Gender definitions

Sex refers to the biological characteristics that define a human being as male or female. While in some instances people are born with mixed male and female biology (sometimes referred to as ‘intersex’), most people are born either male or female and their biology does not change over time. Sex is universal, that is it does not depend on where a person is born or what era a person is born in. Male and female biology is the same over time and around the world.

Gender refers to the socially and culturally constructed ideas about what it means to be male or female, that is the expected roles, relationships, behaviours, values and relative status, power or influence of males and females in society. Unlike sex, gender constructs are not fixed by biology or nature. They are learned ideas which are different across different cultures and societies and which are changeable over time within cultures and societies.

Sex discrimination is any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women and men, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

Gender equality means that all human beings, regardless of sex, have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities in life and enjoy equality in law and in fact in both the public and private sphere. It requires that the different needs, priorities, circumstances and aspirations of women and men be considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Sometimes gender equality requires that women and men be treated differently, for example by giving special preferences to women in order to counter-balance and eradicate historical or persistent discrimination against them.

Gender analysis is a systematic way of looking at the different needs, interests, priorities and experiences of males and females and the different impacts of laws, policies, programmes, customs, practices and development on them. It is a specific type of social analysis that requires the collection of data ‘disaggregated’ by sex (broken down for males and females) and of detailed gender-sensitive information about the population in question. Incorporating a gender perspective into any type of social issue or development project involves conducting and applying a gender analysis throughout all stages and aspects of work.

Gender mainstreaming is a process of consistently incorporating an awareness of and sensitivity to gender issues in all policy-making, planning, programmes, projects and budgeting at all levels in order to overcome inequalities between men and women, boys and girls. It is a strategy for making both women's and men's needs, concerns and experiences an integral dimension in the conceptualisation, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of laws, policies and programmes in all political, economic, cultural and social spheres, such that equality between men and women is respected and fostered. Gender mainstreaming recognizes that gender equality is not solely the work of a specialised group of people in the margins of development processes but the work of everyone working in the mainstream of legal, social, technical and development projects.

Practical Gender Needs (PGNs) are needs that are identified by women or men within their existing, socially defined roles, as a response to an immediate perceived necessity. PGNs usually relate to inadequacies in living conditions such as water provision, health care and employment, and they do not challenge gender divisions of labour and women's typically subordinate position in society. Meeting practical gender needs is typically a short term approach which, while often necessary, is unlikely to be sustainable without also addressing Strategic Gender Interests (see below).

Strategic Gender Interests (SGIs) are needs that are identified by women or men in order to eradicate sex discrimination and bring about gender equality. They tend to challenge gender divisions of labour, power and control and traditionally defined gender norms and roles. SGIs vary according to particular contexts and may include legal rights, protection from domestic violence, participation in decision-making processes, equal access to opportunities and resources, and increasing women’s control over their bodies.

Women in Development (WID) projects were created when development practitioners realised that women's contributions were being ignored and that development efforts were not achieving intended results, particularly for women. WID projects were thus designed to involve women as participants in and beneficiaries of development aid and initiatives.

The Gender and Development (GAD) approach was the next (and current) evolution in development theory, in recognition of the fact that WID projects were still failing to effect measurable and long-lasting changes in women’s lives and social status. Rather than looking at how women can be ‘inserted’ into existing development processes, the GAD approach focuses on gender dynamics between men and women, including the social, economic, political and cultural forces that determine how men and women interact in society and how they participate in, benefit from, and control project resources and activities differently. It takes these dynamics and differences into account from the very outset of all efforts to design, implement, monitor and evaluate development projects, in order to help ensure that development processes involve and benefit women and men equally.

Gender Negative laws, policies, programmes or projects reinforce existing gender inequalities in their attempt to achieve development outcomes.

Gender Neutral means a law, policy, programme or project that neither reinforces nor breaks down existing gender inequalities.

Gender Sensitive laws, policies, programmes or projects are aware of and attempt to redress existing gender inequalities.

Gender Positive/Transformative laws, policies, programmes or projects re-define women’s and men’s gender roles and relations in order to contribute to gender equality.



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