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Getting to grips with IFAD’s new Glossary on gender issues

Posted by Francesca Aloisio Thursday, April 20, 2017

By Claire Ferry

Every month IFAD’s Gender Desk offers home-made cakes and coffee and the chance to learn about new gender-related initiatives and network with colleagues. At this month’s Gender Breakfast, Belen Couto and a team from IFAD’s Language Services presented the new Glossary on gender issues.

The Glossary contains 130 terms and aims to standardize the use of language related to gender issues in official IFAD documents and publications. Meticulous referenced translation into the four official IFAD languages—Arabic, English, French and Spanish—is a key resource for translators, editors, writers and interpreters. The Glossary is a unique product that will benefit all UN Rome-based agencies and other organizations, and it has been posted on the FAO Term Portal database .

The glossary does more than just standardize language, though. A flip through its pages offers education on key issues facing women and men in the drive towards gender equality.

For instance, the term "femicide" was new to me before it caught my attention in the glossary. The entry includes a definition as expected, but it also cites a source—specifically, the new law in Brazil offering greater protection in the face of the deliberate killing of women. The document offers guidelines for usage, highlights topics of importance and supplies a source for more information.

Importantly, the glossary also clarifies terms that we often take for granted or misuse.

"Gender equality" and "gender equity" are only a few letters different, but they are not interchangeable. The former refers to equal opportunities among men and women, while the latter addresses measures taken to ensure that equality. As the glossary puts it, "Equity can be understood as the means, where equality is the end." Before we slip one of these terms into our next email or publication, understanding its full meaning is key to communicating effectively.

Even the concept of marriage is more complex than first appears. I've often heard the term "arranged marriage," but I unknowingly and wrongly equated it with "forced marriage." The Glossary helped clarify the difference, and it also brought other marital gender issues to my attention—namely, child and early marriage. I found that, not only had I been using some terms incorrectly, but I was also unaware of some important related issues.

A significant amount of work went into providing complete definitions for each term, and their translation into other languages was just as involved. The Language Services team explained the nuances of translating the terms, including the difficulty of maintaining meaning across languages. They also explained the hierarchy of sources used, where international conventions are regarded as top sources.

With positive responses from IFAD staff and other UN organizations, Language Services is considering creating glossaries on other topics. The creators of the Gender Glossary describe it as a "living document," which will be expanded and revised where necessary. Colleagues wishing to add terms to the Glossary were invited to write to Language Services with their proposals.

We sometimes pay scant attention to the words we use in everyday language, but perhaps we should be more attentive. As one of the participants at the breakfast said, “Language can be a wall and language can be a window." As IFAD continues its work to empower women, using the right words is an important tool.

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