Concepts and definitions

EIGE has compiled this glossary to support the users of the Gender Mainstreaming Platform. It does not constitute legal guidance but is intended as a helpful introduction to some of the key terms you will come across when using the Platform.

Terms entered in the glossary are from various sources:  international and regional women’s human rights instruments; European Union and Council of Europe legislative and strategy documents, specifically related to gender equality and mainstreaming; legislative and policy developments in Europe and at international level.

Some new definitions were formed by combining multiple previous ones for a more comprehensive scope than one single existing definition could represent.


Affirmative action

Measures targeted at a particular group and intended to eliminate and prevent discrimination or to offset disadvantages arising from existing attitudes, behaviours and structures.

By affirmative or positive action, we mean action aimed at favouring access by members of certain categories of people, in this particular case, women, to rights which they are guaranteed, to the same extent as members of other categories, in this particular case, men”.

“In some cases, the reason that discrimination is found to occur is due to the fact that the same rule is applied to everyone without consideration for relevant differences. In order to remedy and prevent this kind of situation, governments, employers and service providers must ensure that they take steps to adjust their rules and practices to take such differences into consideration – that is, they must do something to adjust current policies and measures. In the UN context, these are labelled ‘special measures’, while the EU law context refers to ‘specific measures’ or ‘positive action’. By taking special measures, governments are able to ensure ‘substantive equality’, that is, equal enjoyment of opportunities to access benefits available in society, rather than mere ‘formal equality’.


Capacity building

Capacity building consists of competence development of individual people and system change that enables transformatory processes and effects in institutions.

Competence development

It combines a series of activities that aim at strengthening people's skills and knowledge on a certain matter. A variety of activities can be organised to develop gender competences, such as awareness-raising initiatives, training and coaching. Competence development may occur in several stages of the policy cycle. Besides enhancing people's skills, awareness and knowledge, it may also have a positive impact on their interest and commitment to gender equality.

Consultative techniques

All methods that require interpersonal consultations, such as working or steering groups, think tanks; directories, databases and organisational charts; conferences and seminars; hearings.


Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs when a difference in treatment relies directly and explicitly on distinctions based exclusively on sex and characteristics of men or of women, which cannot be justified objectively.

Discrimination against Women

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, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

Discrimination can stem from both law (de jure) or from practice (de facto). The CEDAW Convention recognizes and addresses both forms of discrimination, whether contained in laws, policies, procedures or practice.

Dual approach to gender equality

Dual approach refers to complementarity between gender mainstreaming and specific gender equality policy and measures, including positive measures. It is also referred to as twin track strategy.


Empowerment of women

The empowerment of women and girls concerns their gaining power and control over their own lives. It involves awareness-raising, building self-confidence, expansion of choices, increased access to and control over resources and actions to transform the structures and institutions which reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality. This implies that to be empowered they must not only have equal capabilities (such as education and health) and equal access to resources and opportunities (such as land and employment), but they must also have the agency to use these rights, capabilities, resources and opportunities to make strategic choices and decisions (such as is provided through leadership opportunities and participation in political institutions).

Equal opportunities of women and men

This concept indicates the absence of barriers to economic, political and social participation on ground of sex and gender and other characteristics. Such barriers are often indirect, difficult to discern and caused and maintained by structural phenomena and social representations that have proved particularly resistant to change. Equal opportunities as one of the gender equality objectives is founded on the rationale that a whole range of strategies, actions and measures are necessary to redress deep-rooted and persistent inequalities.

Equal treatment of women and men

Ensuring the absence of discrimination on the grounds of sex, either directly or indirectly.



Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships 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 women 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. Other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.

Gender analysis

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 audit

A participatory gender audit is a tool and a process based on a participatory methodology to promote organizational learning at the individual, work unit and organizational levels on how to practically and effectively mainstream gender.

A gender audit is essentially a “social audit”, and belongs to the category of “quality audits”, which distinguishes it from traditional “financial audits”. It considers whether internal practices and related support systems for gender mainstreaming are effective and reinforce each other and whether they are being followed. It establishes a baseline; identifies critical gaps and challenges; and recommends ways of addressing them, suggesting possible improvements and innovations. It also documents good practices towards the achievement of gender equality.

