The Gender Equality Glossary

Agender: ‘A person with no (or very little) connection to the traditional system of gender, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman, and/or someone who sees themselves as existing without gender. Sometimes called gender neutrois, gender neutral, or genderless.’  reference

Bechdel Test (sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule) aims to challenge gender stereotyping / inequality in films. It has the following three criteria:

  1. it has to have at least two women in it, who
  2. who talk to each other, about
  3. something besides a man.

The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added. It can be applied to any work of fiction.

Biological Sex: a medical term used to refer to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female or male or intersex. Often referred to as simply “sex,” “physical sex,” “anatomical sex,” or specifically as “sex assigned [or designated] at birth.” These sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, but these characteristics tend to differentiate humans as females or males.

Biphobia: ‘a range of negative attitudes (e.g., fear, anger, intolerance, invisibility, resentment, erasure, or discomfort) that one may have or express towards bisexual individuals.’ reference


1. a person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women.

2. a person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to people of their gender and another gender. This attraction does not have to be equally split or indicate a level of interest that is the same across the genders or sexes an individual may be attracted to. reference

Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.

Domestic violence: ‘All acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit, irrespective of biological or legal family ties, or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence as the victim.’ (reference). In the UK, violence within intimate relationships of young people aged 16-18 is also counted as domestic violence.

Equal Opportunities: ‘This concept indicates the absence of barriers to economic, political and social participation on grounds of sex and gender. 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.’ reference

Female: ‘Refers to biologically based references to the sex of a woman. The word ‘female’ derives from the Latin femella, which is a diminutive of femina or woman. It is often mistakenly assumed to have been derived from ‘male’, a word that comes through Old French from the Latin masculus, which is a diminutive of mas (male, masculine).’ reference

Femininities: ‘The different notions of what it means to be a woman, including patterns of conduct linked to a woman’s assumed place in a given set of gender roles and relations. It involves questioning the values and norms that traditionally apply to women’s behaviour in a given society, identifying and addressing issues connected to women’s and girls’ subordination as well as related discriminatory gender stereotypes that sustain gender inequality.’ reference

Feminism: The belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. Although largely originating in the West, feminism is manifested worldwide and is represented by various institutions committed to activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

Gay: A man who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards other men. Also a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality – some women define themselves as gay rather than lesbian.

Gender: Refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviours that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behaviour that is compatible with cultural expectations is referred to as gender-normative; behaviours that are viewed as incompatible with these expectations constitute gender non-conformity.

Gender-based violence: ‘Violence that is directed against a person because of that person’s gender, gender identity or gender expression, or which affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately. It may result in physical, sexual, emotional or psychological harm to the victim, or cause her or him economic loss.’ reference

‘Examples include sexual violence, including sexual exploitation/abuse and forced prostitution; domestic violence; trafficking; forced/early marriage; harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation; honour killings; and widow inheritance.’  reference

Gender discrimination: ‘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 law (de jure) or from practice (de facto). The CEDAW Convention recognises and addresses both forms of discrimination, whether contained in laws, policies, procedures or practice.’ reference

Gender diversity: A term that recognises that many peoples’ preferences and self-expression fall outside commonly understood gender norms.

Gender dysphoria: Used to describe when a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. This is also the clinical diagnosis for someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Gender expression: The external display of one’s gender, through a combination of dress, demeanour, social behaviour, and other factors, generally measured on scales of masculinity and femininity. Also referred to as “gender presentation”.

Gender fluid: A gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more man some days, and more woman on other days.

Gender identity: The internal perception of someone’s gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don’t align with what they understand their options for gender to be. Common identity labels include girl, boy, man, woman, genderqueer, trans, and more.

Gender-neutral: ‘Something that is not associated with either women or men. It may refer to various aspects such as concepts or style of language.’ reference

Gender non-binary: An umbrella term for a person who does not identify as only male or only female, or who may identify as both.

Gender norms: ‘The standards and expectations to which women and men generally conform, within a range that defines a particular society, culture and community at that point in time. Gender norms are ideas about how women and men should be and act. Internalised early in life, gender norms can establish a life cycle of gender socialisation and stereotyping.’ reference

Genderqueer: A gender identity label often used by people who do not identify with the binary of man/woman; or as an umbrella term for many gender non-conforming or non-binary identities (e.g. agender, bigender, genderfluid).

