Research Results: Gender Equality and International Environmental Agreements

#Expert-Blog Series: How to create a gender-just-healthy planet

by Megan Kalsman

Chemicals can have a disproportionately high impact on women’s health and wellness.

I observed this firsthand while employed by the City of San Francisco Department of the Environment in California, US. One of my responsibilities as a Commercial Toxics Reduction Assistant Coordinator included working with local governments to certify nail salons to encourage using fewer toxic chemicals and increasing the use of personal protective equipment, e.g., masks and gloves. I met with salon owners and nail technicians who had miscarriages, skin problems, and other health issues from exposure to the many chemicals used in nail salons, such as polish removers, thinners, acrylics, etc. The nail salon community in California employs a high proportion of women whose primary language is not English. Communicating the health risks to this population proved especially challenging but was ultimately very rewarding. The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative is just one example of environmental and gender justice which ultimately inspired me to continue my research on gender and chemicals. 

As part of my master’s degree program at Lund University in Sweden, I completed a research project focused on gender equality and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (“MEAs”). I was intrigued by the ongoing work surrounding gender and chemicals on an international level and found that various MEAs have been incorporating gender equality into their processes. The research aim of this project was to gain an exploratory perspective on gender equality aspects in MEAs and how advancing gender equality goals can be mainstreamed in the United Nations (UN) political and administrative system. The thesis focused on international policies in recognition of the large impact that global environmental agreements have on national governments and the significant potential for positive change.

This led me to my three primary research aims:

(1) Investigating the terminology used in MEA treaty texts and how word choices can lead to various interpretations. 

(2) Looking at the major activities and themes from those which had MEA gender action plans. 

(3) Uncovering the challenges and barriers faced by the MEA Secretariats (the UN bodies which assists in the planning and implementation of the agreement [1]) and recommending opportunities for gender mainstreaming going forward. 

The study analyzed nine different MEAs with a focus on chemicals and waste related agreements. For a comparison aspect, two ozone depletion agreements, one biodiversity convention, and one climate change convention which have had some inclusion of gender equality aspects in their work were also analyzed. Although this research focused on chemicals and waste agreements, I learned from various practitioners that other environmental areas such as climate change and water management issues had been somewhat explored and documented, whereas chemicals and gender interlinkages was a newer area of focus [2]. I interviewed MEA secretariats who had worked on or around gender aspects in efforts to gain a detailed perspective on their challenges, barriers, and potential opportunities to increase gender mainstreaming.

Research results:

When examining the language and terminology used in MEAs around gender, I found that women were referenced in the treaty texts sparingly. Women were often mentioned as part of a list – mostly included in vulnerable populations amongst workers, children, the elderly, etc. This portrayed women as part of a community that needs protection, rather than as agents of change. However, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) global policy framework turned out to be an outlier in the MEA comparison. This framework included a significantly higher number of mentions around gender and women in the SAICM texts (Dubai Declaration on International Chemicals Management, Overarching Policy Strategy, Global Plan of Action, Annexes and Resolutions by the International Conference on Chemicals Management) compared to the other more traditional style MEAs. SAICM is a non-binding framework [3] which makes it unique from the other eight agreements reviewed. 

At the time this research was conducted (Spring 2021), there were four different MEA gender action plans found among the nine selected agreements. One of which was still in the review process and not yet finalized. Two chemicals and waste MEAs, one biodiversity, and one climate change agreement gender action plans were assessed. The top five most referenced activities were communication and awareness, stakeholder collaboration, baseline and reporting progress, implementation, and linkages to social and environmental issues amongst many other action items. 

From speaking with the MEA secretariats, ​​major takeaways were that the work to include a gender perspective is occurring, but the lack of funding and resources remains a persistent challenge. Despite this, gender action plans and action plan updates are still progressing, and data collection continues. Areas of opportunity that came up during these discussions were the importance of stakeholder collaboration and the benefits of working with other actors in the women and environment nexus and others such as the medical field. 

Research recommendations:

  • Gender and women considerations should be included in the SAICM Beyond 2020 texts. This can set a precedent for future gender mainstreaming work to be completed. If it’s not in the treaty text, the work might not get done.
  • SAICM should develop a gender action plan with particular attention to accountability measures, specifying targets and intended results, reporting on effectiveness of the plan, and a focus on communication and awareness with stakeholders and the public. 
  • Prioritizing funding for gender mainstreaming work within the UN system is crucial. For example, obtaining funding for pilot projects may demonstrate the viability of the work that parties are doing around gender equality — see for example the 2017 BRS Gender Heroes pilot projects [4]. Continuing collaboration with stakeholder groups and MEA secretariats is key to push the gender mainstreaming work forward. 

Conclusions and major takeaways:

Gender mainstreaming work is ramping up within the chemicals and waste-related international environmental agreements. However, with the SAICM intersessional meetings postponed until further notice, this work must continue or risk losing momentum. I strongly believe in the importance of sustaining and growing an intersectional perspective in this work. Key stakeholders from different backgrounds need to be heard and “in the room” when decisions are being made. Integrating a gender lens within environmental agreements and this important work will promote moving the needle towards a more sustainable and just future for all.


To read this thesis in its entirety, visit here.

[1] https://www.informea.org/en/terms/secretariat

[2] WECF & UNEP. (2016). Women and Chemicals: The impact of hazardous chemicals on women A thought starter based on an experts‘ workshop. 66. https://www.wecf.org/77912/

[3] https://www.informea.org/en/treaties/strategic-approach-international-chemicals-management

[4] http://www.brsmeas.org/Gender/CaseStudies/CaseStudiesonintegratingagenderperspective/tabid/8000/language/en-US/Default.aspx

Interested in the research results? Contact Megan Kalsman here.

Event Report: International Webinar “The Gender and Chemicals Road Map”/ Veranstaltungsbericht: Internationales Webinar zur “Gender and Chemicals Road Map”

Brief report on the webinar: “The Gender and Chemicals Road Map” 09/24/2021 via Zoom

(in german below)

On the 24th of September, the MSP Institute invited SAICM National Focal Points and other interested stakeholders to the international webinar “The Gender and Chemicals Road Map”, focusing on the integration of gender into national chemical policies. The objective of the workshop was to raise awareness of linkages between gender and chemicals, to present and discuss the Gender and Chemicals Road Map, and to promote international exchange on gender aspects among SAICM National Focal Points.

A total of 39 participants from governmental organizations, academia, civil society and industry attended the virtual workshop, including about 20 National Focal Points from different parts of the world.

The workshop started with a welcome by Dr. Minu Hemmati, associate at the MSP Institute, who facilitated the workshop. This was followed by the presentation of the Gender and Chemicals Road Map and the accompanying workbook by project manager Anna Holthaus, and a short Q&A. During the following “roundtable” discussion on “Potentials, initial experiences and barriers with regard to integrating gender in chemicals policy”, Jose de Mesa Alcalde from the SAICM Secretariat reported on the gender activities in the SAICM process so far, Susan Wingfield from the BRS Secretariat and Gender Focal Point spoke about the experiences of the BRS Conventions in integrating gender in national policy, and Dr. Hans-Christian Stolzenberg from the German Environment Agency and the German SAICM Focal Point commented on opportunities and challenges in the upcoming implementation of the Roadmap in Germany.

Participants were then invited to join the exchange on gender in national chemicals policy using a virtual ‘Mural’ board. The following questions were discussed:

  • Are there activities on gender and environment in your country?
  • What are the main challenges in integrating gender into national chemicals management?
  • What needs to be improved or added to the roadmap on gender and chemicals?
  • Which other tools or support would you need to (further) integrate gender into your work?
Virtual flipchart – exchange with participants on gender in national chemicals policy

Finally, Anna Holthaus invited the participants to use the roadmap and share their experiences and, together with Minu Hemmati, thanked them for their participation. Afterwards, participants were invited to an informal networking session, where some more exchange among participants took place.

The presentation on the webinar can be found here:

A recording of the webinar can be found here.


Blogartikel Kurzbericht Internationales Webinar „The Gender and Chemicals Road Map“, 24.09.2021 via Zoom

Am 24.09.2021 lud das MSP Institute alle SAICM National Focal Points und weitere interessierte Stakeholder zum internationalen Webinar „The Gender and Chemicals Road Map“ein. Thema war die Integration von Gender in nationale Chemikalienpolitik. Ziel des Workshops war es, Interesse an den Zusammenhängen von Gender und Chemikalien zu wecken, die Gender and Chemicals Road Map vorzustellen und zu diskutieren, sowie den internationalen Austausch zu Gender-Aspekten unter den SAICM National Focal Points zu ermöglichen.

