Guest blog: SAICM Beyond 2020 – Integrating Gender Now !
By Minu Hemmati and Anna Holthaus, MSP Institute
With the year 2020 fast approaching, Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and its stakeholders are currently developing pathways for the international management of chemicals and waste, building and re-building the platform for Beyond 2020. We therefore have a unique window of opportunity over the coming years to increase attention and achieve results regarding integrating gender issues.
There are various gender aspects and women’s issue relevant to chemicals, and chemicals and waste management (e.g. Hemmati & Bach 2017). Most of these issues are not receiving the attention they should in order to ensure the best possible decisions in policy-making and effective implementation.
Why Gender and Chemicals ?
1. Gender, as a social category, is linked to gender-specific norms of behaviour, roles in society as well as the development of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ identities, which in turn influence people’s behaviour, including their impact on the environment, their affectedness by environmental degradation, and their access to and power over resources.
2. Gender, as a biological category, shows that women’s and men’s bodies are affected differently by certain chemicals – exposure, risk, and impacts can be different between the sexes.
3. Gender analysis allows to ask questions that help us understand and unpack root causes of unsustainable behaviour and societies, and hence have a transformational potential. We need to tap into this potential in order to bring about sustainable development, justice and peace.
SAICM has an agreed Overarching Policy Strategy (OPS) that sets out the scope, needs, objectives, financial considerations underlying principles and approaches, and implementation and review arrangements of SAICM as a platform and process. The OPS underlines the specific importance of women as stakeholders and their still evident lack of representation in the implementation and decision-making processes for the sound management of chemicals and chemical safety (SAICM 2012).
Yet, specific knowledge on differentiated and long-term effects of chemicals on women and men is still lacking and rarely known to delegations and stakeholders. Comprehensive gender analysis of chemicals and waste management is lacking even more.
How to Integrate Gender in SAICM ?
Gender Justice is essential to achieve all of the Sustainable Development Goals. The recent report about women and gender and the SDGs shows how much progress needs to be made. However, we can build on existing programs and ongoing work - the women’s and gender movement has learned a lot about gender mainstreaming, gender justice, and useful strategies and tools. Experiences close to SAICM include the Gender Action Plan of the BRS Conventions, and work on other gender and environment issues, such as climate change (e.g. UNFCCC, GenderCC), biodiversity (e.g. UNCBD), and environment in general (e.g. UNEP GGEO).
Like in many other areas, we need to increase research to obtain sex-disaggregated data, analyze gender roles and identities and how they impact our interactions with chemicals and waste along the whole life cycle.
Our Policy Suggestions
Developing SAICM Beyond 2020, the process is now, at the 2nd Intersessional, focusing on discussing the elements of a future platform: vision, policy principles, objectives & milestones, implementation, and governance. We have followed previous discussions and prepared suggestions to support fully integratinggender:
An overall vision for international chemicals and waste management should be ambitious and brief – like a short sentence motto, for example:
Together for chemicals without harm , or Healthy Environment, Healthy Lives for All
The vision could be accompanied by a longer sentence of explanation with reference to transformation and (gender) justice, for example:
To achieve the precautionary and sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle in ways that minimize adverse effects on human health and the environment, as an essential contribution to transformation towards justice and sustainable development
Policy principles should reiterate the gender-related aspects already included in the OPS - but should make stronger references to including women in decision-making, gender justice, and gender responsiveness of policies (building on SDG5 - gender equality), and references to equal distribution of benefits from green and sustainable chemistry (also see SDG10 - reducing inequalities within and among countries).
We suggest to include reference to women and gender when dealing with implementation and governance, including issues of capacity building, financing and decision-making at all levels. It would be important to create a Gender Focal Point in SAICM and develop a Gender Action Plan for SAICM, and to mainstream the use of Gender Impact Assessment tools.
Women and chemical safety should become a high-level issue of concern (IPEN/PAN 2017).
National Action Plans should contain a section about gender-related activities and outcomes of all chemicals, wastes and agriculture projects, and the National Action Plan process should systematically include women and gender experts.
Learning From Other UN processes
Experiences from other UN processes show that integrating gender in (primarily, and hitherto) environmental discussions is not easy. “Gender and climate – really? Is atmosphere male or female, masculine or feminine? – hahaha”! Or: “Let’s not make the climate debate broader than it needs to be by introducing such exotic social issues like gender – this will not help making progress but water down the discussion.”
These were among the responses when women’s groups and gender experts started talking about gender and climate change, in the 1990’s and then with growing force in the early 2000s.
On chemicals, we are further along in some respects. There are more data and research on women’s and men’s bodies’ reactions to chemicals, exposure patterns, health risks, and so on. But there isn’t that much work with a specific gender lens, and there isn’t enough attention to these issues. So the time is now – developing SAICM Beyond 2020 and integrating gender!
Your support for a gender-just chemicals future beyond2020!
We have developed suggestions on how to integrate gender in a SAICM Beyond 2020 decision. It should be included in vision, principles, objectives and milestones, implementation arrangements and governance. We are seeking to discuss these suggestions with colleagues from governments, UN and all stakeholders to discuss our ideas on how to integrate gender in SAICM Beyond 2020. Let us know what you think (contacts below) – and if you are in Stockholm for the SAICM meeting, we’re happy to have a coffee!