A gender audit enhances the collective capacity of the organization to examine its activities from a gender perspective and identify strengths and weaknesses in promoting gender equality issues. It monitors and assesses the relative progress made in gender mainstreaming and helps to build organizational ownership for gender equality initiatives and sharpens organizational learning on gender.

Gender awareness-raising

The process that aims at showing how existing values and norms influence our picture of reality, perpetuate stereotypes and support mechanisms (re)producing inequality. It challenges values and gender norms by explaining how they influence and limit the opinions taken into consideration and decision-making. Besides, awareness-raising aims at stimulating a general sensitivity to gender issues.

Gender balance

Gender balance is commonly used in reference to human resources and equal participation of women and men in all areas of work, projects or programmes.

In a scenario of gender equality, women and men are expected to participate proportionally to their shares in the population. In many areas, however, women participate less than what was expected based on the sex distribution in the population (underrepresentation of women) while men participate more than expected (overrepresentation of men).

Gender bias

Prejudiced actions or thoughts based on gender-based perceptions that women are not equal to men.

Gender blindness

This term refers to the failure to recognize that the roles and responsibilities of men/boys and women/girls are assigned to them in specific social, cultural, economic, and political contexts and backgrounds. Projects, programs, policies and attitudes which are gender blind do not take into account these different roles and diverse needs. They maintain the status quo and will not help transform the unequal structure of gender relations.

Gender budgeting

Gender budgeting is the application of gender mainstreaming in the budgetary process. It means a gender-based assessment of budgets, incorporating a gender perspective at all levels of the budgetary process and restructuring revenues and expenditures in order to promote gender equality.

Gender contract

A set of implicit and explicit rules governing gender relations which allocate different work and value, responsibilities and obligations to men and women and is maintained on three levels - cultural superstructure – the norms and values of society; institutions - family welfare, education and employment systems, etc.; and socialisation processes, notably in the family.

Gender discrimination

Gender discrimination is defined as: “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, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” [United Nations, 1979. ‘Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women’. Article 1]

Discrimination can stem from both law (de jure) or from practice (de facto). The CEDAW Convention recognizes and addresses both forms of discrimination, whether contained in laws, policies, procedures or practice.

Gender equality

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-centred development.

Gender equality competence

Refers to the skills, attributes and behaviours that people need in order to mainstream gender effectively. It implies theoretical and practical knowledge of the various tools that can be used for this process. It requires recognition of the fact that no political or organisational action is gender-neutral and that women and men are affected by policies in different ways.

Gender equality competence development

A term broader than gender equality training, as it is understood to include a wide range of different educational tools and processes, including:

  • Face to face training events and courses of study;
  • Staff induction;
  • Online modules;
  • Guidance materials and compendia of resources;
  • Consultancy arrangements;
  • Networks for sharing expertise.
Gender equality training

Is a broad concept which encompasses any educational tool or process that aims to make policy-makers and other actors in the EU and Member States more aware of gender equality issues, build their gender competence and enable them to promote gender equality goals in their work at all levels. Gender equality training has been understood to cover a wide range of different educational tools and processes: face to face training events and courses of study, staff induction, online modules, guidance materials and related resources, consultancy arrangements, and networks for sharing expertise.

Gender gap

The gap in any area between women and men in terms of their levels of participation, access, rights, remuneration or benefits.

Gender impact assessment

Examining policy proposals to see whether they will affect women and men differently, with a view to adapting these proposals to make sure that discriminatory effects are neutralised and that gender equality is promoted.

It is an ex-ante procedure that should be performed before the final decision on the policy proposal is taken. It involves comparing and assessing, according to gender relevant criteria, the current situation and trends in relation to the expected outcome resulting from the introduction of the proposed policy. Gender impact assessment is used to assess the impact of a given policy proposal on women and men and on gender relations in general.