Insgesamt nahmen 39 Teilnehmende aus Regierungsorganisationen, Wissenschaft, Zivilgesellschaft und Industrie am virtuell stattfindenden Workshop teil, darunter etwa 20 Nationale Focal Points aus verschiedenen Teilen der Welt.

Begonnen wurde mit einer Begrüßung und der Vorstellung der Agenda durch Dr. Minu Hemmati vom MSP Institute, die den Workshop moderierte. Darauf folgte die Vorstellung und Einführung der Gender and Chemicals Road Map und dem dazugehörigen Workbook durch Projektmanagerin Anna Holthaus, und ein kurzes Q&A, um Fragen zum Vortrag zu beantworten. Anschließend folgte ein „Runder Tisch“ zum Thema „Potentiale, erste Erfahrungen und Barrieren in Hinblick auf die Integration von Gender in der Chemikalienpolitik“. Jose de Mesa Alcalde vom SAICM Sekretariat berichtete über die bisherigen Gender-Aktivitäten im SAICM Prozess, Susan Wingfield vom BRS Sekretariat und Gender Focal Point sprach von den Erfahrungen der BRS Konventionen bei der Integration von Gender in nationaler Politik und Dr. Hans-Christian Stolzenberg vom Umweltbundesamt und Deutscher SAICM Focal Point äußerte sich zu möglichen Potentialen und Schwierigkeiten bei der kommenden Implementierung in Deutschland.

Danach wurde zum gemeinsamen Austausch zu Gender in nationaler Chemikalienpolitik auf dem virtuellen ‚Mural‘-Board eingeladen. Dort wurden folgende Fragen diskutiert:

  • Gibt es in Ihrem Land Aktivitäten zu den Themen Gender und Umwelt?
  • Was sind die größten Herausforderungen bei der Integration von Gender in das nationale Chemikalienmanagement?
  • Inwiefern muss die Roadmap zum Thema Gender und Chemikalien verbessert oder ergänzt werden?
  • Welche anderen Instrumente oder Unterstützung würden Sie benötigen, um die Gleichstellung der Geschlechter (weiter) in Ihre Arbeit zu integrieren?
Virtuelle Flipchart – Austausch über Gender im nationalen Chemikalienmanagement (auf Englisch)

Zum Abschluss lud Anna Holthaus die Teilnehmenden zur Nutzung der Roadmap und dem Teilen von Erfahrungen ein und bedankte sich gemeinsam mit Minu Hemmati für die Teilnahme. Im Anschluss wurde zu einem informalen Networking eingeladen, bei dem sich die Teilnehmenden noch ein wenig austauschten.

Die Präsentation zum Webinar finden Sie hier:

Eine Aufnahme des Webinars finden Sie hier.

Event report: Round table with Stakeholders/ Veranstaltungsbericht: Runder Tisch mit Stakeholdern

Brief report on the kick-off event: Roundtable with stakeholders – Shaping chemicals management together in a gender-responsive way.

(in German below)

Together with Dr Hans-Christian Stolzenberg, the German SAICM National Focal Point at the German Federal Environment Agency, the MSP Institute invited to a round table on the 20th of July 2021. The aim of the kick-off event in the new project GenChemRoadMap was to initiate the first exchange between different stakeholders of the German national chemicals management on gender equality and gender. 

More than 40 participants from industry, governmental and non-governmental organisations, as well as professional associations and the scientific community, followed the invitation to the virtual exchange. 

After a short overview of the agenda by Dr Minu Hemmati from the MSP Institute and the introduction of the German SAICM National Focal Point, Dr Jutta Emig, Head of the Division “International Chemical Safety, Sustainable Chemistry” at the German Federal Ministry of Environment, introduced the topic with her keynote on gender dimensions of chemicals management. Dr Emig shared her experiences in developing the Gender Impact Assessment for BMU in 2004-2005, and how she realised that “if you want to design chemical safety properly and safely, the gender issue [is] an integral part of it”.

Anna Holthaus, project manager at the MSP Institute, gave a presentation on the new project, the Gender and Chemicals Road Map, and the planned pilot implementation in Germany (see presentation below). 

Dr Minu Hemmati then invited the German Federal Ministry of Environment and the German Environment Agency to a brief interview on the issue of “Gender in national chemicals management. How can and must we think this together in Germany?”. Dr Jutta Emig and Astrid Thyssen (Division “Gender aspect in environment policy, social administration issues”, BMU) described previous activities on integrating gender aspects in different areas of environmental policy and the development of a gender strategy in the Ministry. Dr Hans-Christian Stolzenberg explained his ideas and vision regarding sustainable and gender-responsive chemicals management in Germany. Speakers agreed that more research and data collection, more awareness-raising and more tools for practical application are needed on the way to more gender-responsive chemicals management. 

Participants were then invited to brainstorm and exchange ideas using a virtual pinboard. For 30 minutes, they discussed which gender aspects in different chemical sectors are of particular relevance in Germany (the results can be found below). 

Dr Hans-Christian Stolzenberg and Anna Holthaus invited stakeholders to support the Gender and Chemicals Road Map and its implementation in Germany. Participants responded online how much they would like to be involved in the future. 

In a short reflection round towards the end, several stakeholders shared their impressions of the meeting: Prof Dr Klaus Kümmerer from the Leuphana University of Lüneburg emphasised that the entire life cycle of chemicals needs to be considered instead of individual chemicals and their occupational safety measures. Anna Geuchen from the Deutscher Naturschutzring explained that cross-cutting issues such as chemicals management and gender are finally receiving increasing attention at environmental organisations. Janine Richter from the Jungchemiker*innenforum (Young chemist forum) emphasised that, in particular, the younger generation is in favour of transformation towards sustainable chemistry, but that young women continue to suffer from inequalities. All three were pleased with the first exchange on gender and chemistry in Germany and welcomed further plans in the project. 

Dr Minu Hemmati thanked speakers and participants for the candid, successful exchange and for sharing their ideas for making chemicals management more gender-responsive. 

We are grateful for the support from various stakeholders for our project!
If you are interested in participating in our project, don’t hesitate to contact us via email: anna.holthaus[at]msp-institute.org.


Kurzbericht zur Auftakt-Veranstaltung: Runden Tisch mit Stakeholdern – Chemikalienmanagement gemeinsam geschlechtergerecht gestalten.

Zusammen mit Dr. Hans-Christian Stolzenberg, dem deutschen SAICM National Focal Point im Umweltbundesamt, lud das MSP Institute zum Runden Tisch am 20. Juli im neuen Projekt GenChemRoadMap ein. Ziel der Auftakt-Veranstaltung war ein erster Austausch verschiedener Stakeholder des deutschen nationalen Chemikalienmanagements zum Thema Geschlechtergerechtigkeit und Gender.

Mehr als 40 Teilnehmende aus Industrie, Regierungs- und Nichtregierungsorganisationen sowie Berufsverbänden und Wissenschaft folgten der Einladung zum virtuellen Austausch.

Nach einer kurzen Vorstellung der Agenda durch Dr. Minu Hemmati vom MSP Institute sowie der Vorstellung des deutschen SAICM National Focal Point führte Dr. Jutta Emig, Leiterin des Referats „Internationale Chemikaliensicherheit, Nachhaltige Chemie“ im BMU mit ihrer Keynote zu Gender-Dimensionen im Chemikalienmanagement ins Thema ein. Dr. Jutta Emig berichtete von früheren Erfahrungen bei der Entwicklung des Gender Impact Assessment und ihrer daraus gewonnenen Erkenntnis, dass, „wenn man Chemikaliensicherheit richtig und sicher gestalten möchte, die Genderfrage einfach dazu [gehört].“

Anschließend stellte Anna Holthaus, Projektmanagerin im MSP Institute, das Projekt, die Inhalte der Gender and Chemicals Road Map und die geplante Pilot-Umsetzung in Deutschland vor (siehe Präsentation unten).

