Glossary of Political Participation Terms

April 19, 2011
(excerpt from Leading to Action: A Political Participation Handbook for Women)

Authoritarianism: A system of government in which leaders are not subject to the will of the governed. Individuals do not have freedom of thought or action, but must submit to the highest governing authority.

Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: “The Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace," was held in Beijing, China, in 1995. Governments of 189 countries and more than 5,000 representatives from 2,100 non-governmental organizations participated in the historical gathering. The principal themes were the advancement and empowerment of women in relation to women’s human rights, women and poverty, women and decision-making, the girl-child, and violence against women. The final document, agreed upon by the participation nations, was entitled the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Declaration called for specific actions by governments and community-based organizations that would advance the rights of women and girls.

Coalition: An alliance between two or more organizations, political parties, individuals, etc., uniting behind a common goal, plan of action, or political campaign.

Consensus: A general agreement among the members of a given group or community, each of which exercises some discretion in decision-making. Achieving consensus requires consideration of each participant's opinion and the final decision being amenable to all, to some degree.

Customary Law: In international law, customary law refers to the Law of Nations or the legal norms that have developed through accepted practices and exchanges between nations over time.

Declaration and Platform for Action: See “Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.”

Democracy: A form of government where the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodic elections.

Democratic Decision-Making: A form of decision-making and/or governance in which participants have equitable influence over decisions that affect them or issues they are resolving.

Dictatorship: Absolute, despotic rule by a leader or leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political forces.

Diplomacy: A system or plan of formal and informal communication that allows states or other focal points of power to conduct their business and negotiate with each other peacefully.

Family Law or Family Code: Covers rights and obligations of the members of the family, and typically regulates and enforces such matters as marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, and adoption. This also has implications on most other social, economic and political rights. In most Muslim-majority countries, Family Law is a formal legislation based on the state’s interpretation and implementation of shari`a (Islamic law) and sunna (Islamic tradition).

Feminism: A belief, doctrine, and social movement to promote political, legal, economic, and social equality between women and men.

Human Rights: Basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. They are not privileges, but are part of what defines humanity, regardless of where a person lives, her beliefs, or her culture. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights codifies universal civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights.

Ideology: A comprehensive system of beliefs and values that explains society, defines the role of government, and guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or group.

International Law: The body of customs, rules, and laws governing the relationships of states with each other.

International human rights law: The systems, laws, and customs of human rights observance between and among nations that protect the rights of individuals and communities. These include local and international treaties, laws, and conventions, and universally accepted practices for protecting human rights. Human rights law has many authorities, including international treaties, conventions, and national constitutions — as well as religious teachings and customs — that protect the equal freedom and dignity of every person regardless of gender, race, creed, nationality, or other distinction.

Patriarchy: A social system in which the father is the head of the family, and men have authority over women and children.

Pluralism: 1. A theory that there is more than one frame of reference or perspective on a given topic. 2. A circumstance in society where members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain their unique status while participating in the advancement of the common community.

Propaganda: Persuasive ideas, facts, or allegations, or the deliberate spreading of those ideas to a specific audience to influence the audience's opinion about a cause or a person.

Quotas for Women: Policies aimed at increasing the proportion of women in political office. Mechanisms requiring that women must constitute a certain number or percentage of the members of a body, whether it is a candidate list, a parliamentary assembly, a committee, or a government.

Rights-based: A rights-based initiative, program, or process is grounded in international human rights standards, and has as a key goal the promotion and protection of human rights.

Theocracy: Government controlled by a religious authority that is guided by a divine power, and which uses religious laws and traditions to regulate and enforce society.

Totalitarianism: Absolute control by the state to remake and enforce all facets of society according to an ideological design.

Tyranny: Oppressive, arbitrary, or unrestrained power exerted by government, sometimes with power concentrated in the hands of very few, or even a single despot.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: In 1948, the member states of the United Nations codified a universal standard of human rights, based on tenets from the world religions and philosophies, for all the nations of the world to uphold. The Declaration’s preamble and 30 articles have provided the framework for hundreds of constitutions and governing laws around the globe.

Violence Against Women: Any acts of gender-based violence that result in physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women and/or girls, including acts of violence by a spouse or other family member, harm to women and girls as a result of violent conflict, and assault and rape by enemy combatants.

S:SSO to Sakai