Gender reassignment: ‘Gender reassignment, or gender-confirming treatment, is a set of medical measures that can, but do not have to, include psychological, endocrinological and surgical treatments aimed at aligning a person’s physical appearance with their gender identity.

It might include psychological consultation, cross-hormonal treatment, sex or gender reassignment surgery (GRS) (such as facial surgery, chest/breast surgery, different kinds of genital surgery, or a hysterectomy), sterilisation (leading to infertility), hair
removal and voice training. Not every transgender person wishes for, or is able to undergo, all or any of these measures.’ reference

Gender roles: The role or behaviour learned by a person as appropriate to their gender, determined by the prevailing cultural norms.

Gender-sensitive: ‘Gender sensitivity refers to the aim of understanding and taking account of the societal and cultural factors involved in gender-based exclusion and discrimination in the most diverse spheres of public and private life. It focuses mainly
on instances of structural disadvantage in the positions and roles of women.’ reference

Gender sensitive language: Gender-sensitive language is the realisation of gender equality in written and spoken language. Gender equality in language is attained when women and men and those who do not conform to the binary gender system are made visible and addressed in language as persons of equal value, dignity, integrity and respect.

Gender stereotype: ‘Gender stereotyping is the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics or roles on the sole basis of her or his membership of the social group of women or men.’ reference

Hegemonic masculinity: ‘dominant and dominating forms of masculinity which claim the highest status and exercise the greatest influence and authority’ (Kenway J. & Fitzclarence L. (1997) ‘Masculinity, Violence and Schooling.’ In M. Arnot and M. Mac an Ghaill (eds) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Gender and Education (2006). London: Routledge. p.207)

Hegemonic masculinity is an ideal of what it means to be a ‘real man’ that few if any actual men can live up to. Nevertheless, whether a man tries to live up to this, or even does not try, he will still benefit from a ‘patriarchal dividend…   the advantage
men in general gain from the overall subordination of women’ (Connell, R.W. (1995)

Masculinities. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. p.79).

Hegemonic masculinity in Western society ‘mobilises around physical strength, adventurousness, emotional neutrality, certainty, control, assertiveness, self-reliance, individuality, competitiveness, instrumental skills, public knowledge, discipline, reason, objectivity, and rationality’ and distances itself from ‘physical weakness, expressive skills, private knowledge, creativity, emotional dependency, subjectivity, irrationality, cooperation and empathetic compassionate, nurturant and certain affiliative behaviours’ (Kenway and Fitzclarence, 1997, p.208).

Heteronormativity: The assumption, in individuals or in institutions, that everyone is heterosexual, and that heterosexuality is superior to all other sexualities. Leads to invisibility and stigmatizing of other sexualities.  Often included in this concept is a level of gender normativity and gender roles, the assumption that individuals should identify as men and women, and be masculine men and feminine women, and finally that men and women are a complimentary pair.

Heterosexual: ‘A person who is attracted to someone of a sex other than one’s own.’ reference

Homophobia: ‘Homophobia is the irrational fear of, and aversion to, homosexuality and to lesbian, gay and bisexual people based on prejudice.’ reference

Homosexual: ‘This might be considered a more medical term used to describe someone who has an emotional romantic and/or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender. The term ‘gay’ is now more generally used.’ (Stonewall)

Hypermasculinity: ‘An exaggerated image of hegemonic masculinity, mainly in the media. It overemphasises the ideals, such as physical strength, aggression and sexuality set out for men, thereby reinforcing them.’ reference

Intersectionality: ‘the ways in which sex and gender intersect with other personal characteristics/identities, and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of discrimination. It starts from the premise that people live multiple, layered identities derived from social relations, history and the operation of structures of power.’ reference

Intersex: ‘An umbrella term to denote a number of different variations in a person’s bodily characteristics that do not match strict medical definitions of female or male.

These characteristics may be chromosomal, hormonal and/or anatomical, and may be present to differing degrees. Many variants of sex characteristics are immediately detected at birth, or even before. Sometimes these variants become evident only at later stages in life, often during puberty. reference

Lesbian: A woman who has an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards other women.

LGBT: The acronym for lesbian, gay, bi and trans.

LGBT+ : As above, the “plus” is inclusive of other groups, such as asexual, intersex, queer, questioning, etc.

Male: The term ‘male’ refers to biologically based references to the sex of a man.

Man: A male human being; a person assigned a male sex at birth, or a person who defines himself as a man.