Daraufhin lud Dr. Minu Hemmati zur kurzen Interviewrunde mit BMU und UBA zum Thema „Gender im nationalen Chemikalienmanagement. Wie können und müssen wir dies in Deutschland zusammendenken?“ Dr. Jutta Emig und Astrid Thyssen (Referat „Genderaspekte in der Umweltpolitik, soziale Verwaltungsangelegenheiten“, BMU) berichteten über die bisherigen Aktivitäten, unterschiedliche Sachlagen bei der Integration von Genderaspekten in verschiedenen Umweltpolitikbereiche und die Entwicklung einer Gender-Strategie im BMU. Dr. Hans-Christian Stolzenberg erläuterte seine Vorstellungen bezüglich eines nachhaltigen und geschlechter-gerechten Chemikalienmanagements in Deutschland. Auf dem Weg dorthin sind laut BMU und UBA mehr Forschung und Datenerhebung, eine stärkere Bewusstseinsbildung und weitere Instrumente für die praktische Anwendung notwendig und hilfreich.

Danach wurden die Teilnehmenden zum gemeinsamen Austausch an einer virtuellen Pinnwand eingeladen. Es gab ein Brainstorming und Diskussion darüber , welche Genderaspekte in verschiedenen Chemiesektoren von besonderer Relevanz in Deutschland sind (die Ergebnisse finden Sie unten).

Anschließend luden Hans-Christan Stolzenberg und Anna Holthaus zur weiteren Unterstützung und Mitwirkung an der Gender and Chemicals Road Map und deren Umsetzung in Deutschland ein. Die Teilnehmenden trugen hierzu auf der Pinnwand ein, in welcher Weise sie in Zukunft eingebunden werden möchten.

In einer kurzen Reflexionsrunde zum Abschluss äußerten verschiedene Stakeholder ihre gewonnen Eindrücke: Prof. Dr. Klaus Kümmerer von der Leuphana Universität Lüneburg betonte, dass – anstatt einzelner Arbeitsschutzmaßnahmen – der gesamte Lebenszyklus von Chemikalien betrachtet werden müsse. Anna Geuchen vom Deutschen Naturschutzring erläuterte, dass themenübergreifende Querschnittsaufgaben wie das Chemikalienmanagement und Gender zunehmende Beachtung in den Umweltverbänden fänden. Janine Richter vom Jungchemiker*innenforum betonte, dass sich gerade die jüngere Generation für einen Wandel zur Nachhaltigen Chemie ausspricht, aber junge Frauen weiterhin unter Chancenungerechtigkeiten leiden. Alle drei zeigten sich von dem erstmaligen Austausch zum Thema Gender in Deutschland erfreut und begrüßten die weiteren Vorhaben im Projekt.

Abschließend dankte Dr. Minu Hemmati den Teilnehmenden sowie den Referierenden für den gelungenen Austausch und die vielen Ideen und Denkanstöße zur geschlechtergerechten Gestaltung des Chemikalienmanagements.

Wir freuen uns über die Unterstützung verschiedenster Stakeholder für unser Vorhaben!

Wenn auch Sie Interesse an der Mitwirkung in unserem Projekt haben, melden Sie sich gerne bei uns: anna.holthaus[at]msp-institute.org


Den ausführlichen Bericht zur Veranstaltung finden Sie hier:

Die Präsentation zu Veranstaltung finden Sie hier:

Die Ergebnisse des Stakeholder-Austausches finden Sie hier:

Why gender must be considered in national chemicals management and how we will try to take first steps in Germany

#GenChemRoadMap

Illustration Gender Road Map bei miratrick

German Version below

Introducing our new project GenChemRoadMap

Gender Mainstreaming is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. […]” (ECOSOC 1997). In terms of chemicals management, this means that gender aspects must be considered at all levels of chemicals policy. At the international policy level, there are increasing efforts and discussions on how gender should be included in the international chemicals and waste management beyond 2020 (the SAICM Beyond 2020-Process). In the negotiations, we and our colleagues from other (women’s) organisations have been advocating on gender and women’s issues for several years and expect a clear and strong commitment to gender equality at the SAICM ICCM5 conference and in the outcome documents!

Even though such a commitment is urgently needed, the real implementation must take place at the national and local level! However, gender mainstreaming concepts for national chemicals policy or gendered legislation hardly exists.

A brief research reveals two publications: 

–  an overview study of gender and chemicals management in Tanzania (2016); and

–  a scientific paper on sex and gender in Canada’s chemicals management (2014),

yet there seem to be no official strategy documents or information about activities by governments. 

This is not really surprising as we are unfortunately still in the early stages of integrating gender into environmental and sustainability policy. However, change is underway: in the policy fields of climate change or biodiversity conservation, governments have agreed that gender aspects must be considered in the respective national strategies and action plans, and since 2019, several countries have a national gender and climate change focal point.  The chemicals community can and should build on these experiences!

During an online discussion of the Chemicals and SDGs Community of Practice in September 2020, participants discussed the implementation of gender mainstreaming into national policies: 

– 87,5% of the participants thought gender inequalities related to the management of chemicals and waste exist in their countries.

– To change this, most participants thought that the development of a gender action plan and additional research on chemicals and gender would be significant. 

– But in more than 50% of the countries, gender mainstreaming is not considered in environmental and health policies yet, and no gender experts or women’s organizations are involved in chemicals management at the national level.

(see the summary of the discussion: SAICM Secretariat/ University of Cape Town: 2020).

This urgently needs to change – otherwise, gender inequalities will remain one cause for ineffective and unjust chemicals management. That’s why we developed an “Gender Road Map – Draft for discussion”, a short guidance for a gender-responsive national chemicals policy for SAICM National Focal Points, and discussed it with the Community of Practice last year. The response was positive, and all participants indicated that such a road map might encourage SAICM focal points to integrate gender in their national chemicals management.

This year, we want to take it one step further: in our new project “GenChemRoadMap”, supported by the German Environment Agency. We want to create a training workshop and training materials based on this Gender Road Map, and we will advise the German SAICM Focal Point when taking its first steps towards implementing it. Experiences, challenges and successful elements of this pilot project will be discussed at the international level to enable mutual learning and encourage implementation activities in other countries. 

We are looking forward to the new project and believe that gender-responsive national chemicals management is urgently needed, and gender mainstreaming should be an essential task of all National SAICM Focal Point in the future!

If you are interested in our new project GenChemRoadMap, or you want to share and discuss questions, experiences and ideas, feel free to contact us: anna.holthaus[at]msp-institute.org

If you want to stay informed about the project, its activities, events and results, please sign up for our newsletter: http://gender-chemicals.org/newsletter 


Warum Gender im nationalen Chemikalienmanagement berücksichtigt werden muss – und wie wir in Deutschland versuchen wollen, erste Schritte zu gehen

– unser neues Projekt GenChemRoadMap  –

Gender Mainstreaming ist “der Prozess, bei dem die Auswirkungen jeder geplanten Maßnahme, einschließlich Gesetzgebung, Politik oder Programme, in allen Bereichen und auf allen Ebenen auf Frauen und Männer geprüft werden“. Auf das Chemikalienmanagement bezogen bedeutet dies, dass auf allen Ebenen der Chemikalienpolitik Genderaspekte Beachtung finden müssen. Auf der internationalen Politikebene gibt es diesbezüglich verstärkt Bemühungen und Diskussionen, wie Gender im internationale Chemikalien- und Abfallmanagement nach 2020 (der SAICM Beyond 2020– Prozess) einbezogen werden soll. In den Verhandlungen sind wir gemeinsam mit unseren Kolleg*innen anderer (Frauen-)Organisationen seit mehreren Jahren aktiv beteiligt und erwarten ein klares und starkes Bekenntnis zu Geschlechtergerechtigkeit auf der SAICM ICCM5-Konferenz und in den Ergebnisdokumenten!

Aber auch wenn ein solches Bekenntnis dringend notwendig ist, muss die eigentliche Umsetzung auf der nationalen und lokalen Ebene erfolgen. Konzepte für die Integration von Gender Mainstreaming in die nationale Chemikalienpolitik oder eine geschlechtergerechte Gesetzgebung gibt es bisher jedoch kaum.

Bei einer kurzen Recherche findet man zwei Publikationen:

– Eine Übersichtsstudie zu Gender und Chemikalienmanagement in Tansania,

– und ein wissenschaftliches Papier zu Gender im kanadischen Chemikalienmanagement,

aber keine offiziellen Strategiedokumente oder Informationen über Aktivitäten von Regierungen. Dies sollte nicht überraschen, da wir uns leider noch immer in der Anfangsphase der Integration von Gender in Umwelt- und Nachhaltigkeitspolitik befinden. Aber es tut sich etwas: In den Politikfeldern Klimawandel oder Biodiversität müssen Genderaspekte in den jeweiligen nationalen Strategien und Aktionsplänen berücksichtigt werden und seit 2019 haben mehrere Länder eine nationale Gender- und Klimaschutzbeauftragte. Die Chemie-Community kann und sollte auf diesen Erfahrungen aufbauen!

