Glossary of Terms

Below, we have put together a glossary of terms relating to gender.
If not otherwise indicated, the definitions provided below have been copied, or adapted, from UN Women’s Gender Equality Glossary.

Whereas the term ‘sex’ refers to biological differences between women and men, the term ‘gender’ refers to social differences. In societies, different gender roles are attributed to women and men, and gender stereotypes describe ‘typical’ or ‘ideal’ sets of characteristics of women and men. Based on the societal ‘images’ of what is feminine and what is masculine, individuals develop gender-specific identities. As a reflection of roles, stereotypes and identities, women and men differ with regard to motivation and behaviour. These roles and relationships are not fixed, but can and do change. (UNDP 2011)

Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man in a given context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context, as are other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis including class, race, poverty level, ethnic group, sexual orientation, age, etc.

Social acceptance is one of the consequences of fulfilling gender roles, and social sanctions are likely to occur when people do not comply with gender roles – with some flexibility determined by subgroup membership and individual interpretation.

The ways in which women and men pursue certain goals differ. For example, women and men share the need for social acceptance and hence a basic motive to be accepted by their peer groups. However, based on their gender-specific roles and identities, they differ with regard to which behaviour will serve the goal of being accepted.

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.

Gender equality (equality between women and men): This refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a women’s issue but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.

The preferred terminology within the United Nations is gender equality, rather than gender equity. Gender equity denotes an element of interpretation of social justice, usually based on tradition, custom, religion or culture, which is most often to the detriment to women. Such use of equity in relation to the advancement of women has been determined to be unacceptable (see Beijing 5th World Conference on Women, 1995).

Gender analysis is a critical examination of how differences in gender roles, activities, needs, opportunities and rights/entitlements affect men, women, girls and boys in certain situation or contexts. Gender analysis examines the relationships between females and males and their access to and control of resources and the constraints they face relative to each other. A gender analysis should be integrated into all sector assessments or situational analyses to ensure that gender-based injustices and inequalities are not exacerbated by interventions, and that where possible, greater equality and justice in gender relations are promoted.

Gender (or sexual) division of labor: This is an important concept in basic gender analysis that helps deepen understanding about social relations as an entry point to sustainable change through development. The division of labor refers to the way each society divides work among men and women, boys and girls, according to socially-established gender roles or what is considered suitable and valuable for each sex. Anyone planning a community intervention needs to know and understand the division of labor and allocation of assets on a sex-and-age disaggregated basis for every community affected by development interventions. Within the division of labor, there are several types of roles:

  • Productive roles: Activities carried out by men and women in order to produce goods and services either for sale, exchange, or to meet the subsistence needs of the family.
  • Reproductive roles: Activities needed to ensure the reproduction of society’s labor force. This includes house work like cleaning, cooking, childbearing, rearing, and caring for family members. These tasks are done mostly by women.
  • Community managing role: Activities undertaken primarily by women at the community level, as an extension of their reproductive role, to ensure the provision and maintenance of scarce resources of collective consumption such as water, health care and education. This is voluntary unpaid work performed during “free” time.
  • Community politics role: Activities undertaken primarily by men at the community level, often within the framework of national politics. This officially-recognized leadership role may be paid directly or result in increased power or status.
  • Triple role: This refers to the fact that women tend to work longer and more fragmented days than men as they are usually involved in three different roles: reproductive, productive and community work.

Stereotypes are cognitive representations or impressions of a social group that people form by associating particular characteristics and emotions with the group (e.g. Mackie and Hamilton, 1993; Zanna and Olson, 1994).

Gender stereotypes are simplistic generalizations about the gender attributes, differences and roles of women and men. Stereotypical characteristics about men are that they are competitive, acquisitive, autonomous, independent, confrontational, concerned about private goods. Parallel stereotypes of women hold that they are cooperative, nurturing, caring, connecting, group-oriented, concerned about public goods. Stereotypes are often used to justify gender discrimination more broadly and can be reflected and reinforced by traditional and modern theories, laws and institutional practices. Messages reinforcing gender stereotypes and the idea that women are inferior come in a variety of “packages” – from songs and advertising to traditional proverbs. (Hemmati 2000)

Gender mainstreaming has been defined by the United Nations Economic and Social Council as ‘a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated’. The relative status of women and men, the interaction between gender and race, class and ethnicity, and questions of rights, control, ownership, power, and voice–all have a critical impact on the success and sustainability of every development intervention.

In practice, gender mainstreaming means identifying gaps in gender equality through the use of sex-disaggregated data; developing strategies to close those gaps; putting resources and expertise into implementing strategies for gender equality; monitoring implementation; and holding individuals and institutions accountable for results. Gender mainstreaming is not an end in itself; it is a process whose ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality (Millennium Development Goal 3). (UNDP 2011)

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.

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 inequalities are reinforced to achieve desired development outcomes
Uses gender norms, roles and stereotypes that reinforce gender inequalities
Gender Neutral Gender is not considered relevant to development outcome
Gender norms, roles and relations are not affected (worsened or improved)
Gender Sensitive 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 Positive Gender is central to achieving positive development outcomes
Changing gender norms, roles and access to resources a key component of project outcomes
Gender Transformative 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


Gender reflective: understanding and reflecting upon the impacts of gender relations, e.g. in decisions taken, solutions considered, strategies developed, dominant narratives… rather than merely reacting or responding to gender differences. (Röhr et al 2017)

The term ‘gender perspective’ is a way of seeing or analysing which looks at the impact of gender on people’s opportunities, social roles and interactions. This way of seeing is what enables one to carry out gender analysis and subsequently to mainstream a gender perspective into any proposed program, policy or organisation.

Gender relations are the specific sub-set of social relations uniting men and women as social groups in a particular community, including how power and access to and control over resources are distributed between the sexes. Gender relations intersect with all other influences on social relations – age, ethnicity, race, religion – to determine the position and identity of people in a social group. Since gender relations are a social construct, they can be transformed over time to become more equitable.

Gender roles refer to social and behavioural 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 labour). 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.

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.