This module is a resource for lecturers  


Key terms



Refers to anatomical sex characteristics, reproductive organs, hormonal and/or chromosomal patterns. 'Sex' is often erroneously understood as a simple binary: i.e. an individual is male or female. On the contrary, contemporary understandings of sex, informed by advancements in the study of genetics, reveals the natural occurrence of considerable variability in sex characteristics. Bodily diversity is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Notwithstanding, binary conceptualizations of 'sex' remain a dominant means of categorization, social organization, and discrimination, with birth registration, national passports, and job application necessitating that an individual's sex be declared (legally, and medically) as either male or female. While some jurisdictions have recently introduced an option for individuals to identify as 'x', or 'other', the normative assumption is that individuals are either male or female, and a vast range of gendered expectations (and stereotypes) are ascribed to these socially constructed concepts. Individuals may face discrimination on the grounds of sex characteristics in instances where their anatomical sex characteristics do not accord with conventional expectations about either male or female sex anatomy (as may be the case with some, but not all, individuals born with intersex characteristics) or for some transgender individuals, who have undergone hormonal and/or surgical sex reassignment procedures.

Gender (gender identity)

The definition of 'gender' used in this Module is consistent with that used by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), and refers to "socially constructed identities, attributes and roles for women and men and the cultural meaning imposed by society on to biological differences, which are constantly reflected within the justice system and its institutions" (CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 33, para. 7). 'Gender' is often seen as a 'woman's issue' - as though men don't have a gender identity. On the contrary, gender is a social construction that underlies the organization of all: men, women and individuals who identify as third gender, gender fluid or gender diverse. The Free and Equal Campaign of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) usefully elaborates on the definition of Gender Identity, as "a deeply felt and experienced sense of one's own gender. Everyone has a gender identity, which is part of their overall identity" (OHCHR, 2016, p. 17). For the purposes of this Module, individuals may face discrimination or the adverse effects of gendered assumptions in instances where their gender (ascribed or self-identified) is perceived to be inferior (as in the case of women or girls); or where an individual's gender is perceived as failing to conform with cisgender and/or heteronormative expectations (as is the case with transgender individuals and, in some cases, gay, lesbian or bisexual persons).


A term used to refer to individuals whose sense of their gender aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. 


"An umbrella term used to describe people with a wide range of identities - including transsexual people, cross-dressers (sometimes referred to as 'transvestites'), people who identify as third gender, and others whose appearance and characteristics are seen as gender atypical and whose sense of their own gender is different to the sex that they were assigned at birth. Trans women identify as women but were classified as males when they were born. Trans men identify as men but were classified female when they were born" (OHCHR, 2016, p. 18).


"An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some who have permanently changed - or seek to change - their bodies through medical interventions, including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term a person prefers." (GLAAD, n.d.)

Sexual Orientation

Refers to a person's sexual or romantic attraction towards other people. This is not to be conflated with same sex attraction (i.e. gay or lesbian sexual orientation). Heterosexuals (those attracted to persons of a different sex to themselves) have a heterosexual sexual orientation. Sex characteristics and gender identity do not determine sexual orientation.


Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex/gender/sexual orientation (as the grounds of discrimination relevant to this Module) which has, for any individual, or any group of individuals, the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

The principle of non-discrimination (on the basis of sex/gender) does not prohibit efforts to meet the specific needs of women prisoners [or women in conflict with the law generally]. On the contrary, providing for their specific needs ensures they are not discriminated against. (UNODC, 2015, p. 12)


'Intersectional' is a term that reflects the fact that individuals may be subjected to multiple and compounding forms of discrimination, on the grounds related to various specificities of identity or circumstance. Some of the characteristics that have been identified as amounting to grounds for intersectional or compounded discrimination include:

Personal characteristics:  ethnicity/race, indigenous or minority status, colour, socioeconomic status and/or caste, language, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin, marital and/or maternal status, age, health status, disability, property ownership, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Situational circumstances:  urban/rural location, illiteracy, trafficking of women, armed conflict, seeking asylum, being a refugee, internal displacement, statelessness, migration, heading households, widowhood, living with HIV/AIDs, deprivation of liberty, being in prostitution, geographical remoteness and stigmatization of women fighting for their rights, including human rights defenders. (These characteristics are variously noted as grounds for discrimination in CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 28; CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 35; CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 33).

The CEDAW Committee has specified the need for States to recognize and respond to intersecting forms of discrimination, and implement policies and programmes to prohibit and eliminate the compounding negative impacts of intersectional discrimination:

The discrimination of women based on sex and gender is inextricably linked with other factors that affect women, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, caste and sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender may affect women belonging to such groups to a different degree or in different ways to men. States parties must legally recognize such intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned and prohibit them. (CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 28, para. 18).

Sexual and Gender-based violence (SGBV)

TheCEDAW Committee defines gender-based violence (GBV) against women as: "violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty" (CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 19, para. 7). CEDAW identifies that GBV "is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women's ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men" (CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 19, para. 1). Further, it is important to recognize that individuals can face violence on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, or sex characteristics. Sexual violence is a form of gender-based violence and encompasses any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed against a person's sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting (OHCHR, 2014). The term sexual and gender-based violence better reflects the multiple grounds on which individuals face discrimination and violence on the basis of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex characteristics and therefore the acronym SGBV will be used throughout the Module.


Is an acronym that refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. In certain contexts, 'intersex' is not included (LGBT), Q is added to represent 'queer' /'questioning' (LGBTQ) or the symbol '+' is added to denote other persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity (such as asexual, pansexual and so forth). In acknowledgement of the various versions of LGBTI acronym not fully covering different gender identities, expressions and sex characteristics; some actors and organizations in the international community have started using the term 'persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics' with the acronym SOGIESC. While noting the importance of these developments in inclusive terminology, this Module employs the 'LGBTI' acronym, consistent with ' United Nations Free and Equal'; a global United Nations public information campaign aimed at promoting the equal rights and fair treatment of LGBTI persons.

For additional definitions of key terms, including "gender neutral", "gender sensitive", "gender transformative", see Module 15 on Gender and Organized Crime of the University Module Series on Organized Crime.

Next:  Topic one - Gender-based discrimination and women in conflict with the law
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