Während einer Online-Diskussion der Chemicals and SDGs Community of Practice im September 2020 diskutierten die Teilnehmenden die Umsetzung von Gender Mainstreaming in nationalen Strategien:

– 87,5% der Teilnehmenden waren der Meinung, dass in ihren Ländern geschlechtsspezifische Ungleichheiten im Zusammenhang mit dem Umgang mit Chemikalien und Abfällen bestehen.

– Um dies zu ändern, hielt eine Mehrheit der Teilnehmenden die Entwicklung eines Gender-Aktionsplans und zusätzliche Forschung zu Chemikalien und Gender für besonders wichtig.

– Aber in mehr als 50% der Ländern der Teilnehmenden wird Gender Mainstreaming in der Umwelt- und Gesundheitspolitik noch nicht berücksichtigt; und auf nationaler Ebene sind keine Gender-Experten oder Frauenorganisationen in das Chemikalienmanagement eingebunden (siehe die Zusammenfassung der Diskussion: SAICM-Sekretariat/ Universität Kapstadt: 2020).

Dies muss sich dringend ändern – sonst bleiben geschlechtsspezifische Ungleichheiten eine der Ursachen für ineffektives und ungerechtes Chemikalienmanagement. Deshalb haben wir eine “Gender Road Map” entwickelt, einen Entwurf einer Kurzanleitung für eine geschlechtergerechte nationale Chemikalienpolitik für SAICM National Focal Points. Als wir den Entwurf im letzten Jahr mit der Community of Practice diskutierten, war die Resonanz positiv und die Teilnehmenden meinten, dass eine solche Roadmap nationale SAICM Focal Points ermutigen könnte, Gender in das nationale Chemikalienmanagement zu integrieren.

In diesem Jahr wollen wir einen Schritt weiter gehen: in unserem neuen Projekt “GenChemRoadMap”, das vom deutschen Umweltbundesamt unterstützt wird, wollen wir einen Trainingsworkshop und Trainingsmaterial basierend auf dieser Gender Road Map erstellen und den deutschen SAICM Focal Point bei seinen ersten Schritten und Aktivitäten zur Umsetzung unterstützen. Erfahrungen, Herausforderungen und Erfolge dieses Pilot-Projektes sollen daraufhin auf internationaler Ebene vorgestellt werden, um gegenseitiges Lernen zu ermöglichen und Umsetzungsaktivitäten in anderen Ländern zu fördern.

Wir freuen uns auf das neue Projekt und sind der Überzeugung, dass ein geschlechtergerechtes nationales Chemikalienmanagement dringend benötigt wird und Gender Mainstreaming in Zukunft eine wichtige Aufgabe aller nationalen SAICM Focal Points sein sollte!

Wenn Sie sich für unser neues Projekt GenChemRoadMap interessieren oder Fragen, Erfahrungen und Ideen austauschen und mit uns diskutieren möchten, können Sie uns gerne kontaktieren: anna.holthaus[at]msp-institute.org

Wenn Sie über das Projekt, die geplanten Aktivitäten, Veranstaltungen und Ergebnisse auf dem Laufenden bleiben möchten, tragen Sie sich hier in unseren Newsletter ein: http://gender-chemicals.org/newsletter

A new generation of equality in the world of chemistry

#Youth voices: How to create a gender-just healthy planet

Interview with Elisabeth Keuten, Member of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force

MSP Institute: Hi Elisabeth, you are one of the thirty-nine international members of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force in the Beijing+25 process. You address a broad range of gender inequalities and their impact on the young generation in that work. Where do you see the connection between gender and chemistry? And can you think of any examples from your everyday life how this connection affects young people?

Elisabeth Keuten: When I think about chemistry, the image of a white man in a white coat comes to my mind. Chemistry is a male-dominated discipline with women[i] playing only a minor role. How come?
As a young feminist, I would like to take a moment and reflect on the causes of this gender gap in chemistry and other so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines: Chemistry is part of STEM and mainly considered of interest to boys and men, for example, here in Germany. Although girls are also often fascinated by STEM topics, most of them do not pursue their interests further at school, and that is a trend that continues into college education.
In fact, here in Germany, only 37% of undergraduate students, 35% of postgraduate students and 34% of chemistry PhD students are women, which is a stark underrepresentation (Lüttmann 2019).
I am not a student of chemistry, but I can imagine that young women in STEM disciplines have to deal with various challenges. Not only are young students often overwhelmed by the difficult contents of their studies, but gender roles hinder them even more – my impression is that young women are often feeling insecure when it comes to active participation in academic courses, especially in male-dominated disciplines. As a consequence, their self-esteem may suffer during their studies and that may also affect their academic performance.
On top of all this, women are structurally discriminated by the university system itself – and also by our overall patriarchal society![ii]

MSP Institute: That sounds pretty challenging! What are you as the Youth Task Force trying to do about it?

Elisabeth Keuten: Yes, indeed, that is the harsh reality: not one single country has reached gender equality! Therefore, the Generation Equality Forum (GEF), being an international movement focusing on gender equality, is dealing with the lack of gender equality and representation. Within this forum, six working groups, so-called Action Coalitions of different actors – UN Member States, international organisations, UN agencies, philanthropies, civil society organisations, youth organisations – focus on different thematic areas.
The Action Coalition “Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality” addresses the above-mentioned difficulties in an action-oriented manner. Actors engaged in this group, including UN Member States Armenia, Finland and Tunisia, will work together for the next five years to advocate, finance and support gender equality in technology and innovation – and thus also in STEM.
Challenges for women in STEM have often been overlooked, attracting attention much later than issues on gender-based violence or bodily autonomy, for example. As reflected in the youth report[iii] of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force, STEM is receiving more attention now, but this needs to further increase over the coming years.

MSP Institute: What would be your suggestions for the future?

Elisabeth Keuten: The question to be asked is how to overcome these problems of inequality? I propose to continue making small but steady steps and working on concrete issues.
For example, more women’s working groups in chemistry could create “safe spaces” of mutual support and opportunities of empowerment. In my experience, such groups can create an appreciative and safe atmosphere, where one can freely discuss all kinds of questions. While empowerment of women should take place in dialogue with men, I believe it is vital to establish safe spaces for exchange.
In order to avoid a widening gender gap in chemistry, girls should be actively encouraged to explore scientific subjects at school and in extra-curricular activities. Teachers and parents who are supportive can create a learning atmosphere that helps to increase girls’ interest and performance.
Additionally, career fairs and campaign days may raise awareness of possible future careers in chemistry. Increasing scholarships for women in STEM should also be considered; some do exist but they need to be publicized further in order to increase uptake.
External contributions like scholarship programs not only provide financial resources but also create extra-curricular workshops and seminars as well as networking opportunities with other women in STEM. Such training and networks can help facilitate early career steps.
Lastly, the impact of role models is often underestimated, yet they can also help to encourage pupils and students. Eminent figures of female chemists can open new dimensions to those who are considering chemistry for their future careers. Not only can professionals offer their perspective on the male-dominated discipline, but encourage and share knowledge as well as coping strategies.
Policy-makers, as well as media, should support these small steps within programs, project publications and funding opportunities. And together with international high-level cooperation, as in the Generation Equality Task Force, I believe that global changes towards more gender equality in chemistry are indeed possible! Chemistry as a discipline and career will certainly be an example of changes towards gender equality in the coming years and decades.

MSP Institute: We strongly believe that too! Let’s join forces for a new generation of equality in the world of chemistry. Thank you very much, Elisabeth, for sharing your insights and views!

[i] Please note that we include trans*, non-binary and those identifying as women when saying “women”, “girl” or “female”.

[ii] Further information on the impact of structural disadvantages of women in the academic field, see Royal Society of Chemistry (2018) and UNESCO (2010).

[iii] The Youth Report reflects the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted in 1995 and points out missing areas of concern.


