• Women
  • July 27, 2007
  • 26 minutes read

Terminology’s Cultural Differences

In his description of terminology”s cultural differences, Dr. Muhammad `Imarah believes that terminology could be seen as a container and a tool that conveys the message behind the meaning. This has been the case of many terms throughout history and among different civilizations.Terminology may also be seen through the implications and the messages it conveys.  The sentence “Terminology is indisputable” should be adequately referred to.  This is because the use of the container (terminology) as a tool (message conveyer) is common among civilizations and concepts, as every civilization and culture has its own distinct implications and messages.[1]
Any confusion or deviance in terminology imbalances the overall structure and destroys its value or leads to the loss of truth within.  Selection of precise and accurate terminology deeply affects the content rather than just the form, which leads to serious effects and requires a discussion of meanings and terminology implications.


Terminology”s Cultural Differences:
Terminology of UN Documents Related
to Women and the Social Sphere
By `Amr Abdul Karim Sa`dawi



In his description of terminology”s cultural differences, Dr. Muhammad `Imarah believes that terminology could be seen as a container and a tool that conveys the message behind the meaning. This has been the case of many terms throughout history and among different civilizations.

Terminology may also be seen through the implications and the messages it conveys.  The sentence “Terminology is indisputable” should be adequately referred to.  This is because the use of the container (terminology) as a tool (message conveyer) is common among civilizations and concepts, as every civilization and culture has its own distinct implications and messages.[1]

Any confusion or deviance in terminology imbalances the overall structure and destroys its value or leads to the loss of truth within.  Selection of precise and accurate terminology deeply affects the content rather than just the form, which leads to serious effects and requires a discussion of meanings and terminology implications.

It is notable that our cultural heritage is very intent on the use of precise and accurate wording, particularly when wording is related to certain situations.  Muslims are strictly required to use precise terminology and wording and avoid synonyms, even if words carry the same meaning (O ye of Faith! Say not words of ambiguous import) (Qur”an, Surah Al-Baqarah 2, 104).

The Documents of UN conferences, especially those on women, are full of various terms that form the bases of solutions proposed for the world”s social problems.  These solutions can only be understood with the use of precise and accurate terminology and wording, since the primary problem ensues when terminology and wording are not used accurately. 

The imprecise and inaccurate terminology is imported to societies that are totally different in terms of culture, language, pattern of life and civilization, which constitutes the second problem.   Planting concepts in a different cultural environment does not lead to the same results as in the original cultural environment.  `Ali Sharit, the Iranian thinker, calls it the “geography of words”.  He believes that while certain words may be proper within a certain environment, they could be otherwise when imported and planted into another environment.

The third problem begins when the imported concepts start to constitute standards for social phenomena of the second cultural environment, becoming thereby world concepts and international standards.  The second environment changes into a copy of the original culture, and its success becomes dependent on its similarity to the original cultural environment.

The fourth and essential problem is that this importation and planting of concepts and standards isolates the original concepts and values of the second cultural environment and causes their retirement.  The more this replacement process takes place, the more these concepts are ignored and isolated.

The fifth problem is a real tragedy.  The original concepts are then seen and interpreted within the framework of the imported concepts with the excuse that these imported concepts are world standards that supersede cultures, civilizations and values. 

A clear example is the West”s reference religion of Christianity when discussing the relation between religion and science and the contradictions between them. Many thinkers in the Muslim world, in their attempt to follow the footsteps of the West, do not refer to Islam, the religion of the region, when discussing the same issue. Rather, they resort to the same arguments used in the West about the contradictions between Christianity and modern science.  The question is, should the thinker in the Muslim world who belongs to the West psychologically discuss the culture of his original society or that of the other society whose values, customs and pattern of life style he has adopted?

Therefore, the necessity for accuracy requires both of the following:

1.       The basic concepts of women”s issues and human relations should be freed from all forms of fallacy and misapprehensions.  This is because words are used as a form of expression and have their psychological implications on people.  Language is the essence of cultural interaction rather than a symbolic tool of expression.  The Western concepts of the social sphere and women, in particular, should be rejected in order to free terminology.  The Western concepts are full of Western thinking and philosophical principles that reflect their culture.  Each nation has its own language that reflects values deeply related to its convictions and view of Man, the universe and life, and which, therefore, cannot be separated from its environment.  Terminology and concepts related to the issues of women or the social sphere cannot be taken the same way names of inventions and things are.

