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 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.



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