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 – 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 – 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

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 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

Resources for further information:

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 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 and how to become a partner, please contact HEJSupport team at info[at]




25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action: Feminist guidance – including for future chemicals policy

Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995

The year 2020 marks not only an important year for chemicals and waste, it is also a “super year” for gender equality: UN Women celebrates its tenth anniversary and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Twenty-five years ago 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists from around the world came to Beijing to participate or demonstrate at the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995 to strengthen gender equality and the empowerment of all women. After two weeks of political debate and tough negotiations, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, was adopted.

Even if you don’t remember the World Conference itself, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard the famous quote by Hillary Clinton, underlining that gender equality is at the very heart of human rights and the United Nations:

Hillary Clinton 1995, by EngenderHealth

As a defining framework for change, the Beijing Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments in 12 critical areas of concern. Even 25 years later, it remains powerful: The concept of gender mainstreaming was developed, which is the chosen approach of the United Nations system and international community towards realizing gender equality until today, and the interlinkages of “Women and the Environment” were highlighted for the very first time (UN Women, 2020) – a novelty in international policy.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the document to see why it is still so important – including for a future framework for the sound management of chemicals and waste:

In Chapter K “Women and the Environment”, the Beijing Platform for Action comprehensively defines the interlinkages between women and environmental policy:

246. “Women have an essential role to play in the development of sustainable and ecologically sound consumption and production patterns and approaches to natural resource management (…).”

249. “Women remain largely absent at all levels of policy formulation and decision-making in natural resource and environmental management, conservation, protection and rehabilitation, and their experience and skills in advocacy for and monitoring of proper natural resource management too often remain marginalized in policy-making and decision-making bodies (…).”

Clear political guidance was also given regarding the gendered effects of chemicals:

247. “Environmental risks in the home and workplace may have a disproportionate impact on women’s health because of women’s different susceptibilities to the toxic effects of various chemicals. These risks to women’s health are particularly high in urban areas, as well as in low-income areas where there is a high concentration of polluting industrial facilities.

Actions to be taken include: 

25.8 (…) Develop gender-sensitive databases, information and monitoring systems and participatory action-oriented research, methodologies and policy analyses, with the collaboration of academic institutions and local women researchers, on the following: The impact on women of environmental and natural resource degradation, deriving from, inter alia, unsustainable production and consumption patterns, drought, poor quality water, global warming, desertification, sealevel rise, hazardous waste, natural disasters, toxic chemicals and pesticide residues, radioactive waste, armed conflicts and its consequences; 

(…) Ensure the full compliance with relevant international obligations, including where relevant, the Basel Convention and other conventions relating to the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes (which include toxic wastes) and the Code of Practice of the International Atomic Energy Agency relating to the movement of radioactive waste; enact and enforce regulations for environmentally sound management related to safe storage and movements; consider taking action towards the prohibition of those movements that are unsafe and insecure; ensure the strict control and management of hazardous wastes and radioactive waste, in accordance with relevant international and regional obligations and eliminate the exportation of such wastes to countries that, individually or through international agreements, prohibit their importation; (…)”

25 years ago, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action stated:

  • that women are agents of change,
  • that women’s full participation is crucial, and
  • that gender mainstreaming needs to be implemented in all policy fields – including chemicals and waste.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action remains as relevant as ever!  Let’s celebrate its 25th anniversary by finally implementing its recommended actions. 

Generation Equality Campaign, by UN Women

Today, on 9 March 2020,  the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64) is happening, which marks the starting point for the celebrations and the UN Women special campaign “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future”. Sadly, due to the coronavirus, it was decided that the commission will convene for a shortened and procedural meeting only. “The meeting will include opening statements, followed by the adoption of the draft Political Declaration and action on any other draft resolutions. The session will then suspend until further notification. No general debate will take place, and all side events planned by Member States and the UN system in conjunction with CSW 64 will be cancelled” (UN Women). 12.000 participants were expected for this major event in New York this week – we all had to cancel our trips, and hope that we will be able to convene somewhere sometime soon. 

Gender and Chemicals at the 3rd Meeting of the Intersessional Process Considering the Strategic Approach and the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste Beyond 2020 (IP3)

View of the plenary, photo by IISD/ENB.

The 3rd Meeting of the Intersessional Process Considering the Strategic Approach and the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste Beyond 2020 (IP3, SAICM) took place from 30th September – 4th October 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. More than 300 delegates attended, including representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and industry.