We spoke with Elisabeth Keuten

Member of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force

Twitter: @EKeuten


References and further information

Lüttmann, Christian (2019): Dauer, Abschlüsse, Frauenquote – Das Chemiestudium in Zahlen. Online at: https://www.laborpraxis.vogel.de/dauer-abschluesse-frauenquote-das-chemiestudium-in-zahlen-a-844354/

Generation Equality Forum (2020): Accelerating Progress for Gender Equality by 2030.Online at: https://forum.generationequality.org/

Generation Equality Forum (2020): Action Coalitions.Online at: https://forum.generationequality.org/action-coalitions

Generation Equality Youth Task Force (2020): 25 Years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action: A Youth Report. Online at: https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/setions/news%20and%20events/stories/2020/youthtfglobalreport.pdf?la=en&vs=1607&fbclid=IwAR2LgW64IMH3b8uj4IHL6EYV5wh3iAhibZlVZmEifBQB0PuJSZ7h5jh2bv4

Royal Society of Chemistry (2018): Breaking the Barriers: Women’s Retention and Progression in the Chemical Sciences. Online at: https://www.rsc.org/globalassets/02-about-us/our-strategy/inclusion-diversity/womens-progression/media-pack/v18_vo_inclusion-and-diversity-_womans-progression_report-web-.pdf

UNESCO (2010): Gender Issues in Higher Education: Advocacy Brief. Online at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/in/documentViewer.xhtml?v=2.1.196&id=p::usmarcdef_0000189825&file=/in/rest/annotationSVC/DownloadWatermarkedAttachment/attach_import_0fef4c38-4e16-41a5-ad4a-fb92bcab4eb2%3F_%3D189825eng.pdf&locale=en&multi=true&ark=/ark:/48223/pf0000189825/PDF/189825eng.pdf#%5B%7B%22num%22%3A81%2C%22gen%22%3A0%7D%2C%7B%22name%22%3A%22XYZ%22%7D%2Cnull%2Cnull%2C0%5D

Photos by: Bree Evans and by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash


Grooming, bleaching & Co: How gender, chemicals and cosmetics are linked and what that means for our health

#Expert-Blog Series: How to create a gender-just-healthy planet

by Pia Cimander, Intern at MSP Institute

Dieses Bild hat ein leeres Alt-Attribut. Der Dateiname ist gemma-chua-tran-Z-O5kbDjXFM-unsplash-1024x683.jpg
Source: Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

Soooo many cosmetics…

Walking through the aisles of a German drugstore, you’d notice the vast amount of cosmetics and care products piled up around you. Prices vary from cheap (bottom) to expensive (top), and products shine in all colors of the rainbow. For every part of the body, for every part of the face, and for every age. Products “for men” are strictly separated, from all the rest. i.e. the ones probably intended for women. The compartment with products for men is much smaller, there are fewer products and the packaging is also less conspicuous.
Whether distinguishing cosmetic products “for men” and “for women” is necessary is open to question, but the fact that the product range for women is so much larger should be examined and the reasons for this scrutinized.
Whatever the reasons, however, there are enough customers buying these products – despite the fact that ingredients are often poorly researched and components poorly declared.

The market is booming, but at what price?

In 2019, sales in the market for cosmetics and toiletries in Germany alonge were around € 15 billion [1]. Worldwide, annual sales amount to around € 220 billion, with an upward trend [2]. Women are the largest consumer group of cosmetics and personal care products. They use an average of 15 different such products every day. These contain up to 100 chemicals, many of them toxic or potentially toxic [3]. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) [4] and the Endocrine Society [5], EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals) in cosmetic products increase the likelihood of serious and even potentially fatal diseases and health disorders.

There are many reasons why women around the globe buy so many cosmetic products, including: the market and marketing suggests that women need all kinds of cosmetics and care products. Shampoo, for example, should simply clean hair of residues, grease and dead skin flakes. Instead, there is a suitable shampoo for every hair type, every taste and every feel. In addition, there are always new trends, also reflected in cosmetics. For example, As society is increasingly concerned with a “healthy” lifestyle, a clean and vegan diet and minimalistic styling, this is also reflected on the shelves of drugstores. In addition, so-called influencers increasingly impact purchasing and consumption behavior. When a certain product is advertised and shown frequently, the consumers’ interest increases and sales rise as well [6]. In addition, a well-groomed appearance is demanded by society, especially of women, and employers, for example, also usually attach great importance to this[10],[11].

Bleaching for beauty and jobs?

A particularly unsettling example of risky cosmetics in order to meet societal ideas of beauty and status is the increasing use of skin-lightening products, cures and creams, which are becoming more and more popular, especially in Asian and African countries. With an expected turnover of US$ 31.2 billion by 2024, they represent the fastest growing sector in the beauty industry [9], with the largest markets in Asia, particularly in the Philippines. However, they pose an enormous risk for their mostly female consumers [7]. So if potential employers mention a “well-groomed appearance” in their job applications, it can be assumed that, among other things, this also refers to the lightest possible skin [10],[11],[7]. Creams, cosmetic treatments and even intravenous cures are offered at almost all price ranges. One example is the so-called “Cinderella drip”, an intravenous treatment that destroys the skin’s natural melanin through the antioxidant glutathione and thus lightens the skin. Glutathione and its long-term effects on the human body have been poorly researched; they are not recommended by the FDA for medical use [8], for example. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns against such creams, especially against the mercury salts they may contain, which have been found several times in skin-lightening products, as mercury inhibits the formation of melanin and thus leads to a brighter skin tone. The Minamata Convention on mercury sets a limit of 1 mg/kg (1 ppm) for skin-lightening products, but many cosmetic products contain mercury in higher concentrations than this to enhance the whitening effect [9]. Many skin-lightening products are available via a ‘black market’ precisely because of these health hazards.

Major problems with the (illegal) trade of skin bleaches and side effects caused by their use can also be found in African countries. Such products are advertised on large street adverts as well as on television, and on the Internet. Many influencers report (mostly on YouTube and Instagram) talk about their successes with skin-lightening creams, tinctures and capsules, some of which they distribute themselves.

Lightened skin can help less privileged women as a “stepping stone” into a profession, because light skin stands for social advancement and is considered attractive by society [7]. However, the use of cheap creams and duplicates is highly dangerous and can lead to extreme damage such as possible mercury poisoning.

Racism

Reasons for wanting to lighten the skin are firmly anchored in colonial history, and the racist structures of our globalized world [12],[13]. Questioning the resulting ideals of beauty and overcoming discrimination is the task of society and politics.
Changing our ideas of beauty, however, will take time. Meanwhile, transparency and control of ingredients of bleaching products as well as of cosmetics of any kind needs to increase significantly, and people need to become aware of risks and side effects. Otherwise, the price people are paying for looking “beautiful” or “successful” is way too high.

SAICM Issues of Concern

In the SAICM process, chemicals in cosmetics are considered in the discussions on “Issues of Concern”, and the Emerging Policy Issues “chemicals in products” and “endocrine-disrupting chemicals” are of particular relevance to cosmetics and care products. This is an important stepping stone for getting things right. A comprehensive, ambitious and gender-responsive SAICM Beyond 2020 is very much needed.

Sources and further information:

[1] https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/699406/umfrage/umsatzprognose-im-deutschen-kosmetik-und-koerperpflegemarkt/#:~:text=Im%20Jahr%202019%20lag%20der,bei%20rund%2015%20Milliarden%20Eur.

[2] https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/258378/umfrage/weltweite-umsatzverteilung-im-kosmetikmarkt-nach-produktgruppen/#:~:text=Die%20Statistik%20zeigt%20eine%20Sch%C3%A4tzung,Prozent%20davon%20entfielen%20auf%20Hygieneartikel.

[3] https://www.forumue.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/10-Stimmt-die-Chemie-Hausmann.pdf

[4] WHO/UNEP, “WHO | State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – 2012,” WHO (World Health Organization, 2013), http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/endocrine/en/

[5] Endocrine Scientific Statement (review), 2015: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26544531

[6] https://www.kosmetikverband.de/infodienst/detail/influencer-marketing-authentizitaet-als-marketinginstrument

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYTIh2cXfvM

[8] https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/injectable-skin-lightening-and-skin-bleaching-products-may-be-unsafe

[9] https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-CED-PHE-EPE-19.13

[10]https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2019-july-2019/paying-high-price-skin-bleaching#:~:text=But%20the%20World%20Health%20Organisation,antioxidant%20produced%20by%20the%20liver.

[11] https://www.hrmguide.com/diversity/colorism.htm

[12] https://www.asianstudies.org/publications/eaa/archives/the-philippines-an-overview-of-the-colonial-era/

[13[ https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/XIfdHRAAAKbQ_FWB

http://ecowastecoalition.blogspot.com/

https://ipen.org/documents/about-ecowaste-coalition

https://www.cosmeticsdesign-asia.com/Article/2020/04/16/EcoWaste-Coalition-calls-on-beauty-industry-to-help-combat-illicit-sales-of-whitening-products

https://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/ruanda-bleichcremes-frauen-1.4257206

https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/panorama/cremes-zum-bleichen-im-namen-der-schoenheit-wie-afrikas-frauen-ihre-gesundheit-riskieren/12094348.html

https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-CED-PHE-EPE-19.13

Chemical safety at work: What’s gender got to do with it?

