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Gender Equality

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The glossary compiles the most commonly used terms related to gender equality.


Harassment is unwelcome conduct whose purpose is to violate the dignity of a person and create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Harassment may be sexual and/or be based on a particular characteristic, such as gender, nationality, skin colour, religion or beliefs, age, disability or sexual identity. In Estonia, sexual and gender-based harassment are considered direct discrimination and are prohibited by law.

Sexual harassment is unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct or an action of a sexual nature whose purpose or effect is to violate a person’s dignity.

This includes sexual innuendo, touching, displaying pornographic or other sexual material in a working or learning environment, telling dirty anecdotes, etc.

Gender-based harassment occurs where unwanted conduct or activity related to the gender of a person takes place with the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating a disturbing, intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Gender-based harassment includes situations where a person is harassed based on their gender, but the harassing conduct is not sexual or does not occur in a sexual context. For example, when a superior at work ridicules employees of a certain gender in front of the team, questioning whether they can handle their duties, or if a teacher does this at school to students of a certain gender, it is gender-based harassment.


Cis (or cisgender) refers to a person whose sex, gender identity and gender expression correspond to their sex assigned at birth. A person who identifies as a man, whose personal identification code assigned at birth indicates that they are male and whose gender expression corresponds to that expected of a man, is cis. Cis is Latin for ‘on this side of’. Cisgender is the antonym of transgender.


In Estonian law, gender discrimination is divided into direct and indirect discrimination and is prohibited by law. Discrimination may also occur on several grounds simultaneously.

Direct gender discrimination occurs where one person is treated less favourably on grounds of gender than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation.

In order to determine whether a person has been treated unequally, it is necessary to compare two people (the person compared may also be hypothetical). In Estonian law, direct gender discrimination also means less favourable treatment of a person due to pregnancy and childbirth, parenting, performance of family obligations or other circumstances related to gender, as well as gender-based and sexual harassment and less favourable treatment of a person due to rejection of or submission to harassment.

Indirect gender discrimination occurs where an apparently neutral provision, criterion, practice or activity would put persons of one gender at a particular disadvantage compared with persons of another.

Examples can be found in the field of employment, such as requirements for minimum or maximum height of a person, which put men and women in an unequal position. In situations like these, compliance with equal treatment standards is evaluated based on factual consequences. The definition of indirect discrimination implies that men and women may/should be compared as groups. If group-based comparison reveals that a significantly higher proportion of one group or another is disadvantaged, it may be indirect gender discrimination, unless the results can be explained by facts not related to gender.

Multiple discrimination is the discrimination of a person on multiple grounds simultaneously due to their gender, skin colour, nationality, religion, beliefs, disability, age, sexual identity, gender identity or other characteristics. Discrimination may occur against people who have these characteristics or are believed to have them.

Special measures

Temporary special measures are measures promoting gender equality that favour an underrepresented gender or reduce gender inequality.

There are a wide range of special measures, such as measures to create more vocational education or employment opportunities for men, so they can work in sectors where men have traditionally not worked or where they are underrepresented. Special measures also include ensuring women’s access to higher levels of responsibility by motivating employers to employ and promote women. There are also promotion measures and incentives for members of an underrepresented gender to encourage them to apply for training or jobs. It is also possible to establish quotas to include men or women in decision-making positions from which they were previously excluded and where they are still underrepresented.


Feminism is a political movement that began in the 19th century, seeking equal rights and opportunities for men and women. The political movement gave rise to feminist theory, which provides a theoretical framework used to analyse gender inequality in various academic disciplines, such as social and economic sciences, anthropology, literature, art and philosophy. There are multiple forms of feminism: liberal feminism, radical feminism, ecofeminism, queer feminism, etc.

Feminism is generally divided into three waves. The first wave took place in the late 19th century and the early 20th century and focused primarily on women’s legal rights, especially the right to vote and be elected to political positions (suffragettes). The movement took place in many countries, with the fight for voting rights becoming especially intense in Great Britain. Second-wave feminism began in the 1960s in the US, later making its way to Europe and Asia, and lasted until around the 1980s. The central themes of the second wave were sexuality, family, reproductive rights, the female body, etc. People also started to fight against violence against women, including against laws that permitted marital rape, and established shelters and sexual violence crisis centres. Third-wave feminism began in the 1990s, its keywords being intersectionality, transfeminism, postmodern feminism, animal rights, etc. Both feminist activism and academic feminism are present in Estonia.


Heteronormativity presumes that people are clearly divided into men and women and are heterosexual. Other gender and sexual identities are not recognised or considered normal.


