Understanding Key Gender Terms


Biological characteristics (including genetics, anatomy and physiology) that generally define humans as female or male. Note that these biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive; however, there are individuals who possess both male and female characteristics.Socially constructed set of roles and responsibilities associated with being girl and boy or women and men, and in some cultures a third or other gender.
Born with.Not born with.
Universal, A-historical: No variation from culture to culture or time to timeGender roles vary greatly in different societies, cultures and historical periods as well as they depend also on socio-economic factors, age, education, ethnicity and religion..
Cannot be changed, except with the medical treatment.Although deeply rooted, gender roles can be changed over time, since social values and norms are not static.
Example: Only women can give birth. Only women can breastfeed.Example: The expectation of men to be economic providers of the family and for women to be caregivers is a gender norm in many cultural contexts. However, women prove able to do traditionally male jobs as well as men (e.g. men and women can do housework; men and women can be leaders and managers).

NOTE: At birth, the difference between boys and girls is their sex; as they grow up society gives them different roles, attributes, opportunities, privileges and rights that in the end create the social differences between men and women.


The state or condition that affords women and men equal enjoyment of human rights, socially valued goods, opportunities and resources, allowing both sexes the same opportunities and potential to contribute to, and benefit from, all spheres of society (economic, political, social, and cultural).Justice and fairness in the treatment of women and men in order to eventually achieve gender equality, often requesting differential treatment of women and men (or specific measures) in order to compensate for the historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from sharing a level playing field.
Example: A family has limited funds, and both daughter and son need new pair of shoes for the new school year, but only one can get new shoes this year. If the family decides (and who in the family decides?) which child will get the new shoes based on the child’s NEED, and not on the child’s sex, this is an example of gender equality.Example: Provision of leadership training for women or establishing quotas for women in decision-making positions in order to achieve the state of gender equality.

NOTE: Equity leads to equality! Equity means that there is a need to continue taking differential actions to address historical inequality among men and women and achieve gender equality.

Gender Identity Terms


  • The gender gap is the difference in any area between women and men in terms of their levels of participation, access to resources, rights, power and influence, remuneration and benefits. Of particular relevance related to women’s work is the “gender pay gap”, describing the difference between the average earnings of men and women (ILO, 2007).
  • Patterns of inequalities
    • Inequalities in political power and representation: Women are often underrepresented in formal decision-making structures, including governments, community councils, and policy-making institutions.
    • Inequalities in economic participation and opportunities: In most countries, women and men are distributed differently across sectors. Women are receiving lower wages for similar work, are more likely to be in low-paid jobs and unsecured work (part-time, temporary, home-based) and are likely to have less access than men to productive assets such as education, skills, property and credit.
    • Educational attainment: In most countries women have lower literacy rate, lower level of enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education.
    • Sexual and domestic violence: Women tend to be more often victims in a form a domestic violence by woman’s intimate partner, sexual exploitation through trafficking and sex trade, in wars by an enemy army as a weapon of attempted ‘ethnic cleansing’ etc.
    • Differences in legal status and entitlements: There are many instances in which equal rights to personal status, security, land, inheritance and employment opportunities are denied to women by law or practice.
  • Achieving greater equality between women and men will require changes at many levels, including changes in attitudes and relationships, changes in institutions and legal frameworks, changes in economic institutions, and changes in political decision-making structures.
  • Gender Expression: The external display of one’s gender, through a combination of how they dress, how they act and other factors, generally measured on scales of masculinity and femininity.
Gender Terms
  • Women’s rights: Entitlements that women have on the basis that they are human. Normatively based in several international human rights documents (e.g. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)). Arranged around the concept of duty bearer and rights holder.
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW): The convention commits state parties that are signatories to take all appropriate measures, including legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put their provisions into practice.
  • The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: The outcome document of the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995, considered as blueprint for improving position of women and advancing women’s rights.

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