2.       Adopting pure Islamic concepts which represent a certain structure or a well-organized way of thinking fails automatically if one of them is adopted separately, for Islamic concepts stem from the idea of the Oneness of God. As a result, they form a complete unit that distinguishes them from other concepts. Islamic concepts express matters in a more universal way and at different levels and perceptions. They also give certain proofs at different levels of analysis. Therefore, the awareness of the importance of the word and its responsibility according to the Qur”an forms a basis for liberating minds.


This process of adopting Islamic concepts primarily aims at the following:

1.       Creating a distinct Muslim identity of an Islamic nature, source, methods and purposes. Terminology carries messages, and is a tool for communicating and expressing our views of the Creator, the universe and life.

2.       Teaching Muslims concepts that are relevant to their true nature, concepts that reflect faith, duties, permitted (halal) and prohibited (haram), and fear of God.[2]

3.       Rejecting the call for globalizing Western concepts and regarding them as human heritage.  According to Dr. Ahmad Sidqi Al-Dajani, the West monopolizes globalization and refers it to the West only.  Any Western standard is considered international, as if the West were the only world there is.[3]


Essential Terminology of UN Conferences in Relation to Women and the Social Sphere

The documents of UN conferences on women and social issues are full of particular terms that can only be understood within the frame of their meaning and their original language (English) and from a Western legal view.

“Gender” is the pivot of most of UN terminology.  UN terms either explain things on the basis of gender or interpret its ambiguity.  “Gender” is confusing, tricky and ambiguous, and to describe it accurately is deceiving.  It first appeared in the document of the 1994 Cairo Conference over 51 times. Article 4, Paragraph 19 of the declaration calls for the elimination of all forms of distinctions based on gender.  However, it did not cause any disputes because it was translated as referring to sex (male/female). 

At the 1995, Beijing Women”s Conference, “gender” appears 233 times in its document.  Some Western Christians opposed the purposes of the Beijing Conference and played a major role in defining gender and revealing its implicated meanings.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, gender identity is Man”s feelings as male or female. Gender identity meets the organic characteristics in most cases.  There are cases, however, when human feelings do not meet organic characteristics, and the gender identity (the personal feeling as a male or a female) does not conform to the organic identity.   Such cases are when the human being desires to change his/her organic characteristic, in spite of its being clear.  In such cases, the human being believes that he/she should belong to the opposite sex.  Gender identity is, therefore, not established at birth, but rather, is subject to psychological and social factors that change and affect it. Another gender identity could possibly develop later and overwhelm the original gender identity.  This is when sexual orientation develops.

The World Health Organization”s definition of gender identity is even worse. WHO defines gender as the term used to describe the characteristics of men and women as socially formed, irrelevant to organic differences.

During the Beijing conference, delegations” discussion of the real meaning of gender identity led to a long dispute that went on for days. A committee was formed in order to define the term.  The West refused to define gender as sex (male/female), and the committee failed to define the word and agreed on not defining it.  This proves the ill will and utter persistence to impose and force abnormal sexual orientation as a social behavior, or else, why does the West object to defining gender as just sex (male/female)? Another committee was formed and failed as well.  The West insisted on forming a definition that includes abnormal sexual orientation, while the other countries objected and refused to accept this definition.  The result was the non-definition of gender.

The 1997 report of the Social Advancement Commission clearly affirms that “gender” is a social concept irrelevant to biological differences.

The documents of the Rome Conference on the Establishment of International Criminal Court, held 14-18 June 1998, attempted to criminate laws that penalize abnormal sexual orientation.  The West included in the documents that all forms of distinction or penalty on the basis of gender constitute a crime against humanity.  The use of the English word “gender” was strange in itself, since both the Arabic and French texts used the word for “sex” instead, because gender does not have a specific or accurate definition.  This motivated the Arab and Muslim delegations, headed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Syria, to replace “gender” with “sex”, and the dispute went on for days, as usual.  One of the Arab delegates said, “If you mean that “gender” is the synonym for “sex”, why should you so insist on using “gender”? If they carry two different meanings, state the difference to us, since it is your language, in order for us to discuss whether it conforms to the Law or not.”  The dispute led the West to admit that gender means abnormal sexual orientation, i.e. penalizing homosexual persons makes the judge a criminal against humanity.

