|WIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 07, No. 4 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1995, 16 p.)|
The Beijing Women's Conference highlighted the way terminology that is clear and well defined in one venue can be rendered meaningless in another. The words gender and sex have been used distinctly in academic discussions of women's issues, feminist theory and the study of women's history for more than two decades. Sex refers to biology, whether a member of a species is male or female, or a bit of both as in the case of some fish. Gender signifies socially constructed roles based on biology. Sex role is another way to describe gender. Note the necessary addition of the word "role" to distinguish the biological reference from the social one. Sex roles or gender vary from culture to culture. Men are weavers in some African societies. In Europe, women have done the weaving. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is charged with examining the social, political and economic conditions under which women live. Or put another way, the CSW examines the conditions of gender under which the female sex lives.
During the third preparatory meeting of the Fourth World Conference on Women some governments attempted to confuse these well defined terms by calling for debates on the meanings of sex and gender. The apparent objective for such a discussion was to interfere with the negotiation of substantive issues, though the claim was made that sex and gender had become devoid of meaning because the terms were used interchangeably. Anyone who used the word sex to mean gender or vice versa had probably never learned the long standing sociological concept of social role. Or, perhaps since the focus of the conference was women, some government delegations made the prejudicial association of women to sex - as in sex object and sexual intercourse. Some delegates just didn't or wouldn't "get it." By the time the Beijing Conference convened, gender was correctly used and sex once again meant the biological distinctions of male and female.
"It is an arrogant assumption to say that human beings are lords and masters of the lower creatures. On the contrary, being endowed with greater things in life, they are the trustees of the lower animal kingdom."