Expert – Blog Series: How to create a gender-just healthy planet

by Halshka Graczyk – International Labour Organization (ILO)

Women working with chemicals; Source: ILO

Recognising diversity, including gender differences at the workplace, is critical for protecting the health and safety of workers, particularly when it comes to hazardous exposures from chemical substances. A number of social as well as biological factors impact the effect that chemicals have on worker health and safety. Not only may exposure scenarios be different depending on factors related to gender, the impact of exposure may be different dependent on biological sex characteristics.  

In regards to exposures, owing to differences in social and occupational roles, and prevailing harmful stereotypes, women, men and persons with diverse gender identities[1] face different exposure scenarios in regards to the chemicals encountered and the magnitude and duration of exposure. Recent ILO estimates reveal that female workers constitute the majority of the workforce in specific occupations, ones that may face increased exposures to chemicals, such health professionals; cleaners; and food processing, wood working, garment and craft workers (Figure 1). Female workers in the garment sector for example are disproportionately exposed to a number of hazardous dyes and solvents, some of which are proven carcinogens, as well as endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Figure 1. Sectors with prevalent female workforce; Source: ILOSTAT 2020)

Unfortunately, work predominantly undertaken by women is often presumed to be less hazardous than that undertaken by men, and may consequently receive less attention for critical workplace procedures, such as risk assessment, or worker training. In addition, work tools and personal protective equipment (PPE) have been traditionally designed for the Western male body. Tools and PPE with poor fit can lead to reduced protection and increase the risk of chemical exposure and accidents. In some cases, workers with poor fitting PPE may forgo using it at all. Female workers entering traditionally male jobs in areas like construction, laboratory work and emergency services are particularly at risk from inappropriately designed PPE.

When it comes to decision making at work, women may be less likely to be heads of operations and therefore have less decision-making power when it comes to hazardous exposures. Women are also less likely than men to be unionized and have high-level positions in workers organizations’ and less likely to participate in OSH committees.[i]

In regards to health effects, it is well evidenced that biological differences between sexes, such as physiological, chromosomal, and hormonal differences, create differing susceptibilities to the effects of toxic chemicals. Female workers are at particularly high risk during child bearing years and pregnancy, when even low-doses of chemicals might elicit dramatic and irreversible effects. This is particularly relevant for endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that are able to induce hormonal effects at extremely low dosages, affecting fertility, fecundity and fetal development.

In addition, females are more likely to have more adipose tissue and to store chemicals that bioaccumulate, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals like mercury. Female workers exposed to mercury in artisanal mining, in the dismantling of e-waste, or other sectors, may face severe consequences to their reproductive health, and exposure during pregnancy may result in spontaneous abortion, neurobehavioral consequences, or birth defects. The fact that mercury can bioaccumulate means that occupational exposures even years before pregnancy can still negatively affect the developing fetus.

Recent data shows that occupational cancers represent an important and growing cause for work-related deaths. While many occupational studies do not report gender disaggregated data, those that do cite an alarming trend of increased cancer rates in female workers exposed to chemicals, namely within rubber and plastics production, and in jobs involving exposures to solvents, dusts, heavy metals, and pesticides. A different cellular response to oxidative stress between men and women in cancer susceptibility has been hypothesized, raising the question of whether the classification of occupational carcinogens should be gender specific.[ii]

However it is essential to note that biological susceptibility should never be used as an excuse to discriminate against workers entering a job; instead jobs or tasks must be accommodated to protect workers’ health.

Despite evidence for gender-based differences when it comes to OSH and chemicals, it is clear that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Occupational health research for female workers has focused on limited sectors. Very few physiological or toxicological studies have been carried out on chemical exposures, and the studies for gender diverse persons are virtually non-existent. Moreover, women’s occupational illnesses are often under-diagnosed, under-reported and under-compensated compared with men’s, making it difficult to extrapolate from occupational disease registries.[iii]

ILO role and response

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was founded on the concept of guaranteeing protection for the life and health of all workers in all occupations, including workers exposed to hazardous chemicals. As such, the ILO has adopted more than 50 legal instruments on the protection of workers from chemical hazards, including Conventions, their accompanying Recommendations, and Codes of Practice. These legal instruments refer to “all workers” ensuring that all persons are protected from chemical hazards, in the workplace as well as in the wider community.

In addition to chemical instruments, the ILO Maternity Protection Convention (No. 183) sets out that pregnant women should not be obliged to carry out work that is a significant risk to her health and safety or that of her child. It outlines the need for the elimination of any workplace risk, additional paid leave to avoid exposure if the risk cannot be eliminated, and the right to return to her job or an equivalent job as soon as it is safe for her to do so. The accompanying Recommendation (No.191) provides for specific risk assessment and management of risks concerning pregnant women, including exposure to biological, chemical or physical agents which represent a reproductive hazard.

The ILO has also developed Guidelines for Gender Mainstreaming in Occupational Safety and Health to assist policy-makers and practitioners in taking a gender-sensitive approach for the development and implementation of OSH policy and practice. In taking a gender sensitive approach, one recognizes that because of different jobs that men and women participate in, and the different societal roles, expectations and responsibilities they have, they may face unique chemical exposure scenarios, thus requiring appropriately designed control measures. This approach improves the understanding that gender-based division of labour, biological differences, employment patterns, social roles and structures all contribute to gender-specific patterns of hazardous exposures.

Chemical safety at the workplace can no longer afford to be gender-blind. Unless we begin to recognize, respect and address gender diversity at work, and develop inclusive and responsive gender-sensitive OSH policies and practice, we will never be able to fully protect workers, their families and their communities from the scourge of hazardous chemical exposures that continue to occur worldwide.


[1] Gender identity may or may not correspond with the biological sex assigned, and should rather be understood as the individual personal experience of gender. Gender identity exists on a spectrum and is not necessarily confined to completely male or completely female. While the terms “women,” “men,” “female” and “male” are used here to describe research findings, gender diversity encompasses persons of all gender identities and/or expressions.

[i] ILO (2013). https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work/resources-library/publications/WCMS_324653/lang–en/index.htm

[ii] Ali I, Högberg J, Hsieh JH, Auerbach S, Korhonen A, Stenius U, Silins I. Gender differences in cancer susceptibility: role of oxidative stress. Carcinogenesis. 2016;37:985–992. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgw076.

[iii] ILO (2013). https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work/resources-library/publications/WCMS_324653/lang–en/index.htm

Gender and Sustainable Chemistry: how women can benefit from sustainable chemistry …and sustainable chemistry from them

#Expert – Blog Series: How to create a gender-just healthy planet

by Creta Gambillara – International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre (ISC3)

“We need chemistry to move forward the [UN] 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We need chemistry to eradicate poverty. We need chemistry to bolster health. We need chemistry to mitigate the impacts of climate change. In a word, we need chemistry for human rights and dignity, to leave no one behind. Not just any chemistry…

We need green chemistry…sustainable chemistry…chemistry that respects the boundaries of the planet…chemistry that is inclusive, that works for the benefit of all…Indeed, the modern world, as never before, needs green [and sustainable] chemistry.’

Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO, 2017[i]

These few sentences by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, depict in a nutshell what sustainable chemistry is about. The transition to sustainable chemistry requires a new approach of systems thinking which builds upon green chemistry, addresses the full lifecycle of chemical products and embraces the triple bottom line of sustainability – people, planet and prosperity. Sustainable chemistry strives not only to provide safer alternatives, but also aims at contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through innovative and viable solutions that enable a circular economy.  

But what can sustainable chemistry mean from a gender perspective?

Sustainable chemistry (SC) provides a promising opportunity to mainstream gender-specific aspects in the chemicals sector and beyond. As a holistic approach, it encompasses ethic principles and social aspects. It addresses vulnerable groups and human right issues (women’s rights, rights of the child, workers’ rights), ethics of science (e.g. against military purposes), the prevention of future legacies, the precautionary principle and calls on the responsibility of all stakeholders involved in producing and using chemicals. 
Similar to the gender mainstreaming approach, SC helps us understand and tackle root causes of unsustainable behavior and make trade-offs visible.