In spite of the severe Arab and Islamic objections, they did not succeed in deleting “gender” from the English text.  However, a middle solution was reached, which is to define gender as male and female within the social frame.  Saudi Arabia refused to accept this, because “within the social frame” means that the differences between males and females are social instead of organic, which is the definition of gender.  What is even worse is that the West succeeded in defining sex as male and female within the social frame.

The 1999 Lahay Conference for Youths calls for the establishment of an agency in every school in order to “abolish the traditional and negative image of gender identity, with the purpose of educating students of their sexual and reproductive rights and creating positive identity for girls/women and boys/men.” The declaration impudently calls upon governments to reconsider their existing laws and legislate new laws that meet the rights of teens and youths to enjoy “sexual health” and reproductive health without any discrimination based on gender.[4]

“Empowerment” is as famous in all UN Conference documents as it is ambiguous.  The temporary agenda of the Women”s Central Commission, in its 44th Session “Follow-up of the Fourth World Conference for Women” and in its discussion of integrating the issues of women in the main activities of UN Organizations, included that in relation to women and poverty, the activities of UN organizations focus on the importance of empowering women in all spheres (economic, political and social). The book Women and Empowerment[5] did not, however, include a specific definition of empowerment.  Yet, in one of the workshops for the Pacific Women on Women, Advancement and Empowerment, Vanessa Griffen stated that empowering women simply means more strength for women, and strength is a high level of power and control.  It also means the potential for women to express themselves and for others to listen to them. 

Empowerment is the ability to define and create from a woman”s perspective, make effective social choices, and influence social decisions in all social spheres and not just those that are socially acceptable for women.  It is the recognition and equal respect for women and the ability to participate in all social spheres and not just indoors.  It is the recognized and valuable participation of women.  This long definition makes empowerment even more ambiguous. It explains nothing and is left to be interpreted according to each situation.

Article 12 the of Beijing Conference Declaration included “empowerment and advancement of women,” including the right to freedom of thinking, religion and conviction.  This paragraph supports the Western view of liberating women from all spiritual, ethical or thinking restrictions, and enabling them to exercise freedom as individuals or as parts of community in order to facilitate the domination of Western patterns of life.

“Reproductive health” and “sexual health” are two of the UN”s most alarming terms.  UN documents regard reproductive and sexual health as human rights that are not limited to legally married couples only. Reproductive and sexual health is regarded as a natural need and right for everyone of every age without any legal or religious restrictions.

The agenda of the World Conference for Population and Development, Cairo, 5-13 September 1994 stated that safe sex based on mutual consent is as much a right for everyone as food is.  It is not limited to legally married couples and is a human right dictated by human nature and is not subject to God”s orders (from the document”s view).  Neither God nor religions were mentioned in the program draft, not even once.  Religions were never mentioned in the program, which has the volume of a small book.[6]

“Reproductive Health” is a positive term, since it calls for the improvement of men”s and women”s reproductive health through sound relationships, healthy instructions and guidance.  However, its use in the Family Planning Program and its integration with “Fertilization Planning”(limiting the birth rate in certain places) centers around one certain meaning, which is the provision of more means of reproductive and sexual services, including unconditional public access to contraceptives.

“Unions and Couples” was one of the most controversial terms in the Cairo World Conference for Population.  The conference”s declaration mentioned unions and couples exclusive of family, which is the only normal base for any human community.  The term was repeated in the Beijing, Istanbul, and Lahay conferences.  This conveys the persistent attempt to legalize abnormal sexual orientation, which was acknowledged by some churches and States in the West.  Therefore, it was not astonishing that Mary Robinson, UN Human Rights Steering Commissioner and former President of Ireland, had committed herself to exert every effort to support the International Alliance for Homosexuals.  This was in her meeting with the Alliance at the end of 1998 when she declared her intention to appoint an observer to follow up the rights of homosexuals,[7] including the right of homosexual and lesbian marriages, and to continue the struggle against laws penalizing abnormal sexual orientation.  Her view was that all forms of distinction on the basis of sexual behavior are illegal.