Homophobia is hatred and/or fear of homosexual people (or more broadly of members of the LGBT+ community). Homophobia may lead to violence or other forms of hostility against LGBT+ people. Although the term formally refers to hostility against sexual minorities, it actually often includes gender minorities as well.


Intersectionality is a feminist sociological theory used to analyse the concurrence of various categories of inequality and power relations. According to the intersectional approach, common forms of oppression, such as sexism, racism and homophobia, function in an intertwined, not an isolated, manner. The term intersectionality refers to an intersection where these categories, identities, systems of oppression, etc intersect in specific contexts.

Glass cliff

The glass cliff is a phenomenon where women and minorities are more likely to achieve a leadership position in failing companies rather than successful ones, which makes their position risky and difficult. The term was coined based on the term ‘glass ceiling’.

Glass ceiling

The glass ceiling refers to artificial obstacles and invisible barriers that limit women’s access to high-level decision-making processes and organisational leadership in either the public or private sector in any given field. The word ‘glass’ is used because these barriers are invisible and help maintain the status quo.

Glass escalator

The glass escalator refers to the way men are rapidly promoted to higher positions when they enter a predominantly female-dominated field, such as healthcare or education.

Sticky floor

The sticky floor is a metaphor referring to a discriminatory pattern in employment relations that mainly keeps women in the lower ranks of the position, with low mobility and invisible barriers.

Leaky pipeline

The leaky pipeline is a metaphor referring to the disappearance of women from STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Even after finishing their professional studies, women move on to work in other fields. Reasons for this include, among other things, women’s greater desire and need to balance private and professional life, but also discriminatory practices in academia.


LGBT+ is an abbreviation referring to sexual and gender minorities: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The plus sign indicates that the list includes other categories, such as Q (queer) and I (intersex).

Gender analysis

Gender analysis is a method of collecting and analysing information on the occurrence and causes of gender inequality. This includes analysing differences in men’s and women’s social status, needs, participation rates, resource access, influence and so on by using sex-disaggregated statistics and studies.

Gender inequality

Gender inequality means the different status of men and women in any given field in terms of their rate of participation, access to resources (money, time, status, position, material benefits, relationships, influence, etc), exercise of rights, power and influence, remuneration for work and other benefits. Gender inequality refers to the unequal distribution of social obligations and responsibilities, rights and opportunities of men and women. Based on current norms, values and accepted behavioural patterns, we can therefore talk about a gender imbalance in society, pointing out the favouring of the male gender and the treatment of men as the social norm.

Gender budgeting

Gender budgeting means the application of gender mainstreaming in the budgetary process. Gender budgeting, ie budgeting based on the needs and interests of men and women, means taking account of gender equality objectives in the budgetary process (of both state and local government authorities).

This means gender-based assessment of budgets (ie analysing the impact on men and women separately), incorporating a gender perspective (ie taking into account the different roles, interests, needs, opportunities, obligations, rights, etc of men and women) at all levels of the budgetary process, and restructuring revenues and expenditures in order to promote gender equality.

Gender segregation

Gender segregation refers to differences in the representation of men and women in the labour market, public and political life, unpaid domestic and care work, and the educational choices of young men and women. Gender segregation in employment and education means the division of work, activities and educational choices into men’s and women’s work and fields. In employment, there is horizontal and vertical segregation.

Horizontal gender segregation is a situation where certain sectors or occupations are dominated by women, whereas others are dominated by men. For example, horizontal segregation in the labour market is characterised by the fact that construction is predominantly male-dominated, whereas healthcare and welfare are primarily dominated by women.

Vertical gender segregation (also known as occupational segregation) means that men and women are concentrated in different positions within the same organisation and/or field. This means that men move higher up in their career than women. For example, in 2020, women made up 71% of civil service officials and employees, but only 26% of senior ministry managers.

Read also: occupational segregation.

Gender equality

Gender equality is the state of society where men and women have equal rights, obligations, opportunities and responsibilities in all areas of society. The opposite of gender equality is gender inequality, not gender difference.

Gender impact assessment

Gender impact assessment is a process of gathering evidence on the advantages and disadvantages of policy proposals by assessing their potential effect on the situation of men and women in society (changes in men’s and women’s rights, obligations, opportunities, responsibilities, resource allocation, participation, values related to gender roles and norms).

