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UNECE advances international efforts for more gender responsive standards

Gender imbalance in the development and implementation of standards hampers progress towards the achievement of the Agenda 2030 and undermines their potential as powerful instruments for sustainable development. To address the fundamental lack of representation of women in standardization, UNECE is working with the standards community to advance a gender-balanced and inclusive development process.

Following launch in May 2019 of the Declaration on Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development, which was signed by some 50 standards organizations worldwide, UNECE has continued its awareness-raising activities to promote the formalisation of the commitment to gender equality among growing number of standards organizations.   

Held on the occasion of the 42nd General Assembly of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a UNECE event in Cape Town, South Africa, brought together the Declaration’s signatories with the broader standards community.

At the event, Declaration signatories shared their experience of developing and implementing gender action plans, which they adopted as part of their commitment to the UNECE Declaration. The event further recognised the signing of South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and the Agence Togolaise de Normalisation (ATN) to the Declaration. A total of 52 experts from the field of standardisation, representing 36 organizations, attended the meeting.

Examples of the commitments made by standards organizations worldwide, include: collecting and presenting gender-disaggregated data on participation; elaborating criteria to assess if standards are gender responsive; encouraging the participation of women in the technical committees that develop the standards and effectively liaising with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure that the interests of rural and vulnerable women are effectively included in the process of setting a norm. 

As Ms. Lorenza Jachia, Secretary of UNECE’s Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies, explains, “standards can be a key enabler for women’s empowerment and gender equality”. Several countries have successfully leveraged voluntary standards to support women to access jobs in historically male dominated industries, and ensure working conditions are compatible with family and personal responsibilities.

Some of the best practice promoted by the UNECE initiative include Icelandic Standards who introduced a standard that allows for the identification, assessment and correction of any pay discrimination, in order to ensure that jobs of equal value receive equal compensation. The Chilean standards body introduced a management system for the conciliation of work, family and personal life. The standards body of France reviewed materials used by the construction industry to ensure their suitability for employees of all genders. Their review recommended that cement packs not exceed a certain weight, so that all employees were capable of lifting them without undue strain.

The need for standards that account for uneven gender distribution in different sectors of the economy is also important – covering for example, exposure to pesticides in seasonal agricultural work, or harmful chemicals commonly used in nail salons – areas where women make up the majority of the workforce.

The signatory meeting featured a group work element that sought to identify organizational goals and discern how best to leverage standards – and the signatory network - to ensure their effective contribution to the realization of SDG 5 on “Gender Equality” and particularly “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership” in economic decision-making (SDG 5.5).

Working groups highlighted the important role of UNECE and their capacity to build gender expertise. Specific gender-focused actions included:  the delivery of training courses, development of a platform for sharing expertise, challenges, and the compilation of case studies.

The need for awareness-raising was further highlighted and participants relayed their wish for greater support in contextualising gender inclusivity, as a first step to positively impacting gender responsiveness in standards development. It was agreed that training was an invaluable support to the standards community, but must be varied according to its respective audience, such as: chairs and vice-chairs of Technical Committees, managers and staff of national standard bodies

In closing the event, standards bodies were presented with information on the process leading up to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (New York, 9-20 March 2020).