Several countries, including Arab and Islamic countries, the Vatican, some Latin American countries and China, attempted to affirm that marriage is an agreement between a man and a woman who make a family.  Family is a social institution responsible for reproduction and rearing of children.  UN documents, however, were promoting the different forms of family. The Beijing Conference witnessed another debate when its document affirmed that family has various forms that differ according to society.  The countries opposing this addition attempted in vain to add the word “conventional” to the description of family and forms of family.  However, the Western countries refused. 

UN documents introduced a concept of family other than that acknowledged by all religions.  Religions” concept is that family is based on the legal marriage of a man and a woman.  The documents, however, discuss relations outside wedlock such as illicit affairs and homosexual or lesbian relations,[8] which are abnormal.

The Cairo Conference Document does not only permit these forms of family, but also provides rights for them and calls for the abolishment of all hindrances and forms of discrimination against these abnormal and sinful relationships. “All forms of discrimination in relation to marriage policies and family in all its forms shall be eliminated.”  The conference aimed at developing policies and laws that provide better support for family and contribute to its stability, taking its various forms in consideration.  The document, then, explained “forms of family” as marriage of couples of the same sex and relationships outside wedlock, and called for equal rights for all.[9]

Such concepts of sexual relationships, practices and family make safe sex based on mutual consent the right of every human being and regard it as important as food.  Sex is not subject to legal male-female marriage rules, but rather, is permitted for unmarried males and females of all ages, between teens, lesbians and homosexuals.

At the 1996 Istanbul Conference for Habitats, another fight broke out over the definition of family, which proves the persistence of the organizations sponsoring these conferences in spreading sexual anarchy through the breaking up of the family and deviation from its concept. The fight went on for several days on whether family is a social unit that should be supported or the primary social unit that should be supported.  The fight was on the use of “the” and “primary”, to which the West objected, as usual.  Moreover, the discussion of whether family has various forms was raised for the second time.  The fight ended with Canada and the European Union persisting in the existence of various forms of family opposing the view of China and non-allied countries.  The conclusion was the Cairo Declaration”s adoption of a middle attitude referring to man and wife and retaining “family in all its forms.”

Such international conferences on women attempt to dispense with the family.  This is manifested in the terms used when referring to bastard children.  In the past, “illegitimate” was used to describe such children. Nowadays the words used are “out-of-wedlock babies”, “natural babies”, and, finally, “love babies”.[10]

“Sexual orientation freedom” was mentioned for the first time in the Beijing Conference.  Article 226 of the conference document calls for sexual orientation freedom as one of the human rights.  Many of the participant states attempted to either define or delete the term.  The West, however, headed by the Scandinavian states, Canada, the USA, and the European Union, affirmed that sexual orientation freedom does not add a new right to human rights and freedoms.  The term was deleted from the declaration, only to be repeated in the Youths Conference, Brag, Portugal, 1998.

Liberal organizations and homosexual leagues attempted to use “sexual orientation freedom” for the second time.  Their attempt failed and received severe objection.  Yet, they managed to add a new term with the same meaning: “fear of atypical sexual orientation”, i.e., fear of abnormal sexual orientation.  The Declaration called for the struggle against “discrimination, racism, and fear of atypical sexual orientation.”

At the 1999 Lahay Youth and NGOs Conference, “sexual orientation freedom” was imposed on the conference declaration.  Sex education shall be compulsory in all phases of education. The freedom of sexual pleasures, confidence, expression, and abnormal sexual orientation shall be granted.  World governments shall not discriminate youths on basis of race, religion, culture, sex or sexual orientation, which is rather a new victory for homosexual leagues.  The concept of sexual orientation freedom was implicitly mentioned in the Population Conference, Cairo 1994, and then gradually moved to Brag in 1998, and finally to Lahay in 1999.