For example, the implementation of a seemingly neutral measure in a field where men and women are not in the same position and do not operate under the same conditions, would cause unintended social effects. In order to prevent negative impacts, it is important to determine how the planned decision will affect the daily lives of men and women and gender relations. The purpose of assessing gender impact is to ensure that the adoption of new decisions does not exacerbate existing inequalities but contributes to the achievement of equality between men and women as well as to the quality of public services.

Gender mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is the integration of gender equality into all policies and measures. The gender mainstreaming strategy is used for policies with a different primary objective (eg environmental protection), but where the (different) situation, interests, opportunities and needs of men and women must be taken into account.

Sex-disaggregated statistics

Sex-disaggregated statistics means the tabulation of data separately for men and women, which allows for the comparison and analysis of data describing the situation of men and women.

Gender roles

Gender roles are learned behaviours in a certain society, community or another group that determine which activities, jobs and obligations are perceived as inherent and appropriate for men and women. Gender roles change with economic or political circumstances, as well as in relation to the social development of society.

Gender stereotypes

Gender stereotypes are simplified preconceived ideas of a person or a group of people that are prevalent in a particular culture and time period and are based solely on gender.

Gender stereotypes include character, behaviour, (physical) characteristics, professions and which interests and abilities are deemed appropriate for men and women. According to this perception, there is a correct way to be masculine or feminine, and other gender expressions and identities are not recognised. Gender stereotypes act as barriers, as they limit people’s choices and ways of existing – there are gender-appropriate options and other options, which are not really considered and are deemed inappropriate. A stereotype may have little connection with reality, but it is used to draw conclusions about a group or person. Gender stereotyping may lead to gender discrimination.

Gender blindness

Gender blindness (also gender blind) is a term used in particular for such laws and policies that view people as homogenous and ignore the specific social, cultural, economic and political contexts in which men and women live. This results in policies that fail to recognise the roles and obligations that the majority of people of a particular gender group comply with in society in a certain period, and do not meet their needs. Therefore, they perpetuate inequality or worse, exacerbate it.

Gender studies

Gender studies is an interdisciplinary and academic field of research that focuses on gender identity, gender representation and, increasingly, sexuality. It includes women’s studies, critical studies on men and masculinities and LGBT studies. Its areas of research address gender and sexuality in literature, languages, history, political science, sociology, anthropology, media studies, law, medicine, economic theory, etc. The focus is increasingly on how gender relates to social class, skin colour, ethnic identity and other aspects of human identity.

Sex and gender

Sex and gender can be approached from different perspectives, some of which are personal and some social or both.

Biological sex is assigned based on a person’s biological and physiological characteristics.

Sex or legal gender is a legal category displayed in the population register, on identity documents and, in Estonia, in the personal identification code. There are two categories in Estonia – men and women. There are countries, eg Germany, that have more legal genders.

Gender identity refers to a person’s own perceived gender. It may correspond to the sex assigned at birth, but does not have to. A person may define themselves as a man, a woman or think outside gender categories. People whose gender identity differs from that assigned at birth may use terms like transgender, queer and non-binary.

Gender expression refers to how a person presents their gender in terms of clothing, body language, hairstyle, social behaviour, voice, make up, etc.

Social gender refers to the characteristics and gender roles attributed to men and women that are socially constructed (society dictates how men and women should be) and determine the differences between men’s and women’s behaviour, thinking and opportunities, and their social relations.

Unpaid work

Unpaid work or unpaid labour is work that produces goods and services but which does not result in remuneration, such as housework and caring for dependants. Unpaid work is not usually included in economic statistics. Time-use surveys show large differences between the paid and unpaid work of men and women of working age. Compared to men, women do more unpaid work and men do more paid work.

Equal treatment

Equal treatment is the opposite of (gender) discrimination and means that there is no discrimination. The prohibition of gender discrimination does not imply that men and women are treated equally when conditions affecting the situation are not the same. It is not considered discriminatory to support a person or a group through special measures if they are used to compensate for their previous disadvantages (eg less stringent entrance exam requirements for boys in the first grade or women in the military). Overall, those equal must be treated equally and those unequal unequally.

Equal opportunities

Equal opportunities in terms of gender equality means the absence of obstacles to participation in economic, political and social life that are based on gender, gender roles, stereotypical attitudes and prejudices.


More information

EIGE Glossary. The EIGE glossary contains terms and their definitions in all EU languages, including Estonian.

ENUT overview of terminology

Council of Europe: Gender Equality Glossary (in English)

Glossary of Feministeerium. The glossary of Feministeerium includes modern vocabulary, including slang.

Competence Centre: definitions

Gender mainstreaming – definitions and measurement