Gender indicators

Gender indicators are established to measure and compare the situation of women and men over time. Gender indicators can refer to quantitative indicators (based on statistics broken down by sex) or to qualitative indicators (based on women's and men's experiences, attitudes, opinions and feelings). Gender-sensitive indicators allow changes to be measured in the relations between women and men in relation to a certain policy area, a specific programme or activity, or changes in the status or situation of women and men.

Gender inequality

Unequal access to and control over the various material and non-material resources and assets of the society. In all societies the woman's role is the inferior one in the relationship. There is still no country in the world where women have equal access to power and decision-making, and to decent and well paid jobs.

Gender mainstreaming

The systematic consideration of the differences between the conditions, situations and needs of women and men in all Community policies and actions.

Gender mainstreaming is the (re)organisation, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making.

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

Having no differential positive or negative impact for gender relations or equality between women and men.

Gender neutral means not being associated with either women or men and may refer to various aspects such as concepts or style of language. What is perceived to be gender neutral, however, including in areas of statistics or dissemination of data collected in reference to a population, is often gender blind (a failure to recognize gender specificities).

Gender norms

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.

Gender perspective

An analysis from a gender perspective helps to see whether the needs of women and men are equally taken into account and served by [a] proposal. It enables policy-makers to develop policies with an understanding of the socio-economic reality of women and men and allows for policies to take (gender) differences into account

A gender perspective is an instrument for approaching reality by questioning the power relationships established between men and women, and social relationships in general. It is a conceptual framework, an interpretation methodology and critical analysis instrument that guides decisions, broadens and alters views, and that enables us to reconstruct concepts, scrutinise attitudes and identify gender biases and conditionings, for subsequently considering and modification through dialogue their revision.

Gender planning

An active approach to planning which takes gender as a key variable or criteria and which seeks to integrate an explicit gender dimension into policy or action.

Gender position

It refers to women’s social and economic standing in society relative to men, for example, male/female disparities in wages and employment opportunities, unequal representation in the political process, unequal ownership of land and property, vulnerability to violence (i.e. strategic gender need/interests).

Gender procurement

Involves the introduction of gender equality requirements into public procurement, in order to use it as an instrument to advance gender equality. It is a question both of ensuring that all citizens are offered equal services, regardless of gender, but also a matter of increasing efficiency and quality of services, since setting a requirement on integrating a gender perspective encourages providers to develop and offer services that are in line with gender equality objectives. The requirements must therefore be clearly defined so that they are easy to follow-up. Continuous monitoring is also essential in order to strengthen the incentives to develop socially responsible services.

Gender relations

The relation and unequal power distribution between women and men which characterise any specific gender system

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 relevance

The question of whether a particular law, policy or action is relevant to gender relations and/or gender equality.

Gender roles

A set of prescriptions for action and behaviour allocated to women and men respectively, and inculcated and maintained as described under 'Gender Contract'.

Gender roles refer to social and behavioral 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 labor). 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 segregation

Gender segregation manifests itself in differences in patterns of representation of women and men in labour market, public and political life, unpaid domestic work and caring, and in young women’s and men’s choice of education.

Gender sensitive

Policies that take into account the particularities pertaining to the lives of both women and men, while aiming at eliminating inequalities and promoting an equal distribution of resources, addressing and taking into account the gender dimension.

Gender sensitive evaluation

A method of gender mainstreaming which integrates gender equality concerns into the evaluation objectives but also into the evaluation methodology, approaches and use. As part of the programme-cycle approach, it contributes to evidence-based policy making, and when it comes to gender mainstreaming, evaluation is one of the policy processes through which the gender perspective is integrated and mainstreamed across sectors.

Gender specific monitoring

A monitoring approach where the main focus is on realising gender equality.

Gender statistics

Statistics that adequately reflect differences and inequalities in the situation of women and men in all areas of life. Gender statistics are defined by the sum of the following characteristics: (a) data are collected and presented disaggregated by sex as a primary and overall classification, (b) data are reflecting gender issues, (c) data are based on concepts and definitions that adequately reflect the diversity of women and men and capture all aspects of their lives, and (d) data collection methods take into account stereotypes and social and cultural factors that may induce gender biases.

