NGO CSW Geneva Taskforce on "Terminology Affecting Women and Girls"



The women’s movement over the decades has redefined terms to express the lived reality of half the world’s population in all its diversity. Equality has not been achieved and to a large extent this is due to the limitations of existing systems that seek to deny opportunity based on biology. Consequently biological sex and gender terminology has been developed to express the notion that women and girls can enjoy all there is to enjoy about being female, without this being a hindrance to opportunity and experience. The misuse of these terminologies, through misinterpretation, can also happen when the norm is translated into action and practice from the “international” to “local”.

The NGOCSW Geneva Committee is dedicated to fair and equitable access to human rights for all, focusing in particular on women and girls. Only when women and girls achieve their full potential can humanity realize peace and prosperity for all. The remit of the committee is to work for the full emancipation and equality of women and girls and this project is part of that endeavour. As the gender terminology has gained in popularity and its meaning and object have been expanded, which is a good thing in itself, we ask ourselves: are its present use and meaning still serving the purpose of protecting and promoting equal access to human rights of the female sex?

Bearing in mind the following:
In recent times, the sex and gender terminology used to highlight the challenges and opportunities of women and girls, as compared to those of men and boys, has come to be used in ways divergent from their original intent.
Over time terminology can change from the original meaning through usage and interpretation.
Culture related to language influences translation and usage.
The bias of organisations influences the way terminology is used in both internal and external communication.
This terminology has been translated with nuances that undermine the original meaning due to the syntax and vocabulary of a given language.
 Interpretation must ensure that at the time of translation the correct meaning is used.

The Project

  • To identify terms that need clarification
  • To redefine these terms in English, where possible using existing UN language.
  • To provide the definitions in all six UN languages, and where possible other languages too.
  • Is ongoing and will be open to potential definitions from diverse sources, primarily from those using UN language.
  • Whilst recognizing the challenges of the UN process in deciding on language, the project developers take the view that it is necessary to use existing agreed UN language.
  • It is noted that there are some groups within the women’s movement wishing to use different language in a response to changing circumstances. If this is left unchecked, the new language will become de facto definitions, without the checks and balances of the UN system.
  • The project developers are determined to provide concrete definitions, correctly translated so they can be effectively used by all stakeholders including States


  • The document will serve
  • To produce a glossary for policy writers, UN translators and interpreters.
  • To defend the best interests of women and girls, promoting policy making and implementation strategies.
  • To provide sample sentences that will give context for the definitions.

The document is a work in progress and will be amended as necessary.


NGO CSW Geneva CSW65 Parallel Event: Women and Girl’s Human Rights: United Nations Language and Terminology

This parallel event was held on 24 March 2021 as part of the NGO CSW65 Virtual Civil Society Forum.