During the meeting, participants discussed four critical aspects: 1) targets, milestones and indicators; 2) institutional arrangements; 3) mechanisms to support implementation; and 4) financial considerations. Participants “made a number of important advances in each area which will serve as an important contribution” (ENB 2019) towards the preparation of recommendations for ICCM5 in autumn next year, e.g. on criteria and mechanisms for adopting so-called issues of concern, ways to enhance multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder engagement and an enabling framework to encourage higher profile and ambition. However, participants couldn’t reach the major milestone of developing a ‘zero draft’ for IP4, which will take place in March 2020 (see ENB summary). This is now being prepared by the secretariat, which was requested to consolidate the outputs of IP3 into a draft for deliberation at IP4. A technical working group on targets, milestones and indicators was established to support further work in this area between now and IP4, and the Government of Germany offered to host a special workshop in January to discuss a possible enhanced enabling framework for beyond 2020.

Our policy demands and information booth #genderjusticeistherightchemistry

The MSP Institute was there, working to increase attention on gender issues, providing information and suggestions on how to integrate gender in a future framework on chemicals and waste:

With a small online campaign on twitter, we spread our main policy demands that new SAICM needs a gender action plan, a gender focal point and women’s full and equal participation. At our information booth, we shared policy suggestions, information material and our brochure about Gender and SAICM Beyond2020.

On Oct 2nd, the MSP Institute facilitated the second informal meeting on women and gender, which was open to all interested stakeholders. Fifteen delegates attended and exchanged experiences, informed each other about gender projects and activities and discussed how to integrate gender into SAICM Beyond 2020. After the meeting, several participants submitted a first joint position paper on “Gender and the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020” to the SAICM Secretariat, which was prepared by the ‘Women and Gender @ SAICM’- mailing list in advance and further fine-tuned at the meeting.

Participants of the “Women and Gender at SAICM” meeting.

During the week at IP3, we had a lot of inspiring conversations with delegates and we are pleased that the issue of gender and chemicals is attracting increasing attention – for example by ChemicalWatch and their article “UN should consider how chemicals affect genders differently, say NGOs”. However, merely talking about gender equality is not enough – at IP4, it will be most relevant to mainstream gender into all recommendations for a post-2020 platform.

There is not much time left – let’s integrate gender now!

Upcoming international meetings include:

  • IP4 – 23rd – 26th March 2020 in Bucharest, Romania
  • ICCM5 – 5th – 9th October 2020 in Bonn, Germany

If you want to be part of the mailing list “Women and Gender @ SAICM” please send an email to anna.holthaus[at] The mailing list is open to everyone working in the SAICM Process and interested in women and gender topics.

Thank you and best regards,
Anna and Minu from the MSP Institute

Gender and Chemicals: SAICM process news, project updates, and more

Photo by Alex Kondratiev on Unsplash

Preparations starting for IP3

The third meeting of the intersessional process (IP3) will be held at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, Thailand, from 1 to 4 October 2019 – and the MSP Institute will participate to advocate for the integration of gender in SAICM Beyond 2020. Together with the new “Women and Gender@SAICM”-Group we are now starting to develop a position paper on women’s and gender issues in relation to the sound management of chemicals and waste. In addition, we are preparing an interactive join-in campaign for the meeting.

Stakeholder input – SAICM Beyond 2020

We submitted an input on SAICM and the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020 to the SAICM Secretariat in June, hoping to support the preparations for IP3. Our submission makes policy recommendations regarding mechanisms to support implementation; measures to achieve multisectoral engagement; issues of concern and “Principles and Approaches”. You can find our input here: Stakeholderinput-SAICM_MSPInstitute.

Gender and Chemicals at ISC3 Stakeholder Forum

We participated at the 1st ISC3 Stakeholder Forum (ISC3 – International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre) and are further engaged in the dialogue on the emerging concept of sustainable chemistry. It is argued that Sustainable Chemistry is a holistic approach addressing all three dimensions of sustainable development and therefore much broader than Green Chemistry. We will continue to advocate for gender equality; human rights and poverty reduction to be at the heart of the concept.

Upcoming events: Beijing +25 – Generation Equality Campaign

In 2020, the global community will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). The Beijing Platform for Action is the most visionary agenda for the empowerment of women and girls everywhere around the globe. It was adopted by 189 governments committed to taking strategic, bold action in 12 critical areas of concern: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, and the girl child. 2020 is therefore a pivotal year for the accelerated realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. UN Women’s new, multigenerational campaign marking the anniversary and the need to intensify action, is already starting now: “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future”.

