, caste or other factors. Such discrimination may affect these groups of women primarily, or to a different degree or in different ways than men. States parties may need to take specific temporary special measures to eliminate such multiple forms of discrimination against women and its compounded negative impact on them.”
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, General recommendation No. 25 on temporary special measures, article 4, paragraph 1.
This term refers to a traditional form of organizing society which often lies at the root of gender inequality. According to this kind of social system, men, or what is considered masculine, is accorded more importance than women, or what is considered feminine. Traditionally, societies have been organized in such a way that property, residence, and descent, as well as decision-making regarding most areas of life, have been the domain of men. This is often based on appeals to biological reasoning (women are more naturally suited to be caregivers, for example) and continues to underlie many kinds of gender discrimination.
Post-2015 Development Agenda
The Post-2015 Development Agenda refers to a UN-led process that aims to help define the future global development framework that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has established a UN System Task Team to support system-wide preparations for the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda. It comprises 60 agencies, as well as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In June 2012, it published the report “Realizing the Future We Want for All” which serves as an input to the work of the High Level Panel. Consultations are underway regionally, nationally and thematically with a broad range of actors. Regarding gender equality, debates center principally on whether to have a separate goal on gender equality, to ensure that gender is mainstreamed throughout all the goals, or both.
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.
Quota systems have been viewed as one of the most effective special measures or affirmative actions for increasing women’s political participation. There are now 77 countries with constitutional, electoral or political party quotas for women. In countries where women’s issues had always been relegated to the lowest priority, increases in the number of women in decision-making positions help move women’s agendas up to a higher priority level.
Source: United Nations Development Programme and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. 2012. Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Guidebook to Promote Women’s Political Participation.
Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.
Source: United Nations (2014) Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, para 7.3.
Sex (biological sex)
The physical and biological characteristics that distinguish males and females.
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
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”.
Sexual orientation refers to each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different sex/gender or the same sex/ gender or more than one sex/gender. Basically there are three predominant sexual orientations: towards the same sex/gender (homosexuality), towards the opposite sex/gender (heterosexuality) or towards both sexes/genders (bisexuality).
Source: Council of Europe, Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (2010) Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, p. 7.
Sexual rights embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents. These include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to: the highest attainable standard of health in relation to sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services; seek, receive and impart information in relation to sexuality; sexuality education; respect for bodily integrity; choice of partner; decide to be sexually active or not; consensual sexual relations; consensual marriage; decide whether or not, and when to have children; and pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.
Source: World Health Organization, Gender and human rights.
Supportive policies (at the UN)
To achieve a balanced representation of women and men, the UN recognizes the necessity of having an environment and organizational culture conducive to the balancing of work and life responsibilities. To this end, the UN has some mandatory system-wide entitlements, such as maternity, paternity, sick and annual leave policies. Promulgation and implementation of other gender-friendly policies are suggested, leaving room for each agency to adopt its own variations. A list of these policies can be found on the websites of the Focal Point for Women in the UN system and also of the individual UN entities.
There are many definitions of sustainable development, including this landmark one which first appeared in the 1987 United Nations Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document refers to the “interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars” of sustainable development as economic development, social development, and environmental protection.
Sources: United Nations (1987) "Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development." General Assembly Resolution 42/187, 11 December 1987; World Health Organization (2005) 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.
Temporary special measures
This term refers to actions aimed at accelerating de facto equality between women and men that may, in the short term, favor women. Other terms that are often used to refer to such “special measures” in their corrective, compensatory and promotional sense are the terms “affirmative action”, “positive action”, “positive measures”, “reverse discrimination”, and “positive discrimination”. However, the preferred term within the UN system is temporary special measures.
The CEDAW convention (Article 4, paragraph 1) clarifies that “Adoption by States parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved.”
The concept consists of three parts:
Source: General recommendation No. 25, on article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, on temporary special measures.
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
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.
Transformational leadership enhances the motivation, morale, and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. These include connecting the follower's sense of identity and self to the project and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers that inspires them and makes them interested; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, so the leader can align followers with tasks that enhance their performance.
Unlike traditional forms of “transactional leadership,” transformational leadership is not based on a "give and take" relationship, but on the leader's personality, traits and ability to make a change through example, articulation of an energizing vision and challenging goals. Transforming leaders are idealized in the sense that they are a moral exemplar of working towards the benefit of the team, organization and/or community.
Source: Sahil Bagga, Burns, J.M. (1978) Leadership. New York. Harper & Row.
UN System-wide Action Plan (UN SWAP)
The UN-SWAP (UN System-wide Action Plan) is a UN system-wide framework to enhance accountability and measure progress towards the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the work of the United Nations entities. It is a unified framework that applies equally to all entities, departments, offices and funds and programmes of the United Nations system. The UN-SWAP includes a set of 15 system-wide performance indicators that establish a common understanding of what it means to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and a common method to work towards it. The UN-SWAP also establishes a progressive sliding scale of standards, including the minimum, to which UN system entities are to adhere and aspire to in their work on gender equality and the empowerment of women at the corporate level.
Source: UN Women (2012) UN Women welcomes a landmark action plan to measure gender equality across the UN system
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:
The main roles of UN Women are:
Source: UN Women, About UN Women
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.
‘Victim-blaming’ exists to a certain degree with all forms of violence. In order not to question the safety of the world around us when we hear of a violent incident, we may examine the behavior of the victim and assure ourselves that if we avoid such risks and behavior (e.g. being out late alone, venturing into certain areas, leaving our door unlocked, dressing in a ‘provocative’ way) we will avoid violence. This natural act of psychological self-defense, however, focuses our attention on the perceived responsibility of the victim, and may neglect to fully question the conduct of the perpetrator. By shifting the blame to the victim in gender-based violence, the focus is on the victim, often a woman, and her behavior, rather than on the structural causes and inequalities underlying the violence perpetrated against her.
Violence against women
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. Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following:
Source: Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations General Assembly. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In: 85th Plenary Meeting. December 20, 1993. Geneva, Switzerland; 1993.
Women’s economic empowerment
Gender equality in the economy refers to the full and equal enjoyment by women and men of their economic rights and entitlements facilitated by enabling policy and institutional environments and economic empowerment. Economic empowerment is a cornerstone of gender equality that refers both to the ability to succeed and advance economically and to the power to make and act on economic decisions. Empowering women economically is a right that is essential for both realizing gender equality and achieving broader development goals such as economic growth, poverty reduction, and improvements in health, education and social well-being.
Sources: UN Women; ICRW (2011) Understanding and measuring women´s economic empowerment.
Women’s political participation
Women’s political participation refers to women’s ability to participate equally with men, at all levels, and in all aspects of political life and decision-making. Women’s participation and access to formal political power structures vary across countries. There is a steady upward trend in women’s political participation and representation in developed countries particularly in Nordic countries. Out of twelve countries where women representation in parliament is more than 33%, nine of them are ranked in the high human development category. However, the improvements in medium and low human development countries are not significant. The structural and functional constraints faced by women are shaped by social and political relations in a society. The common pattern of women’s political exclusion stem from (a) social and political discourses (b) political structures and institutions (c) the socio-cultural and functional constraints that put limits on women’s individual and collective agency.
Source: Bari, Farzana (2005) Women’s Political Participation: Issues and Challenges. Division for the Advancement of Women (now part of UN Women).