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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Gender identity

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.


Human rights

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.


Sexual orientation

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

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.

Sources: UN Gender Focal Point, Gender related United Nations system policies, Work-life policies and practices at the UN, UN’s anti-harassment policies.


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


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.


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.


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.

Source: Beijing Platform for Action. Chapter IV. G. Women in power and decision-making.


Autonomy

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:

  1. Physical autonomy (the freedom to make decisions regarding sexuality, reproduction and the right to live a life free from violence);
  2. Economic autonomy (right to work and earn one’s own income, distribution of paid and unpaid work between women and men); and
  3. Autonomy in decision-making (women’s participation in all branches of government, signing of CEDAW optional protocol, positioning of national machineries for advancement of women). 

Source: Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Annual report 2011. Women’s autonomy: From the margins to the mainstream.



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