The case of Nicolas Tonen, the Australian homosexual, is an example of the influential role UN organizations play.  Nicolas filed a case before the UN Human Rights Commission against his state”s (Tasmania, Australia) law.  The state”s law penalizes abnormal sexual orientation, which Nicolas considered as a violation of his rights and interference in his personal life.  Nicolas considered this a breach of Australia”s commitment to the Human Civil and Political Rights Convention.  The UN Human Rights Commission is assigned to monitor the signatory states” implementation and commitment in accordance with a special protocol annexed to the Human Civil and Political Rights Convention in 1966.  The 1966 treaty does not refer to sexual rights or Sexual Orientation Freedom in any of its articles, but rather encourages the respect of marriage and sacredness of marital life.  However, the Commission managed to include sexual orientation freedom and the impermissibility of states” interference in the personal lives of individuals.  States are not entitled to interfere in personal lives for reasons of public interest, protection of ethics or prevention of epidemics. The commission obligated Australia, as a committed signatory state, to respect sexual orientation freedom and obligated Tasmania to amend its criminal law in order to meet its international commitment to the treaty within 90 days.[11]

Women Labor/ Employment: The worst thing about the West”s view in relation to the issues of women is that it regards women as sole individuals excluded from family, society and country, who refer to nothing.  Human labor was redefined as measurable work performed in public life in return for cash payment, which is subject to the law of supply and demand. This definition excludes maternity, rearing of children and household duties because such work cannot be accurately measured and women do not receive cash payment in return. 

However, such work fills women”s lives and concerns, and cannot be monitored because its duties are performed in personal life.  Women”s in-house labor is not measured by price, although it is highly precious.  But the document does not count it as work.  “I am doing nothing, I am just staying at home,” is a housewife”s answer when she is asked about her employment.  This means that in spite of the vitality and difficulty of motherhood, it is considered “nothing” because women do not receive payment for it and it is not performed in public life.

This is the basis of the endless conferences on women and family planning and the movement of women”s liberation, which aims at breaking up families and liberating women from their stereotyped roles such as “Mother”.  The UN Commission on the Status of Women believes that such roles imprison women,[12] and the document of the Fourth World Women”s Conference (Beijing) regarded women”s in-house employment as wives and mothers as unremunerated work.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) includes several terms full of implications that need to be discussed and cleared.

“Discrimination” is the pivot for the CEDAW and is a legal term that has its social impacts.  In English, “discrimination” expresses injustice rather than distinction.  However, not all acts of distinguishing those who differ from one another are unjust.  Equality can only be achieved among those who enjoy similar characteristics, functions and legal capacity (the total of duties and commitments).

“Stereotyped roles” is only an attack on family in its instinctive form as called for by all religions and normal communities, who represent the majority of the world.  Family is composed of a man and a woman who are legally married.  Life duties are distributed among them in the quest for integration. “Stereotyped roles” means that there are stereotyped roles for women as women and stereotyped roles for men as men.

The CEDAW calls, therefore, for the elimination of stereotyped roles, and to the belief that there is a wide possibility for exchanging roles under the assumption that they are neutral.  Maternity is a social function, not a biological characteristic.  Anyone can function the maternal role.  This is the reason why the UN interpretation of the CEDAW calls for child-care leave for fathers in order to enable mothers to function in their primary task, which is employment in public life in return for cash payment.

The CEDAW used the “right of family benefits” in order to refer to utter equality in inheritance between brothers and sisters.  According to Dr. Muhammad `Imarah, the “right of family benefits” is a confusing term and was formed that way in order to avoid the Islamic reaction when discussing equality in inheritance.

“Woman”s rights (as a parent) regardless of her marital status” separates the right of a woman as a parent from her status as a wife and does not indicate the legal or illegal reason for creating “woman as a parent”.  This highlights what was discussed in some UN documents in relation to women and the social sphere: a mother is a parent regardless of how she got pregnant.  Therefore, the document of the Cairo Conference for Population separated marriage, sex, and reproduction, and regarded them as different and separate topics.



List of Key Problematic Terminology



Reproductive health

Sexual health

Unions and couples


The family in all its forms

Sexual orientation freedom

Sexual orientation

Unrenumerated work


Stereotyped roles

The right of family benefits

Maternity as a social function

Woman”s rights (as a parent) regardless of her marital status