Masculinities: ‘The different notions of what it means to be a man, including patterns of conduct linked to men’s place in a given set of gender roles and relations. It involves questioning the masculine values and norms that society places on men’s
behaviour, identifying and addressing issues confronting men and boys in the world of work, and promoting the positive roles that men and boys can play in attaining gender equality.’ reference

Non-binary: any gender that is not exclusively male or female.

Pansexual: A person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities and expressions.

Patriarchy: The social system of masculine domination over women.

Patriarchal dividend: “[T]he advantage to men as a group from maintaining an unequal gender order. Money income is not the only kind of benefit. Others are authority, respect, service, safety, housing, access to institutional power, emotional support, and control over one’s own life. The patriarchal dividend, of course, is reduced as overall gender equality grows” (Connell 2009:142). reference

Queer: ‘Historically, this was a derogatory slang term used to identify LGBTQ+ people. Since the 1980s, the term has been embraced and reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community as a symbol of pride, representing all individuals who fall outside of the gender and sexuality ‘norms’’ reference

Questioning: a person who is still exploring their sexuality or gender identity.

Sexism / sexist: ‘Actions or attitudes that discriminate against people based solely on their gender. Sexism is linked to power in that those with power are typically treated with favour and those without power are typically discriminated against. Sexism is also related to stereotypes since discriminatory actions or attitudes are frequently based on false beliefs or generalisations about gender, and on considering gender as relevant where it is not.’ Hence ‘sexist language’, ‘sexist behaviour’ etc. reference

Sexual harassment: ‘Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based violence encompassing acts of unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature, which have a purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Acts of sexual harassment are, typically, carried out in the context of abuse of power, promise of reward or threat of reprisal.’ reference

Sexuality / sexual orientation: –‘the type of sexual, romantic, emotional/spiritual attraction one has the capacity to feel for some others, generally labelled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to.
Often confused with sexual preference. reference

Stereotype threat: refers to being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group. Stereotype threat is triggered by subtle clues in the environment such as role models, the presence of one’s own gender in a particular field such as engineering or pictures and books in a classroom and has been shown to have an effect, not only, on self belief but on actual ability to do something. For example, in maths tests, women who have had to record their sex at the beginning of a test have done less well in the test than men whereas, where sex has not been recorded, they have performed equally well. Just the ticking of a box can trigger stereotype threat and a whole set of negative beliefs about women and mathematical ability.

Toxic masculinity: describes ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to men. It refers to the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.


  1. An umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms.  Trans with an * is often used to indicate that you are referring to the larger group nature of the term.
  2. A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex.

Transphobia: An irrational fear of gender non-conformity or gender transgression.

Trans*: ‘An umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms.  Trans with an asterisk is often used in written forms (not spoken) to indicate that you are referring to the larger group nature of the term, and specifically including non-binary identities, as well as transgender men (transmen) and transgender women (trans women).’ reference

Transgender man: Someone who is assigned female at birth but identifies and lives as a man. This may be shortened to trans man, or FTM, an abbreviation for female- to-male.

Transgender woman: Someone who is assigned male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman. This may be shortened to trans woman, or MTF, an abbreviation for male-to-female.

Transitioning: The steps a trans person may take to live in the gender with which they identify. Each person’s transition will involve different things. For some this involves medical intervention, such as hormone therapy and surgeries, but not all trans people want or are able to have this. Transitioning also might involve things such as telling friends and family, dressing differently and changing official documents.

Transsexual: This was used in the past as a more medical term (similarly to homosexual) to refer to someone who transitioned to live in the ‘opposite’ gender to the one assigned at birth. This term is still used by some although many people prefer the term trans or transgender.

Two-spirit: ‘An umbrella term traditionally used by Native American people to recognise individuals who possess qualities or fulfil roles of both genders.’ reference

Unconscious bias: Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

‘Implicit or unconscious bias happens’ by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We may not even be aware of these views and opinions, or be aware of their full impact and implications.’ reference

Woman: A female human being; a person assigned a female sex at birth, or a person who defines herself as a woman.

Ze / zir / “zee”, “zerr” or “zeer”/: ‘Alternate pronouns that are gender-neutral and preferred by some trans* people. They replace “he” and “she” and “his” and “hers” respectively. Alternatively some people who are not comfortable/do not embrace he/she use the plural pronoun “they/their” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.’ reference