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Community of Practice Addresses Links Between Gender and Chemicals

The Chemicals and SDGs Community of Practice (CoP), organized by the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Secretariat, addressed challenges related to gender and sound chemicals and waste management during its first virtual discussion. Participants highlighted several ways to address gender inequalities in the 'SAICM Beyond 2020' process.

The session on 26 August 2020 was facilitated by Andrea Rother, University of Cape Town, who informed participants that the CoP was initiated to contribute to solving policy problems. In addition to gender, the CoP plans to address cross-cutting challenges in the areas of biodiversity and climate change.

Sara Brosché, IPEN, offered opening remarks to kick off the exchange of ideas, which was conducted entirely in the written chat section of the virtual meeting platform. To set the stage, Brosché highlighted that, without gender equality in the area of chemicals and waste, the SDGs will not be achieved. She noted that women are affected by inequalities in exposure to chemicals and waste. While gender is a socially constructed concept that refers to the norms, roles, expressions, and identities of women, men, boys, girls, and gender-diverse people, she explained that biological sex is also relevant due to biological impacts of exposure to chemicals and waste. Brosché added that gender is often discussed in relation to SDG 5 (gender equality), but targets under SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and others also apply. 

Participants proceeded to exchange ideas on a series of three questions. On the first question, "in the context of chemicals and waste, what is your experience with gender equality when it comes to participation in decision-making on a local, national or global level?," one discussant said they were not aware of chemical legislation that specifically refers to gender issues until participating in the CoP. Others provided examples of gender balance from international organizations and federal governments, while another noted that at the multinational company where they worked, gender and chemicals issues were not on the agenda. 

On the second question, "do you think there are gender inequalities when it comes to exposure to and impact of chemicals and waste management?," a participant said the data indicate that the biggest gender imbalance is due to occupational exposure, where men are more exposed. However, another participant pointed to the lack of gender-disaggregated information on effects of exposure to chemicals beyond the workplace. One participant suggested that men are more directly exposed because they perform "risky tasks," while impacts on women may be longer-term and under-diagnosed.

On the third and final question, "What actions do you think would help address gender inequalities on a local and global level?," suggestions included:

  • Establishing a gender focal point in the SAICM Secretariat;
  • Establishing a gender working group to develop a gender action plan for SAICM Beyond 2020;
  • Ensuring that SAICM national focal points have gender expertise;
  • Incorporating gender into national action plans;
  • Collecting data on gender and risk assessment;
  • Using the Global Burden of Disease resource, which provides gender-disaggregated data, to track a SAICM Beyond 2020 target on reducing the gender gap for negative health impacts; and
  • Developing a repository of existing strategies.

The Chemicals and SDGs Community of Practice will hold its next discussion on 30 September 2020, on the topic of accelerating the implementation of SDG target 12.4 (By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment). 

The SAICM Secretariat has formed four Communities of Practice to bring together representatives from different sectors to focus on challenges related to the sound management of chemicals and waste. These voluntary networks comprise members with expertise and interest in specific thematic areas. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]