This module is a resource for lecturers  


Key terms


These definitions have been gathered from a variety of sources in international human rights law and existing glossaries, for example, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) and the London School of Economics Centre for Women, Peace and Security.


Women and girls have power and control over their own lives and acquire the ability to make strategic choices. 


  • Sex and gender discrimination:  Discrimination occurring due to interaction between sex (as the biological characteristics of women and men) and their socially constructed identities, attributes and roles and society's social and cultural meaning for biological differences between women and men.
  • Direct discrimination:  Discrimination  is  “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms” (Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 18, para 7).
  • Indirect discrimination (example relating to gender):  Discrimination occurring where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of one sex at a particular disadvantage compared with persons of the other sex, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means for achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.


Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents. It is also the belief that no one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability. Equality recognizes that historically certain groups of people with particular characteristics such as race, disability, sex and sexual orientation have experienced discrimination.

  • De jure discrimination  / de jure equality:  Latin for "in law," used as "lawful" to show something exists by operation of law: particularly to contrast with "de facto," meaning in practice.
  • De facto discrimination  / de facto equality:  Latin for "in fact," used as "actually" to show where discrimination in reality but not as a matter of law.

Economic violence

Acts of control and monitoring of the behaviour of an individual in terms of the use and distribution of money, and the constant threat of denying economic resources. This also includes control of access and disposition of goods to which women have the right to as a consequence of marriage, inheritance or legal union, as well as retention of instruments for work, assets and / or other economic resources. In some countries this is called economic abuse or financial abuse.

Gender-related killing of women and girls

Gender-related killing of women and girls, which in some countries is criminalized in national legislation as "femicide" or "feminicide", is the killing of women and girls on account of their gender, encompassing intimate partner homicide, the targeted killing of women in the context of armed conflict, the killing of women in the context of criminal activity, including: gangs; organized crime; and the trafficking in women and girls. Gender-related killing of women and girls also encompasses the so-called honour killing of women and girls.

Gender (and 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).

Despite non-binary diversity of gender and gender-identity, gender is often reduced to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being female and male and to the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as to the relations between women and those between men. The binary paradigm is socially constructed and, perpetuates harmful and reductionist stereotypes about the attributes expected of women and men. 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-based assumptions and expectations generally place women at a disadvantage with respect to the substantive enjoyment of rights, such as freedom to act and to be recognized as autonomous, fully capable adults, to participate fully in economic, social and political development, and to make decisions concerning their circumstances and conditions. Gender is part of the broader sociocultural context. Other important criteria for sociocultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.

Focus: What is the difference between the terms sex and gender?

The distinction between sex and gender differentiates a person's biological sex (the anatomy of an individual's reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics) from that person's gender which can refer to either social roles based on the sex of the person (gender role) or personal identification of one's own gender based on an internal awareness (gender identity).

Gender identity

Each person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth, including 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. The concept of Gender identity includes being transgender and, for individuals with bodily diversity who choose to identify as intersex, gender identity also encompasses intersex.

"Gender ideology"

This is a controversial term used by some people with socially conservative views to denigrate and undermine efforts to promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and women and girls.

See this article by Michelle Gallo, ' Gender Ideology' Is a Fiction That Could Do Real Harm. Open Democracy, 29 August 2017.

Hate crime

The term "hate crime" can be used to describe a range of criminal behaviours where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards the victim's disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. A hate crime can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, bullying, assault, or homicide, as well as damage to property.

Honour crime - also known as "crimes in the name of so-called 'honour'"

Acts of violence that are disproportionately, though not exclusively, committed against girls and women, because family members consider that certain suspected, perceived or actual behaviour will bring dishonour to the family or community.

Honour crimes are acts of violence against women and girls, where the perpetrators invoke terms such as "honour", "custom" or "tradition" as a justification or excuse for their actions. In some cases, there is an explicit defence to crimes of violence, or a perpetrator benefits from a reduced sentence if he or she can persuade the court that they committed the crime for reasons of 'honour'.

States are required to ensure that perpetrators do not benefit from exemption from criminal responsibility for reasons related to "honour." For example, the Istanbul Convention requires that "Parties shall ensure that culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called "honour" shall not be considered as justification for any acts of violence" (article 12).

