Clarification of Term 'Gender'



What is gender?
Gender refers to the socially constructed differences between men and women and the unequal power relationships that result. Gender indicates that the differences between men and women are not essential or inevitable products of biological sex differences. For more than two decades, the term “gender” has been used in UN documents in this sense.

What is gender violence?
Gender violence is violence that is targeted at women or men because of their sex and/or their socially constructed gender roles. Gender violence disproportionately affects the members of one sex more than another. The recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have seen many examples of gender violence. Examples include: the forcible recruitment of young boys into the army who are put through violent indoctrination, and then made to perform suicidal missions in order to prove their masculinity; and the killing of pregnant women by the slashing of their wombs and removal of their fetuses.

‘violence against women’ [includes] any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.
--Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 23 February 1994 and Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women,15 September 1995

What is the difference between gender violence and sexual violence?
Sexual violence is violence which includes a sexual element, such as rape, enforced prostitution, sexual slavery, or sexual mutilation. Gender violence is usually manifested in a form of sexual violence, but can also include non-sexual physical or psychological attacks on women, men or children, as in the examples above.

Gender violence is also an element of sexual violence because, in addition to the sexual element, the violence is based on the gender-defined roles of the victims. Women’s bodies, security or livelihood may be targeted because of their role as guardians of cultural traditions and because of their reproductive capacity. Men and boys may be targeted because they are identified as powerful or prominent, or as potential leaders or soldiers. Men may also be raped to humiliate them by forcing them into the position of women and thereby rendering them weak or inferior according to the prevailing stereotypes. In one incident described in the Tadic case, a man was tortured when another prisoner was forced to bit off his testicle. The sexual organs of the man were targeted in order to take away his male identity and make him like a woman.

Why is expertise in gender and sexual violence important?
Expertise in gender and sexual violence is the knowledge of the history, pattern and psychology of these crimes gained through study and/or work experience in this area. This expertise is necessary at all levels of the ICC because of the complex gender issues that are often part of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Lack of such expertise at any stage could prevent the Court from achieving justice. Gender expertise is necessary so investigators can collect evidence of gender and sexual violence, prosecutors can select the right charges for indictments and comprehensively oversee cases, and judges can fully understand the issues and the legal implications. Take the example of the Tadic incident described above: the prosecutors recognized that the biting off of the male victim’s testicle constituted both sexual violence and torture and therefore included this in the indictment. However, despite the fact that the women prisoners at the Omarska camp were viciously raped as a way to torture them, the prosecutors did not understand the torture aspect of the rapes and therefore failed to include torture in the indictment relating to the rape of the women.

In another example, the presence of a judge on the Ad Hoc Tribunal for Rwanda who had such expertise enabled the Court to bring out evidence of rape in the Akayesu case which was completely overlooked by the Office of the Prosecutor. Following this and after the submission of an amicus curiae brief by some human rights NGOs, the indictment was amended to include the first charges of rape in the ICTR. Based on the experience of the Ad Hoc tribunals, expertise in gender and sexual violence will be essential for the effective functioning of the ICC.

What is gender balance?
The Beijing Platform for Action calls for equality in decision-making ad gender balance on international institutions. Gender balance is not quotas. Rather, it refers to a balanced composition of women and men in order to bring equality to the current male-dominated international institutions.

Governments have committed themselves to:

  • “establishing the goal of gender balance in governmental bodies and committees, as well as in public administrative entities, and in the judiciary…” (para. 190(a))
  • “aim at gender balance in the lists of national candidates nominated for election or appointment to United Nations bodies , specialized agencies and other autonomous organizations of the United Nations system, particularly for posts at thesenior level.” (para. 190(j))
  • “integrate a gender perspective in the resolution of armed or other conflicts and foreign occupation and aim for gender balance when nominating or promoting candidates for judicial and other positions in all relevant international bodies, such as the United Nations International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and the International Court of Justice, as well as in other bodies related to the peaceful settlement of disputes” (para. 142(b))
    --Beijing Platform for Action

The UN General Assembly called upon Member States to “commit themselves to gender balance, inter ala, through the creation of special mechanisms in all government-appointed committees, boards and other relevant official bodies as appropriate, as well as in all international bodies, institutions and organizations, notably by presenting and promoting more women candidates.”
--UN General Assembly Resolution 51/96, 12 December 1996

As an institution within the UN system, the ICC should reflect the commitment of the General Assembly and states to achieving equality between women and men.