The International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) has published a report highlighting women’s leadership on chemicals and waste issues, through ten organizations that are working to address chemical health threats across the globe. The report spotlights women who are working in their communities, countries, and internationally towards stronger protections from harmful chemicals. Supporting their work and the work of other women undertaking similar efforts, it argues, will be critical for achieving the SDGs, including SDG 5 (gender equality), which cannot be realized without reducing and eliminating chemical exposures.

The 2022 report titled, ‘Women Leaders: Addressing Chemicals and Waste Issues,’ explains that women face greater risks from chemical exposures and experience higher rates of adverse health outcomes than men because of their physiology, different types of occupational exposures, and different chemical exposures, including from personal care and household products. Women are also exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals, lead in paint, and chemicals in toys, among others, which pose risks to their health during pregnancy and to their developing children. Such exposures can lead to health problems that impact women’s lives and hinder their opportunities to participate in their communities, especially in low-income communities. Women cannot be empowered while such exposures put them at risk for cancer, chronic illnesses, infertility, and damage to their nervous systems.

The report highlights women’s activities in Armenia, Bangladesh, Jordan, the Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Senegal, Serbia, Tanzania, the UK, and the US. For example, in Jordan, Oruba Al-Refa’i started Hands for Environment and Sustainable Development to raise awareness about toxic chemicals found in products used daily by women and children, and to propose solutions or safer alternatives.

In Senegal, Diene Maimouna Ndeye, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Africa, has been advocating for an agrochemical company’s factory to change its practices or be shut down. The factory, in the town of Louga where Maimouna grew up, produces chemicals used as pesticides on crops and as household insecticides. However, so far, the company has not cleaned up its practices.

In Nicaragua, the Centre for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples, based in Waspam, aims to empower women to live free from violence and protect the ancestral culture and health of 115 surrounding Indigenous communities, which includes working to ensure water and food sources are not polluted.

Other case studies highlight:

  • Kwon Young Eun from the Supporters for Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry in the Republic of Korea;
  • Siddika Sultana from the Environment and Social Development Organization in Bangladesh;
  • Gohar Khojayan from the Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment;
  • Vi Waghiyi from the Alaska Community Action on Toxics in the US;
  • Aiwerasia Vera Ngowi from the Tanzania Association of Public, Occupational and Environmental Health Experts;
  • Helen Lynn from the Alliance for Cancer Prevention in the UK; and
  • Teachers from Serbia’s Eco-Schools programme.

The report, published in 2022, was developed within the framework of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), with financial support from the Government of Sweden. It will inform deliberations at the fifth meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), which will convene in September, following a two-year postponement due to COVID-19. [Publication: Women Leaders: Addressing Chemicals and Waste Issues]