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.
Special | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | ALL
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
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.
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”.