'Gender' Wars at the United Nations

31 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2013

Date Written: March 12, 2013


The purpose of this paper is to explore the controversy surrounding the meaning of the term “gender” within the United Nations system, with a view toward developing a context for those scholars who may be unfamiliar with how human rights are discussed and debated on the international level. The gender debate is related to ongoing discussions about, on the one hand, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” and on the other hand, “sexuality education.” This paper argues that, notwithstanding lobbying efforts to promote a radical understanding of “gender,” a historical review of United Nations initiatives for women reveals that the term “gender” is commonly used as a synonym for women and/or male and female. The majority of State parties, in negotiated documents, have consistently rejected the radical feminist concept of “gender” as a social construct “based on world views which assert that sexual identity can be adapted indefinitely to suit new and different purposes.” To flesh out this thesis, this paper will be divided into two Parts. Part I will give a brief historical overview of initiatives for women in the U.N. system and analyze the various attempts to integrate the term “gender” into different U.N. documents. Part II will consider four possible understandings of the concept of gender within the U.N. system: (1) gender as a social construct; (2) gender as a cultural aspect of femininity and masculinity, but based on the biological sexes, male and female; (3) gender as synonymous with women and sex, or women and children; and (4) gender meaning the two sexes, male and female, within the context of society. This last definition constitutes the only definition in international law that binds State Parties that have signed and ratified the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Keywords: gender, gender wars, International Criminal Court, United Nations

Suggested Citation

Adolphe, Jane, 'Gender' Wars at the United Nations (March 12, 2013). Ave Maria Law Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2232495

Jane Adolphe (Contact Author)

Ave Maria School of Law ( email )

1025 Commons Circle
Naples, FL 34119
United States

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