Gender stereotypes

Gender stereotypes are preconceived ideas whereby males and females are arbitrarily assigned characteristics and roles determined and limited by their sex. Sex stereotyping can limit the development of the natural talents and abilities of boys and girls, women and men, their educational and professional experiences as well as life opportunities in general Stereotypes about women both result from and are the cause of deeply engrained attitudes, values, norms and prejudices against women. They are used to justify and maintain the historical relations of power of men over women as well as sexist attitudes which are holding back the advancement of women”.

Gender-balanced participation

In a strict sense, gender-balanced participation implies equal representation often referred to as parity participation of women and man. However, the general agreement was achieved that the representation of either women or men in any decision-making body in public and political life should not fall below 40%.

Gender-sensitive accountability

Accountability refers to the obligation and responsibility on the part of state structures and public officials to implement gender mainstreaming and achieve gender equality policy objectives, to reporting on progress achieved, and to answerability for failing to meet stated gender equality objectives.

Gender-sensitive institutional transformation

A process that aims to integrate gender equality into the regular rules, procedures and practices of an institution. A successful gender mainstreaming implementation will lead to the transformation of an institution, thus also impacting on the organisational culture. To achieve this, the internal mechanisms of an institution will have to be adjusted within a process of organisational development. This means there is an internal dimension of gender mainstreaming (organisational and personnel development) as well as an external dimension (service provision).

Gender-sensitive language

Language not only reflects the way we think; it also shapes the thinking of listeners or readers and influences their beliefs and behaviour. Gender-sensitive language relates to the use of the written and spoken language so that women and men are equally treated and considered. It requires avoiding talking in generic masculine terms, excluding women or reflecting stereotyped assumptions about gender roles.

Being aware of the importance of gender-sensitive language could lead to the promotion of gender sensitivity, and also to a higher degree of precision. 

Gender-sensitive monitoring

A periodic follow-up conducted during the implementation of a policy or programme. This includes collection of data and information based on the defined indicators, in order to verify whether goals and measures are being achieved. Gender-sensitive monitoring allows gaps and difficulties to be identified and redressed as soon as possible, so that necessary changes to accomplish what has been planned can be made. Gender-specific monitoring can also be considered, i.e. monitoring that has the approach towards realising gender equality as its main focus.

Gender-specific evaluation

Focuses on the approach that has been followed to realise gender equality. Such evaluation significantly contributes to understanding what works well and where the difficulties are, allowing for fine-tuning of the gender mainstreaming approach in future actions.

Good practices

Any experience or initiative with techniques, methods or approaches that produce effects and results coherent with the definition of gender mainstreaming. They are considered to be effective in delivering gender mainstreaming as a transformative strategy, and therefore deserving to be disseminated and proposed to other organisational contexts.


Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination occurs 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 of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary. The concept focuses on the effect of a rule or a practice and takes into account everyday social realities.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a law, policy or programme does not appear to be discriminatory, but has a discriminatory effect when implemented. This can occur, for example, when women are disadvantaged compared to men with respect to the enjoyment of a particular opportunity or benefit due to pre-existing inequalities. Applying a gender-neutral law may leave the existing inequality in place, or exacerbate it.

Institutional capacity for gender mainstreaming

Refers to the potential of an institution to deliver upon its gender mainstreaming commitments and the ability to identify and solve implementation problems. Capacity deals with a set of functional conditions that allow elaborating and implementing programmes with better performance.

Institutional mechanisms for (the promotion of) gender equality

Institutional mechanisms/national machinery are essential instruments that governments must establish or reinforce to pursue their obligation to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of sex and to achieve gender equality.

The Explanatory Memorandum to Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2007)17 on Gender equality standards and mechanisms lists some of the basic requirements for the creation, reinforcement or effective functioning of such institutional mechanisms including among others: “the location and the status of the mechanisms, their legal basis and clear mandate, their authority and visibility, their political recognition and funding, the need for an interdepartmental structure to co-ordinate gender mainstreaming, that must be constituted by representatives with decision-making powers, the development of gender expertise with the necessary tools and instruments, the establishment of effective channels of communication and co-operation with civil society organisations at every level, as well as with international partners and organisations”.

