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Gender-informed standards contribute to women’s empowerment

Many regard standards as being gender neutral. However, looking at them more closely reveals that they are often gender blind. For example, when a technical specification does not differentiate between the sexes, is this based on research on both sexes or is, in fact, a male reference model being improperly used as a “human” model? In the car industry, for instance, standards for crash tests were originally designed based on male anatomy and had to be revised in order to also take into account female anatomy so as to ensure that seatbelts are designed in a way to avoid excessive thorax compression in the case of a crash. Much more needs to be done in other sectors, for example, taking into account biological differences between men and women when setting standards related to products’ toxicity.

Standards may also become a barrier in realizing women’s full potential at the workplace - when they fail to properly address women's needs within the existing cultural background. On the other hand, standards can facilitate women’s empowerment – for example by identifying and giving recognition to organizations that take a commitment on anti-discrimination, equal opportunities and the promotion of diversity through human resources management policy.

In order to address these issues, UNECE’s Working Party on “Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies” is launching a new initiative to make standards gender-informed and ensure that they contribute to women’s empowerment. 

The Working Party will start work to identify entry points for mainstreaming gender into standards development and implementation and to ensure that standards become effective tools for the implementation of SDG Goal 5 and, more specifically, Target 5.5: “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”.

One early result from this newly born initiative was the announcement by the International Electrotechnical Commission that their General Secretary and CEO - Mr Frans Vreeswijk – will officially join the Geneva Gender Champions Initiative, a leadership network that brings together male and female decision-makers with a commitment to break down gender barriers.

For more information, please visit: http://www.unece.org/trade/wp6/welcome.html