Let’s have a look at the innovation field

Entrepreneurs, researchers and founders in industrialized countries and even more so in developing countries represent the change-makers and innovation drivers of their communities by solving key local and global societal problems through innovative products and processes, for example, in waste management and renewable feedstock.

Innovative solutions very often originate from the chemical sector, its research community and start-up companies in different areas. Unfortunately, these solutions do not easily find their way to the market, and particularly female researchers and founders face a long and stony way towards success, especially in searching for funding sorces, financial support from investors, training possibilities or lack of equipments and adequate lab spaces. Female founders are strongly underrepresented in technology-intensive areas, which is closely related to the low number of women with a background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

According to the Silicon Valley Bank Report 2019 about Women in Technology Leadership 2019[ii], only 28% of all technology start-ups have at least one female founder. Kuschel et al (2020) “This underrepresentation of women in innovation-driven business startups highlights existing gender biases and systemic disadvantages in social structures, making visible the double masculinity that exists at the intersection of STEM and entrepreneurship.”[iii]

STEM fields show a high level of gender imbalance, chemistry included, and in all regions of the world. Traditional structures persist, and structural barriers hinder the equal engagement of women in entrepreneurship. Furthermore, they limit opportunities for women as entrepreneurs within fields “where earnings are higher, startups have higher growth expectations, and both public support systems and private venture capital tend to focus.“[iv]

The Female Founders Monitor 2019 makes it clear that while women are indeed more strongly represented than in previous years, they are still drastically underrepresented when it comes to founding young, innovative companies.

Looking at the green and sustainable chemistry startups landscape in Germany, for example, we see that green startups have a significantly higher female founder quota (22%) compared to non-green startups (13%)[v]. In fact, female founders are more motivated by social and societal issues, thus establishing new business fields at the interface between economy and society. Moreover, social entrepreneurship and green economy seems to be a high priority for women.
Hence, we can assume that increasing women’s leadership in STEM fields and fostering female entrepreneurship in green and sustainable chemistry could further strengthen the introduction of green applications and circular business models.

Why is progress so slow? What are the difficulties for female start-ups?

As Brigitte Zypries, former German Federal Minister of Economics and Energy, put it, “the existing [political] measures designed to help women to set up their own businesses are far from adequate. […] It is still made much more difficult for women to obtain the necessary funding. This is clearly reflected in access to venture capital or business angels. […] We must overcome these and other obstacles. Then it will be much easier for women entrepreneurs to think bigger and to realize their full potential.”[vi]

Let’s have a look now at education in chemistry

When looking at school or university curricula in chemistry, gender aspects are rarely considered.

Statistics on chemistry courses 2008-2018 by Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker (GDCh) make it clear, that in Germany there has been a slight and steady increase in the proportion of female new chemistry students since 2011, from 36% to 43% in 2018, although the difference between the genders is greater when it comes to degrees: only about a third of these degrees are held by women (Bachelor’s: 37%, Master’s: 35%, doctorate 34%; as of 2018).

More attention is needed, for instance on gender relevant aspects in toxicology – also in connection with gender medicine, which is currently gaining popularity in medical research, (see https://www.journals.elsevier.com/gender-medicine), but also with regard to gender-aspects in chemicals management.

Sustainable chemistry offers a different way of thinking and teaching chemistry. By adopting a more comprehensive perspective, SC raises the awareness for the fact that the chemistry of the future has to find sustainable answers for global problems. Teaching sustainable chemistry means challenging chemists and engineers to design substances, processes and services by considering the whole lifecycle of materials, focusing on closing loops and circularity processes, on non-chemical alternatives and the producers and consumers themselves. It requires out of the box thinking and new curricula in chemistry education, where gender-specific aspects are included. A novel programme teaching this new holistic approach to sustainable chemistry was jointly developed by the Institute of Sustainable and Environmental Chemistry at Leuphana University and ISC3. The programme was successfully launched at Leuphana Professional School in March 2020.[vii]

Looking ahead

Much has still to be done to strengthen and mainstream the gender topic within the chemicals sector. Developing sustainable chemistry with its holistic approach can help mainstreaming gender-relevant aspects in chemistry – in education, innovation, entrepreneurship and beyond. 
It can help raising questions and highlighting the shortcomings that still exist.    
It can point out how women’s participation and leadership in STEM affects the chemical environment.
It can underline where there is lack of progress and it can help realize unused potentials for further development in chemistry.
Sustainable development cannot be achieved without sustainable chemistry, and sustainable chemistry cannot be implemented without the empowerment of women and gender equality.

The International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre (ISC3) is an international think tank, dedicated to shape the transformation of the chemicals sector towards sustainability. By promoting the emerging concept of sustainable chemistry as a new holistic approach, the ISC3 strives to contribute to the sound management of chemicals and waste as well as to the Agenda 2030 and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ISC3 has taken on the gender topic in its portfolio as a part of its sustainability agenda with the goal of strengthening the specific gender aspects in entrepreneurship, innovation, research etc.

The author: Creta Gambillara has been working in the chemicals /textile sector for over 10 years, sustainability issues have been at the core of her advocacy activities for many years. Since 2019, she has been working as a Policy Manager at ISC3. International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre (ISC3), Creta Gambillara, M +49 175 44 30 179; creta.gambillara[at]isc3.org,  www.isc3.org

References

[i] Address at the PhosAgro / UNESCO / IUPAC Award-Giving Ceremony (Grants for research projects proposed by young scientists in green and sustainable chemistry) St. Petersburg, 2 June 2017

[ii] Women in Technology Leadership 2019, Key insights from the Silicon Valley Bank Startup Outlook Survey https://www.svb.com/globalassets/library/uploadedfiles/content/trends_and_insights/reports/women_in_technology_leadership/svb-suo-women-in-tech-report-2019.pdf

[iii] Stemming the gender gap in STEM entrepreneurship – insights into women’s entrepreneurship in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by Katherina Kuschel & Kerstin Ettl & Cristina Díaz-García & Gry Agnete Alsos, Published online: 5 March 2020, in International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal (2020) 16:1–15, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11365-020-00642

[iv] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11365-020-00642-5

[v] Green-Startup Monitor 2020 by Borderstep Institut für Innovation und Nachhaltigkeit gemeinnützige GmbH and Bundesverband Deutsche Startups e. V.

[vi] Female Founders Monitor 2019, by Bundesverband Deutsche Startups e.V. The translation into English is done by the author of this article

[vii] www.leuphana.de/sustainable-chemistry

Nesting – Reducing the exposure to chemicals in everyday products with simple steps

#Expert – Blog Series: How to create a gender-just healthy planet

by Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF)

Source: Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash

www.nestbau.info – an information program by WECF for young families, pregnant women and anyone who wants to know which harmful chemicals can be found in everyday products, how to protect themselves, and what governments do to protect consumers?

Going shopping without worrying because the products are safe and harmless to our health – that would be great. It would be particularly great if you have already too much on your mind and you only want the best – for example, for the baby that is expected or for the little offspring that is already in the world. But it would also be excellent if it would be “only” about your own health. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many of our everyday products contain chemicals that are suspected or known to be harmful to the environment and our health. 

We at WECF – Women Engage for a Common Future – have been campaigning for years for a ban on harmful chemicals in products. Therefore, we have developed our program www.nestbau.info – a “best practice tool” to inform and raise awareness. This should actually be a task for governments so that sustainable chemicals management is finally implemented. A crucial international process in this regard is the SAICM Beyond 2020 process. However, governments have not fulfilled their duty of care and prevention to the necessary extent so far. Thus, education and information are the only way to protect unborn children, children, women and men from harmful substances. 

Synthetic chemicals occur in nearly all areas of life. Unfortunately, this means that these chemicals are also used in the products that are intended for us consumers. Formaldehyde in cosmetics, softeners in plastics, per- and polyfluorinated fabrics (PFC) in outdoor clothing, or pesticides in food – depending on the type of product, we take them with us when we go shopping, we furnish our homes with them, we keep our homes clean by using them, wear them as a garment or apply them as cosmetics on our skin. When these substances escape from the products, we can absorb them through breathing, skin and food. Analyses of blood samples, the umbilical cord, sperm or fatty tissue show that every person is contaminated with dozens of harmful substances. 

There are about 100,000 chemicals on the market worldwide. Only a small number of them have been tested extensively for health effects and are regulated accordingly. This means that they may no longer be added to certain products or only in small quantities. However, many chemicals are already known to be harmful to health. They are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic for reproduction or endocrine disruptive (affecting the hormone system), but they can also trigger allergies, impair IQ development, etc. Nevertheless, they can be found in the products we use every day.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals of concern. That is why WECF is focusing on these groups in its chemicals work and with www.nestbau.info.

