by IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub ,

A report published by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) and the Strategic Alliance for International Chemicals Management (SAICM) illustrates the impact of chemicals on women, as well as gender inequalities in decision-making on chemicals and waste management. The report suggests concrete steps to protect women’s health and their decision-making role. 

The report titled, ‘Gender Review Mapping with a Focus on Women and Chemicals: Impact of Emerging Policy Issues and the Relevance for the Sustainable Development Goals,’ discusses the disproportionate impact on women of exposure throughout the chemicals lifecycle. For example, women are exposed to hazardous chemicals more than men during: the production of electronics; use, through lead in paint and chemicals in toys; and after use and at the end of product life, such as when gathering crops or clean­ing used pesticide containers.

Women are also disproportionately exposed to hazardous chemicals when extracting metals from devices in electronic waste, and they can experience impacts on reproductive and pregnancy outcomes long after exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Information is lacking on the impacts of women of pharmaceuticals in the environment and nanomaterials.

To address these inequalities, the report highlights a range of activities, including:

  • Strengthening the gender links with sound chemicals and waste management, including by addressing women and chemicals in the SAICM Beyond 2020 process;
  • Additional analysis of the global burden of disease related to women and chemicals and their integral role in chemicals and waste management; and
  • Increased efforts to ensure “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all decision-making levels in political, economic and public life.”

While the 2030 Agenda does not include a stand-alone Goal on chemicals and waste management, the report explains, it is critical to achieving several SDGs including SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), and SDG 5 (gender equality), which itself is considered a prerequisite for reaching most of the other Goals.

In December 2017, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and IPEN signed a Memorandum of Understanding to partner on gender and chemicals work focused on: raising awareness of the impact on women and children to health effects linked to chemical exposures, including creating opportunities for training and experience sharing and collecting sex-disaggregated data; promoting women’s engagement and leadership in decision-making processes at the local, national and global levels; and implementing and contributing to activities related to SAICM Emerging Policy Issues and other Issues of Concern as well as related SDGs and chemicals conventions. [Publication: Gender Review Mapping with a Focus on Women and Chemicals: Impact of Emerging Policy Issues and the Relevance for the Sustainable Development Goals]