Gender stereotyping

A gender stereotype is a generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by, women and men. A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and/or make choices about their lives.

Whether overtly hostile (such as “women are irrational”) or seemingly benign (“women are nurturing”), harmful stereotypes perpetuate inequalities. For example, the traditional view of women as care givers means that child care responsibilities often fall exclusively on women.

Further, gender stereotypes compounded and intersecting with other stereotypes have a disproportionate negative impact on certain groups of women, such as women from minority or indigenous groups, women with disabilities, women from lower caste groups or with lower economic status, migrant women, etc. 

Gender stereotyping refers to the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics, or roles by reason only of her or his membership in the social group of women or men. Gender stereotyping is wrongful when it results in a violation or violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Examples include:

  • Not criminalizing marital rape, perceiving that women are the sexual property of men; and
  • Failing to investigate, prosecute and sentence sexual violence against women, believing that victims of sexual violence agreed to sexual acts, as they were not dressing and behaving “modestly”.

Wrongful gender stereotyping is a frequent cause of discrimination against women. It is a contributing factor in violations of a vast array of rights such as the right to health, adequate standard of living, education, marriage and family relations, work, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, political participation and representation, effective remedy, and freedom from gender-based violence.

Prohibition of gender stereotypes and gender stereotyping

Two international human rights treaties contain express obligations concerning harmful stereotypes and wrongful stereotyping.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Article 5:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures… to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women;

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Article 8(1)(b):

States Parties undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures to combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life.

The rights to non-discrimination and equality provided under other international human rights treaties, such as the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, have also been interpreted to include discrimination and inequality that are rooted in stereotypes, including gender stereotypes.

Related publications, studies, reports and papers

Gender stereotyping and the judiciary: A workshop guide (2020)
PDF: English
Related training materials: English

Guide for the Judiciary on gender stereotypes and international standards on women's rights, Uruguay (2020)
PDF: Español

Guide for the Prosecutor's Office on gender stereotypes and international standards on women's rights, Uruguay (2020)
PDF: Español

Role of the Judiciary in addressing stereotypes in sexual and reproductive health and rights cases – a review of case law (2017)
PDF: English | Español

One pager: Gender stereotypes and Stereotyping and women’s rights (2014)
PDF: English 

Eliminating judicial stereotyping: Equal access to justice for women in gender-based violence cases (2014)
Word: English

OHCHR-commissioned report: Gender stereotyping as a human rights violation (2013)
Word: English

External Links*

Council of Europe

Unstereotype Alliance

*Note: UN Human Rights is not responsible for the content of external links.