Informative Publication: Gender in Multi-Stakeholder-Partnerships

SAICM is a big multi-stakeholder process (MSP), where gender matters at different levels. We invite you to have a look at the new giz publications about gender in multi-stakeholder partnerships. They provide guidance on how to fully integrate gender in MSPs by offering concrete, systematic support. In a step-by-step manner, difficulties are pointed out, valuable tools are offered and concrete examples are given.

Gender in other global multilateral environmental agreements and the SDG Process

BRS Conventions: The Gender Action Plan of the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions was updated with indicators for monitoring in March 2019 and submitted to the 2019 COPs. In addition, the BRS Secretariat, together with GRID-Arendal, developed a Pocket Guide to the BRS Gender Action Plan, which was launched at the 2019 BRS COPs.

UNFCCC: At the Bonn Climate Change Conference (SB50) from 17th-27th June 2019, parties spent 4 days reviewing was has been achieved under the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan so far. In a workshop organized by the UNFCCC Secretariat Gender Team, success stories were shared and organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Climate Technology Centre & Network and the Green Climate Fund reported on their gender actions.

High-Level Political Forum (HLPF): At this year’s HLPF, SDGs 4,8,10,13,16 and 17 will be reviewed under the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. Especially for women and girls, the 2019 HLPF is critical because “the goals under review speak to some of the most pressing structural challenges the world faces” (Women’s Major Group (WMG) 2019). See the WMG full position paper here.

Gender and Chemicals at the third Meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group for SAICM, April 2019

View of the plenary. Photo by IISD/ENB.

The third Meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group for the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (OEWG3, SAICM) took place from 2-4 April 2019 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Approximately 350 delegates attended, including representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and industry. The MSP Institute was there, working to increase attention on gender issues, providing information and suggestions on how to integrate gender in a future framework on chemicals and waste.

During the meeting, OEWG3 participants assessed SAICM’ progress and activities regarding the emerging policy issues and other issues of concern, discussed the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020, prepared for ICCM5 and considered the planned activities and draft budget of SAICM secretariat (see ENB summary here).

We presented our new brochure “Gender & SAICM Beyond 2020. How to create a gender-just healthy planet” at our information booth, as well as other information material and policy suggestions. We were very pleased to see that all our material was picked up, and we had a lot of inspiring conversations.

On the second day of OEWG3, we invited all interested stakeholders to a first informal meeting on women and gender. The goal was to get to know each other, exchange experiences and to think about how we can create a gender-just healthy planet. Seventeen interested SAICM stakeholders from governments, NGOs and IGOs attended the meeting. We had a fruitful discussion and brainstorming on the necessity of the integration of gender in SAICM. We also collected concrete ideas on what we can do to make SAICM Beyond 2020 more gender-sensitive, e.g. organizing side-events, publishing publications, compiling information on gender/women stories at country levels or working with the network of women environment ministers.  The group agreed that there should be a next women and gender meeting at IP3 in Bangkok in September/October and created a new mailing list to stay in touch and continue discussions. We are very happy that so many delegates are interested to work together on gender and we hope that this work will help to achieve the full integration of gender in SAICM Beyond 2020.

Participants of the Women and Gender Meeting

Brainstorming on Gender and SAICM Beyond 2020

The new mailing list “Women and Gender @ SAICM” is open to everyone working in the SAICM Process and interested in women and gender topics. If you want to be part of it, please send an email to: anna.holthaus[at] 

There is not much time left until 2020 – let’s integrate gender now!

Upcoming international meetings include:

  • IP3 – 30th Sept – 4th Oct 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand
  • IP4 – Spring 2020 in Bucharest, Romania
  • ICCM5 – 5th – 9th October 2020 in Berlin, Germany

Thank you and best regards,
Anna and Minu from the MSP Institute


Brief Report: Gender and Chemicals at the Fourth Session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4)

Group photo of the UNEA-4 High-Level Segment by IISD

The fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) was held from 11-15 March 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya. Under the motto “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production”, UNEA-4 addressed environmental challenges related to poverty and natural resources management, including sustainable food systems, food security and halting biodiversity loss, life-cycle approaches to resource efficiency, energy, chemicals and waste management and innovative sustainable business development at a time of rapid technological change (UNEP 2019a). Tragically, the assembly was overshadowed by the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash on March 10. We grieve with the global community for the 157 people and colleagues who perished while en route to Nairobi.