Due to their higher fat content in the tissue, women accumulate more fat-soluble and bio-accumulating chemicals such as plasticizers, which are found in many plastic products and hygiene articles.

The different stages of physical development that women go through and which are controlled by the hormone system make them very susceptible to hormonally active substances: during puberty, lactation, menopause and pregnancy women react particularly sensitively to these substances. Pregnant women are also the first environment of their children. Exposure to hormonally active substances can disrupt hormonally controlled developmental processes and have critical health effects on the unborn child. The placenta is not a safe barrier for harmful substances, which are transferred from mother to child. According to the International Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, many babies are already born with up to 200 substances in their small bodies.

Another problem is that we absorb a large number of chemicals every day, from a wide variety of sources, so that many different chemicals come together in our bodies. And it is not known how they interact! The so-called cocktail or sum effect, however, is scientifically proven to play a significant role in the risk assessment and should be a decisive factor in the development of regulations and “safe” limit values. 

It is the responsibility of governments to protect our health and the environment from harmful chemicals through regulations and laws. In many points, however, regulations are not sufficient – not even in Europe, where REACH, a world-leading chemicals legislation has been implemented, and the precautionary principle should apply. For example, hormonally active substances which are found in many everyday products are not sufficiently taken into account in REACH and other directives.

Many questions remain open for consumers: How can I protect myself? What can I consume as an alternative, and what not? Can I do all this without having to become an expert and complicate my everyday life? The simple and relieving answer to this question is: you do not need to be an expert status, but you need to be proactive: you have to inform yourself. WECF has developed the nest-building program in order to answer questions such as “Which product is the right one?” and to provide consumers with concrete help. 

For selected product groups, the program provides you with concrete, easy-to-implement suggestions regarding:  

  • Body care 
  • Detergents
  • Renovation and furnishing
  • Toys 
  • Textiles

A list of harmful substances helps to avoid them and stay on the safe side safe when shopping. Additionally, we provide advice on product groups for which there is no legal obligation to declare the ingredients and explain how to check if a product is as safe as possible. Politically, we are working to ensure that a declaration obligation is finally implemented.

In addition to the www.nestbau.info website, the entire nest-building package consists of, the brochure ” Beware! Toxic Chemicals in everyday life”, the app “giftfrei einkaufen” (shop without toxics – in German), a postcard or flyer as well as numerous compact guides on toys, hormone-like acting chemicals, care products, etc. The material is available in English and many other languages such as German, French, Dutch, Turkish and also Chinese. 

As briefly mentioned In the beginning, the SAICM process is intended to continue on the path to sustainable chemicals management globally in the future. SAICMs “Chemical in Products” (CiP) program is particularly important for consumers: according to the program, information about which chemical is contained in which product should be accessible, and at least regulated chemicals that are attributed potential health hazards should be labelled.

WECF is working with a number of other NGOs at the national and international level to implement the CiP programme. However, practice still lags far behind what is needed. In the meantime, it is all the more important to inform yourself and to shop as toxic-free as possible, for example with the help of www.nestbau.info.

Resources for further information:

https://www.figo.org/

https://academic.oup.com/endo/article/160/6/1421/5473530

https://noharm-uscanada.org/sites/default/files/documents-files/51/Body_Burden_in_Newborns.pdf

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331794876_Environmental_toxins_and_the_impact_of_other_endocrine_disrupting_chemicals_in_women%27s_reproductive_health

https://ipen.org/sites/default/files/documents/ipen-intro-edc-v1_9a-en-web.pdf

Plastic and Toxic Free Period: a new information resource and a clearinghouse for people who menstruate

#Expert – Blog Series: How to create a gender-just healthy planet

by Olga Speranskaya and Alexandra Caterbow, HEJSupport Co-directors

Source: HEJSupport

The future where plastics- and toxic free female sanitary products are affordable and available globally and where the environment is free from a top-ten source of non-value plastic waste is just around the corner. Many good alternatives exist, in few countries, some regulation is on its way and the topic surfaces slowly on the agenda of decision makers. Now is the time to bring solutions to the public and to decision makers and raise pressure on big manufacturers to produce healthy and environmentally friendly products.

With the new Clearing House website www.ptfperiod.info highlighting the issue, information about women and chemicals with the focus on toxic chemicals and plastic in menstruation products becomes clear and easy to understand. Readers do not need to spend time searching through numerous resources to find information they need. Everything is available in just one click.

The website is connected to global and national campaigns on toxic free menstruation products happening around the world and organized by our partners. It includes twitter messages on the issue posted from different countries and regions with hashtags such as #ptfperiod, #periodaction, #PlasticFreePeriods, #periodwithoutplastic.

The Clearing House website is the cornerstone of cooperation, outreach, information sharing, and awareness raising. It provides an excellent basis that helps to elevate national activities of single organisations to a global movement. The project resulted in building a coalition of NGOs working on plastic and toxic free period in many different countries, regions and globally. 

What role do hygiene products play in the life of people?

Hygiene products play an essential role in women’s life by helping them stay clean and confident. They are comfortable and convenient which makes women depend on them, sometimes daily. Conventional stores suggest a variety of hygiene products including external products such as sanitary pads and panty liners as well as internal tampons and menstrual cups. Women chose what suits better for their lifestyle.

The average woman will use 12,000 to 16,000 disposable feminine hygiene products in her lifetime and it can take up to 100 years or more for something like a plastic pad or applicator to break down. Noting that early puberty is becoming more frequent in our days (in part as a result of chemical exposures¹), the use of feminine hygiene products will be skyrocketing in the near future. During a woman’s fertile years, period-related garbage makes about 0.5% of her “personal landfill load” which is comparable to the percentage of the annual trash made from plastic plates and cups.

Can toxic chemicals in hygiene products impact the health of women?

Women and the environment are highly contaminated with hazardous plastic chemicals in feminine hygiene products. Conventional sanitary pads are made from up to 90% crude oil-sourced plastic and can contain associated plasticizing chemicals like BPA and BPS, and petrochemical additives which are known endocrine disrupting substances and are linked to e.g. infertility, heart diseases and cancer. Phthalates, mainly used as plasticizers, are a common ingredient in tampon applicators, and are known to disrupt hormone function and may lead to multiple organ diseases. Phthalates can leach from finished products when handled. Many of these chemicals can cross the placenta, some of them more readily than others. The recent research found troubling bisphenol concentrations in the placenta and cord blood² which

highlights the issue that chemicals a mother is exposed to can impact the development of the fetus.

How to manage hygiene products when they become waste?

If conventional hygiene products contain plastic, they cannot be recycled to reduce their load on the environment, as they are designed to collect human waste. In addition, these products are largely made of low-density polyethylene. While plastic bottles and containers can often be recycled, hygienic products are considered to be single-use, non-value plastic products which are subject to quick disposal. They end up in incinerators, landfills, illegal dumping grounds, water sources, seas and oceans. They cannot be composted or repurposed into new products. Waste pickers avoid collecting this type of garbage as it is disgusting and of no use to them. According to a Life Cycle Assessment of tampons conducted by the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, recycling of low-density polyethylene is energy consuming as it requires high amounts of fossil fuel generated energy. As a result, used hygiene products usually end up either in landfills, sewer systems, waterways or are incinerated.

The multi-billion-dollar industry that manufactures feminine and other hygienic products, profits from the dominance of disposable products. They have succeeded in making consumers believe that disposables are not only the most convenient and affordable option, but also have no health or environmental risks.

Better solutions to conventional feminine hygienic products exist but are not available in many countries or are unknown to women making them a limited as a safer option.

What information does the Clearing House website provide?

To help people find information on hygienic products they need, the new Clearing House website provides resources regarding global campaigns, new science, toxic free alternatives and more. It also acts as the platform for sharing knowledge and experience, advocacy work, new ideas and advices for everyone who menstruates. In addition, it shares presentations at the recent webinar on toxic and plastic free menstruation products that we organised to discuss important issues about period products, their effects on the health of people and the environment, and what difference we can make to minimise the negative impact and ensure the availability of more sustainable, plastic and toxic free options.

For more information about the Clearing House website www.ptfperiod.info and how to become a partner, please contact HEJSupport team at info[at]hej-support.org

(1) https://www.nwhn.org/early-puberty-for-girls-the-new-normal-and-why-we-need-to-be-concerned/

(2) https://www.pnas.org/content/117/9/4642