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.

The glossary is also available in Spanish and in French.



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S

Sustainable development

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.

T

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:

  • Temporary: Such measures should therefore not be deemed necessary forever, even though the meaning of “temporary” may, in fact, result in the application of such measures for a long period of time. Temporary special measures must be discontinued when their desired results have been achieved and sustained for a period of time.
  • Special: The term “special”, though being in conformity with human rights discourse, also needs to be carefully explained. Its use sometimes casts women and other groups who are subject to discrimination as weak, vulnerable and in need of extra or “special” measures in order to participate or compete in society. However, the real meaning of “special” in the formulation of article 4, paragraph 1 of CEDAW, is that the measures are designed to serve a specific goal.
  • Measures: The term “measures” encompasses a wide variety of legislative, executive, administrative and other regulatory instruments, policies and practices, such as outreach or support programmes; allocation and/or reallocation of resources; preferential treatment; targeted recruitment, hiring and promotion; numerical goals connected with time frames; and quota systems. The choice of a particular “measure” will depend on the context in which article 4, paragraph 1, is applied and on the specific goal it aims to achieve.

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

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.

Transformational leadership

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.

U

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

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

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.

V

Victim blaming

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:

  1. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, intimate partner violence, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
  2. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment in public spaces and sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
  3. Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.

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.

W

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.


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