The same Recommendation also states that “Specific actions, including positive actions and temporary special measures, addressed at women and society at large, are recognised as the traditional mandate of national institutional mechanisms for gender equality; however, they must be complemented by gender mainstreaming, a strategy which must involve a variety of actors responsible for policies in all sectors and levels of governance”.

Intersectional gender approach

Social research method in which gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality and other social differences are simultaneously analysed.


Legal or policy framework for gender mainstreaming

A logical structure that categorises and organises the different institutional policy and legal documents of an organisation in order to draw some general guidance principles that should help design and plan new policies.


Methods for gender mainstreaming

Methods relate in this context to general methodological approaches that facilitate the integration of gender into policies and programmes. They utilise different tools in a strategic way and propose coherent systems (or elements of a system) for gender mainstreaming. Again, they can be combined together to collect information, enhance knowledge and shape largely different programmes.

Multiple discrimination

Certain groups of women, due to the combination of their sex with other factors, such as their race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status, are in an especially vulnerable position. In addition to discrimination on the grounds of sex, these women are often subjected simultaneously to one or several other types of discrimination.


Practical gender needs

Practical Gender Needs (PGNs) are identified by women within their 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 subordinate position in society.


Sectoral approach to gender mainstreaming

The overall objective of the sectoral approach is to ensure that gender is integrated into the work of all governmental bodies and into all policy areas. The specific objectives include reinforcing the commitment to gender mainstreaming and strengthening capacity for gender mainstreaming at the Member States level. These objectives can be achieved by building competence and supporting policy makers and implementers in integrating the gender perspective into different policy areas.


Sex refers to the biological characteristics which define humans as female or male. These sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive as there are individuals who possess both, but these characteristics tend to differentiate humans as males and females. 

Sex disaggregated data

Sex-disaggregated statistics are data collected and tabulated separately for women and men. They allow for the measurement of differences between women and men on various social and economic dimensions and are one of the requirements in obtaining gender statistics. Having data by sex does not guarantee, for example, that concepts, definitions and methods used in data production are conceived to reflect gender roles, relations and inequalities in society, therefore collecting data disaggregated by sex represents only one of the characteristics of gender statistics.

Specific action/measure

Measures targeted at a particular group and intended to eliminate and prevent discrimination or to offset disadvantages arising from existing attitudes, behaviours and structures.

Action aimed at favouring access by members of certain categories of people, in this particular case, women, to rights which they are guaranteed, to the same extent as members of other categories, in this particular case, men.

Together with gender mainstreaming, specific action is one of the two approaches to gender equality implemented by the European Union.

Stakeholder consultations

Consultations with gender experts, civil society organisations, etc. on the topic to validate findings and to improve policy or programme proposals.

Strategic gender interest

Strategic Gender Interests (SGIs) are identified by women as a result of their subordinate social status, and tend to challenge gender divisions of labour power and control, and traditionally defined norms and roles. SGIs vary according to particular contexts and may include such issues as legal rights, domestic violence, equal wages, and women's control over their bodies.


Tools for gender mainstreaming

Tools are to be understood as operationalised instruments, which can be used separately or combined together to shape largely different programmes, in terms of aims, approaches and dimensions. Some are practical, ready to use "how-to" tools while others are more elaborate combinations of different elements.


Work-life balance

The term “work–life balance” refers not only to caring for dependent relatives, but also to “extracurricular” responsibilities or important life priorities. Work arrangements should be sufficiently flexible to enable workers of both sexes to undertake lifelong learning activities and further professional and personal development, not necessarily directly related to the worker’s job.

However, for the purposes of the Convention and States’ obligations in this rather vague area, the balance between work and family life is central to the principle and objectives of promoting equal opportunity. Issues related to the improvement of career opportunities, lifelong learning and other personal and professional development activities are considered to be secondary to the objective of promoting the more equal sharing between men and women of responsibilities in the family and household as well as in the workplace.