Anna from the MSP Institute attended UNEA-4 to work together with other women’s groups and feminists of the Women’s Major Group (WMG) to increase attention, inter alia, to gender and chemicals issues.

At UNEA-4, many side-events discussed the challenges of chemicals, waste and pollution. The new synthesis report of the second edition of the Global Chemicals Outlook (GCO-II) was being launched. It underlines the importance of a sound management of chemicals and waste: The global goal to minimize adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020; the World Health Organization estimated the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016; and moreover, the chemicals industry will double by 2030. Therefore, more ambitious worldwide action by all stakeholders is urgently required (UNEP 2019b). The High Ambition Alliance on Chemicals and Waste, led by Sweden and Uruguay, met for the second time and the German government and the BRS Conventions Secretariat held a side event on “Advancing the sustainability of chemicals throughout the life cycle”. The issue of gender and chemicals was taken up in particular by the BRS Secretariat: Executive Secretary Rolph Payet met with the Women’s Major Group, and a lounge area installation by the Geneva Chemicals and Waste Cluster addressed, inter alia, the interlinkages between gender and chemicals.

The UN Environmental Assembly adopted a first ever resolution on “Promoting gender equality and the human rights and empowerment of women and girls in environmental governance”. This is an important step towards strengthening gender equality and women’s rights in the area of international, regional and national policy making on climate change and environmental issues as a key to Sustainable Development and the 2030Agenda. The resolution specifically invites member states to establish gender criteria for national environmental projects and programs, to recognize gender equality and the role of women and girls as sustainability change agents, and to support capacity-building to enhance women’s active and meaningful participation in decision-making. However, states could not agree on the importance of protecting women’s human rights and environmental defenders, despite this having been articulated throughout the negotiations.  In addition, the United States refused to include any reference to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in the adopted resolution (Women’s Major Group 2019, see the full press release of the Women’s Major Group here).

Despite this landmark resolution, any real mainstreaming of gender was missing. Resolutions relevant to chemicals include a call to governments, international organisations, industry, civil society and the scientific communities to improve the information on chemicals in products in consumer goods as well as throughout the supply chain; to establish programmes that provide consumers and the general public with information on the risks from chemicals; to strengthen the science-policy interface; and to pursue an improved framework for the sound management of chemicals and waste after 2020 (ChemicalWatch 2019) – but none of these resolutions include any direct references to gender nor any substantive information on how gender mainstreaming could be implemented in the respective areas of work or action plans.

For us, UNEA-4 was a great opportunity to make quite a few new contacts, engage in intense discussions with colleagues, and share information about gender in chemicals and waste management with many governments and stakeholders from around the world in advance of the SAICM third meeting of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG3).


UNEP (2019a): Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production. The fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly will gather in Nairobi, Kenya from 11 – 15 March 2019. Online at:

Women’s Major Group (2019): About us. Online at:

UNEP (2019b): The second edition of the Global Chemicals Outlook. Online at:

United Nations Environment Assembly (2019): Promoting gender equality and the human rights and empowerment of women and girls in environmental governance. Online at:

CIEL/Women’s Major Group: Feminists at UNEA-4 Continue the Call for the Right to a Healthy and Sustainable Environment. Online at:

ChemicalWatch (2019): Unea4 adopts resolutions to push forward sound management of chemicals. Online at:

What is a Women and Gender Caucus?

#Explanation – Blog series: How to create a gender-just healthy planet


What’s a caucus?

In the context of international policy processes, the participation of non-government actors has played an increasingly important role. A variety of interest groups, stakeholders, constituencies and actors are active in processes that affect or concern them.

The term “caucus” originates from structures and mechanisms in political parties, e.g. in the US, a caucus is a „meeting held to decide which person a political party will support in an election” (Cambridge Dictionary). In international policy making, participating non-government actors are often organized in caucuses – i.e. groups of people with influence or an interest in something who meet to consider a particular issue or problem. If the groups meet very regularly, sometimes institutional groupings called ‘constituencies’ or ‘major groups’ emerge.

