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Women, Chemicals and the SDGs


Women, Chemicals and the SDGs

Gender Review Mapping with a Focus on Women and Chemicals:
Impact of Emerging Policy Issues and the Relevance for the Sustainable Development Goals

The aim of this report is to show the impact chemicals have on women as a vulnerable group highly exposed to hazardous chemicals and gender inequalities re­lated to decision-making around the management of chemicals and waste. The report also means to provide concrete steps that can be taken to safeguard the health of women and empower women in decision-making and in their roles as agents of change. The overall objective is to provide evidence to all stakeholders working towards sustainable development of the importance of addressing this issue for achieving the 2030 Sustain­able Development Goals.

All people, irrespective of gender identity, must have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities in order to achieve the sound manage­ment of chemicals and wastes, and both are vital to achieve the majority of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In order to identify and address inequalities, data that enable identifica­tion of impacts based on gender, i.e. the social attributes and opportuni­ties associated with being male or female, and the biological sex is needed.

Women are generally more disproportionally impacted by exposure to chemicals and wastes and have less access to participation in decision making. Women are also key agents of change. Women and chemicals is an underexplored topic that deserves more attention. Looking through the lens of the SAICM Emerging Policy Issues and Issues of Concern, a range of inequalities can be identified. Examples of these include:

Impacts throughout the product lifecycle

In production: where women are, for example, highly exposed to haz­ardous chemicals during the production of electronics.

During use: where women are exposed to chemicals that have es­pecially detrimental impacts on pregnant women and developing children, such as lead in paint and chemicals in toys.

After use and by end of product life: for example, where women are exposed to highly hazardous pesticides when gathering crops or clean­ing used pesticide containers.

Disproportionate exposures based on gender roles

In some countries, men conduct the manual labor such as collecting the electronic waste, but the women become exposed to the hazardous chemicals when extracting the valuable metals in the devices.

Men and women are impacted differently, such as by perfluorinated chemicals and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, where women can suffer impacts on reproductive and pregnancy outcomes even long after exposure.

Lack of information about impacts on women

Little information is available about gender- or sex-dependent effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment or nanomaterials despite their ubiquitous use.

A range of activities at all levels can be considered, including:

Strengthening the link between sound management of chemicals and waste and gender, including the important aspect of women and chemicals, in the SAICM Beyond 2020 process.

Additional analysis of the global burden of disease related to women and chemicals and the integral role of women and chemicals in the sound management of chemicals and waste.

Efforts are needed to ensure “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”.


This report was developed within the framework of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project ID: 9771 on Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemical Policy Issues of Concern under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), executed by the SAICM Secretariat.