This module is a resource for lecturers   


Basic terms: gender and gender stereotypes


What does gender mean? How does it operate? Why is it important to include gender in the discussion when looking at TIP and SOM? These are important questions when engaging with students on gender.

A first step, before presenting the gender dimensions of TIP and SOM, is to raise awareness about the gender assumptions or gender stereotypes that everyone of us (professor, researcher, students) may have regarding a wide variety of social issues. Gender stereotypes also affect the way we approach most crimes, including TIP and SOM. (See Module 15 "Gender and Organized Crime" of the University Module Series on Organized Crime for a full discussion.)

A stereotype is an oversimplified belief or idea that groups of people have certain characteristics or that all people in a group are the same. When looking at gender, it refers to ascribing certain characteristics to men or women, boys or girls, according to what is believed to be feminine or masculine.

Box 1

Gender stereotypes

… are simplistic generalizations about the gender differences and roles of women and men. 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.

Source: Gender Equality Glossary, UN Women Training Centre

It is proposed to commence this Module with an interactive exercise whereby students are asked to give examples of common stereotypes about men and women, boys and girls, and then discuss how these stereotypes may influence the way we approach most crimes, including TIP and SOM (See the proposed ice-breaker discussion on gender stereotypes under " Possible class structure").

For example, it is common to perceive women and girls as more vulnerable and weaker. If we think of TIP and SOM, this type of perceptions can lead to emphasizing the victimization and vulnerability of women and girls, and hence it may fail to consider their capacities, agency and role.


What does gender mean?

Gender does not only refer to women and is not synonymous with the notion of sex. Sex refers to biological and physical differences. Indeed, to understand gender it is key to move beyond the dichotomous differences between men and women (biological and reproductive physical differences) and to focus on relations. Gender relations are shaped by gender roles and expectations that are socially constructed, and historically and culturally variable.

Gender is not a 'women's issue', it is a matter of social relations that include and affect all individuals. As said by the famous author and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman". In other words, it implies a socialization process to become a woman.

Box 2


Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society at a given time considers appropriate for men and women. […] attributes, opportunities and relationships [associated with being male and female] are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/time-specific and changeable. 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.

Source: Gender Equality Glossary, UN Women Training Centre

It is important to add further elements of consideration to this definition. Gender expressions and identities are not limited to either male or female, men or women, but there is a fluidity between what is considered feminine and masculine. Human rights violations arise because dominant gender norms may only accept heterosexual orientation and same-sex relationships and because social structures do not value gender expressions that are neither male nor female (various expressions of transgender). Hence, to look at gender also means to question the binary understanding of gender (female/male) and include issues of sexual orientation and gender identities (SOGI). Although for a long time they were excluded, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) persons are now part of the discussion on gender.

Gender roles, norms, and expectations impact on all aspects of people's lives, from the private and intimate affective and familial spheres of relationships, to education, expectations and opportunities, access to resources, work and social interactions in general.


Intersectionality: a conceptual approach in gender studies

It is important to understand not only what gender is, but what gender does (Marchetti, 2018). To fully understand how gender functions in society, it is useful to consider how gender intersects with other factors of discrimination, such as race, age, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic status, and class, in shaping inequalities. In other words, discrimination is not unidimensional (e.g. being a woman) but generated by several factors of discrimination. For example, one's individual experience of discrimination or oppression (or on its opposite of privilege), will not be the only result of being a man or a woman, but it will also be influenced by her/his social-economic status or by racial/ethnic discrimination. Additional information on forms of gender discrimination is provided in Module 9 of the University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics.

The notion of intersectionality describes the coming together, the interactions between these different factors of discrimination (e.g. age, race, class) and which influence power structures and power relations.

The concept of intersectionality has been introduced by the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989). The notion has its roots in black feminism, and by proposing the notion of intersectionality, Crewshaw sought to highlight the importance of considering the question of race when looking at women's discrimination. Not all women's experiences are the same, it is not a homogeneous group, and class and 'race' privilege (e.g. being a white woman) impact on the experiences of women's oppression.

Other relevant social categories are disability, sexuality, marital status, and migration status (refugee, undocumented migrant, temporary migrant worker). The several ways in which a person is disadvantaged will vary across context and time, and specific social categories will bear different effects, depending on the setting, such as race and religion. Being Muslim or Christian can generate discrimination, but in different contexts. Being from rural areas and of specific ethnic background can also create discrimination and inequalities even within one's own country. Lecturers are encouraged to provide examples of sources of discrimination that are relevant in their country or region.

The approach based on intersectionality is proposed for this Module, given that it provides a useful analytical framework to understand the gender dimensions of TIP and SOM. It provides a broad frame of analysis to discrimination and inequalities at the root of TIP, and at the root of irregular migration (that may include smuggling, see Module 1). It enables a necessary contextualization (according to one's context) and consideration of the multiple factors at play: from the macro-, meso- to micro-levels, the structural, social, political, economic, cultural, familial, interpersonal relationships, individual characteristics, etc.

Next: International legal frameworks and definitions of TIP and SOM
Back to top