With Women and Gender Caucuses, Constituencies and Major Groups, feminists and women activists have established a structure to coordinate their tasks and political positions as well as to make their voices heard and advocate for gender equality within UN processes on two levels: On the one hand, their aim is to strengthen women’s active participation by sharing information and access to documents, by organizing possibilities to submit proposals or to speak at negotiation meetings, and enabling physical participation by organizing travel funding for colleagues, especially from the Global South. On the other hand, they combine expert knowledge of women’s organisations, gender experts and other academics to support gender mainstreaming activities within policy processes, often in direct contact with the respective secretariat and/or with other relevant stakeholders. Women and Gender Groups and meetings are mostly self-organised but recognized by the official institutions who regard them as liaisons or focal points to reach out and interact with particular stakeholder groups. Women and Gender Cau- cuses are usually open to all interested stakeholders working to promote human rights-based sustainable development with a focus on women’s human rights, the empowerment of women and gender equality. Sometimes, participation is limited to non-government or civil society organisations and in- dividuals, and many caucuses have developed their own rules, procedures, and governance, from electing co-chairs, through facilitating representative, joint submissions to negotiations to managing shared financial resources. During UN conferences, they met regularly to discuss the ongoing negotiations and to develop joint responses from a gender perspective, between conferences they mostly communicate via email list servers and online platforms.

A bit of history

Since many years Women and Gender Caucuses contribute to UN policies on sustainable development with successful advocacy activities:

In 1992, the Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, UNCED) took place and was one of the first breakthroughs in women’s advocacy for sus- tainable development: Preparing for the conference the Women’s Caucus, organized by the Women’s Environment Development Organization (WEDO), met every morning to discuss texts, interventions and strategies, based on its own Women’s Action Agenda for a Healthy Planet, developed at the Women’s World Congress for a Healthy Planet in Miami in 1991. During the Earth Summit, the Women’s Caucus also played a key role with the Women’s Tent “Planeta Femea” of the parallel forum “Foro Global” with over 1.000 Women coming together from all regions of the world (Dankelmann 2011; WMG 2018).

The Earth Summit recognized nine stakeholder groups, so called “Major Groups”, to ensure a broad participation in the policy and implementation process: farmers, trade unions, indigenous peoples and their communities, children and youth, NGOs, local authorities, science and technology, busi- ness and industry, and women (WMG 2018). Agenda 21, one of the key outcome documents of the Earth Summit, includes chapters dealing with each of these Major Groups, recognizing their needs and roles, and underlining the need for their active participation in realizing sustainable development.

Major Groups, caucuses and constituencies today

Today, the Women’s Major Group (WMG) is an official participant in the UN processes on Sustainable Development and active at UNEP, with over 600 list server members who are organisations and individuals. The WMG is the focal point for UN-DESA, ECOSOC and the General Assembly for all UN Sustainable Development policies.

Its mandate covers Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals and Indicators, the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the High-Level Political Forum. It covers the Rio+20 outcome, with SDGs, Financing for Sustainable Development, Small Island Development States SIDS, Technology. Furthermore, it also covers the global and regional policy processes of the United Nations. The Women’s Major Group on Environmental Policies follows the policy processes related to the UNEP and those governed by UNEP such as Sustainable Consumption and Production (UN DESA 2018). Additionally, the WMG works closely with other Women’s and Gender Caucuses or Constituencies in other UN policy processes, e.g. the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Disaster Risk Reduction, Cities / UN Habitat, Financing for Development, Commission on Population and Development (CPD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (ibid.).

The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) is, for example, one of the nine constituencies, i.e. stakeholder groups, that is part of the UNFCCC process. Established in 2009 by women and gender activists, who actively discussed whether and how the issue of gender should be given more attention at the climate change negotiations since 2003, the WGC now consists of 28 Women and Gender Organisations and Networks with advocates from more than 60 countries. Since 2015 the WGC has organized the Gender Just Climate Solu- tions Award to promote gender responsive climate awards, in 2017 the WGC managed to shape the “Gender and Work Program” that has been decided upon at the COP 20 in Lima in 2014 and the most recent highlight is the “Gender Action Plan” from COP 23 in Bonn 2017, which was finally adapted through much advocacy work after years of discussions (GenderCC 2018).

A Women and Gender Caucus for SAICM Beyond 2020

Creating an informal and open-to-all Women and Gender Caucus For the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste can create an inspiring, useful, and powerful space for discussion, information sharing and advocacy to push forward the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and ensure the recognition of the interconnections between gender and chemicals. Such a caucus – gathering at the SAICM meetings and communicating electronically in between can strengthen the participation of (indigenous) women and also help to increase the visibility of SAICM beyond 2020.

As a starting point, we invite all stakeholders to a first, informal meeting on gender, women and chemicals and waste at the OEWG3!