The term 'so-called "honour"' is sometimes used to emphasize that it is a misuse of the term "honour" to use the concept as an excuse for violence.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in their joint General Common on harmful practices made the following comments about "honour" crimes:

Crimes committed in the name of so-called honour are acts of violence that are disproportionately, although not exclusively, committed against girls and women because family members consider that some suspected, perceived or actual behaviour will bring dishonour to the family or community. Such forms of behaviour include entering into sexual relations before marriage, refusing to agree to an arranged marriage, entering into a marriage without parental consent, committing adultery, seeking divorce, dressing in a way that is viewed as unacceptable to the community, working outside the home or generally failing to conform to stereotyped gender roles. Crimes in the name of so-called honour may also be committed against girls and women because they have been victims of sexual violence.

Such crimes include murder and are frequently committed by a spouse, female or male relative or a member of the victim's community. Rather than being viewed as criminal acts against women, crimes committed in the name of so-called honour are often sanctioned by the community as a means of preserving and/or restoring the integrity of its cultural, traditional, customary or religious norms following alleged transgressions. In some contexts, national legislation or its practical application, or the absence thereof, allows for the defence of honour to be presented as an exculpatory or a mitigating circumstance for perpetrators of such crimes, resulting in reduced sanctions or impunity. In addition, prosecution of cases may be impeded by unwillingness on the part of individuals with knowledge of the case to provide corroborating evidence. (CEDAW Committee and Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2014, Joint General Comment. No. 31, paras 29-30)


Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex

  • Lesbian:  generally used to describe a woman whose enduring capacity for romantic, emotional and/or physical attraction is to other women.
  • Gay:  generally used to describe a man whose enduring capacity for romantic, emotional and/or physical attraction is to other men, although the term can also be used to describe women who are attracted to other women.
  • Bisexual:  describes a person who has the capacity to be romantically, emotionally and/or physically attracted to person(s) of the same sex and/or gender as well as persons of a different sex and/or gender.
  • Transgender:  an umbrella term to describe person whose gender identity and in some cases, gender expression, differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Intersex:  an umbrella term describing a wide range of natural bodily variations related to sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads and chromosomal patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.  
  • Queer/questioning:  all individuals who fall outside of gender and sexuality 'norms'. This term used to be pejorative but is now often chosen by those who wish to celebrate their difference from the norms imposed by society.

Psychological violence

Any intentional conduct that seriously impairs another person's psychological integrity.


The biological and physiological characteristics that are narrowly interpreted as defining humans as female or male (despite greater natural bodily variation in primary and secondary sex characteristics).

Sexual and Gender-based violence (SGBV)

Acts of physical, mental, social or economic abuse (including sexual violence) that is attempted or threatened, with some type of force (such us violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, deception, cultural expectations, weapons or economic circumstances) and is directed against a person because of his or her sex, gender, or the sex/gender roles and expectations in a society or culture. A person facing sexual and gender-based violence has no choice to refuse or pursue other options without severe social, physical, or psychological consequences. Forms of SGBV include sexual violence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, early marriage or forced marriage, gender discrimination, denial (such as education, food, freedom) and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Sexual and reproductive rights

The Beijing Platform for Action described sexual and reproductive rights as "the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence" (1995, para. 96).

Sexual orientation

Each person's capacity for emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender, the same gender or more than one gender. This includes being heterosexual - between people of the opposite gender; lesbian - between women; gay - between men. Bisexual people are attracted to both women and men and potentially to individuals who identify as neither male or female.

Structural violence

Violence for which there is not clearly identifiable person, organization or enterprise responsible, and which is rather built into and inherent in the structure of a society.

Survivor / victim

The terms used in this module align with those provided in the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice For Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power:

"Victims" means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power.

A person may be considered a victim, under this Declaration, regardless of whether the perpetrator is identified, apprehended, prosecuted or convicted and regardless of the familial relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. The term "victim" also includes, where appropriate, the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization. (United Nations General Assembly, 1985, paras 1-2).

Survivor: A term that is sometimes used (by choice) as a personal descriptor by woman or girl who has been subjected to gender-based violence, who is still alive.  Some victims choose to refer to themselves as survivors. This is a matter of personal choice. For an analysis of why some people prefer to use victim, or survivor, see ‘Victim’ vs ‘Survivor’: feminism and language, Rahila Gupta, 16 June 2014.

Next: Topic one - Ending violence against women
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