Date: Wednesday, 03rd April 2019, 08:00-09:00 pm

Location: Antel Arena, Montevideo – Room: tbc

We are looking forward to seeing you!


Dankelmann, Irine (2011): Women on the forefront at the Earth Summit ’92 in Rio. Online at: WEDO: the-forefront-at-the-earth-summit-92-in-rio-a-personal-journey-by- irene-dankelman/.

GenderCC (2018): Looking back at 10 years GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice. sary/10-years-fighting-for-climate-justice.html.
Hemmati, M. 2001. Women & Sustainable Development: From 2000 to 2002. in: F. Dodds & T. Middleton (eds.). Earth Summit 2002 – A New Deal. pp65-83. London: Earthscan, 2nd Edition

Hemmati, M. 2005. Gender & Climate Change in the North: Issues, Entry Points and Strategies for the Post-2012 Process and Beyond. genanet / Focal Point Gender Justice and Sustainability, Berlin
UN DESA (2018): Women. Online at: https://sustainabledevelopmen-

WMG (2018): History of Women’s Movement and Sustainable Devel- opment. 2018/01/History-of-the-Women%E2%80%99s-Movement-and- Sustainable-Development.pdf

The Gender Dimension: Why chemical exposure affects each sex differently

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

by  Brenda Koekkoek, SAICM Secretariat

Graphic by the SAICM Secretariat

It’s a fact that chemicals are in everything we touch and that chemicals are essential for our sustainable development and future. Yet while chemical exposure can pose a risk to all, it has been shown to affect men and women differently, whether due to physical conditions or in reproductive health.

The susceptibility to chemical exposure varies according to sex – starting in the womb, through childhood and the first years of development to puberty, when adolescents are particularly susceptible. In order to ensure the health of future generations, the different vulnerabilities of men and women must be understood and considered.

The gender dimensions of the sound management of chemicals and waste are highly relevant. Exposure to chemicals depends on geographical location, behavioural patterns, age, nutritional status, and other biological factors. Hence, sex and gender are highly influential in an individual’s physiological susceptibility to chemicals. For example, the varying roles of men and women in the workplace and at home help determine respective exposures and vulnerabilities to chemicals. Because of largely gender segregated labour markets, there are many occupations involving chemicals that affect either women or men to a larger extent.

Although often overlooked, domestic exposures to chemicals and toxins must also be considered. Men and women use different personal care products and cosmetics and are affected differently. For example, women tend to use more personal items than men, and with over 5,000 different ingredients used in the personal care industry, it increases their dermal exposure to chemicals. Work involving household cleaning products also leads to chemical exposures, and with changing gender roles, exposure patterns also change.

With the size of the global chemical industry projected to double by 2030, there is a growing concern for people working in chemically intensive sectors such as agriculture, construction, electronics and textiles. Women are also increasingly working in the informal sector and rarely receive basic training about the chemicals they use, which increases their vulnerability to pesticide-related health risks.

Now more than ever, it is vital that measures are taken to ensure that the needs of particularly vulnerable demographics are met, when it comes to the sound management of chemicals. In considering reproductive health as an example, both parents have susceptibilities that must be understood for the health of future generations.

One step in the right direction is gender mainstreaming. This is defined as a strategy for equally making both men and women’s concerns, needs, and experiences an integral part of policies and programmes in political, economic and societal spheres. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda aim to address inequalities among all population groups – especially women, children, and the impoverished. Particularly, SDG5 aims to achieve gender equality and improve women’s rights. Directly addressing the links between the environment and gender in the context of the SDGs will provide new opportunities to achieve these goals in a more sustainable and beneficial manner and can yield tangible results and will provide benefits for both women and men.

UN Environment and the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) are working in partnership on gender and chemicals, in particular on raising awareness, promoting womens’ engagement and leadership in decision-making processes as well as contributing to activities related to the Strategic Approach emerging policy issues and relevant SDGs.  Furthermore, it is very positive that gender considerations have been increasingly incorporated into global multilateral environmental agreements, including the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Gender and the SAICM Emerging Policy Issues

SAICM stakeholders have identified eight emerging policy issues and other issues of concern since the inception of the Strategic Approach in 2006. In general, all of these have susceptibility and exposure considerations related to gender, which I would like to illustrate:

1. Lead in paint

Lead, a widely used toxic metal, contaminates the environment and causes extensive public health problems. Children are particularly vulnerable and the exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and minor malformations.

2. Highly hazardous pesticides

Understanding gender roles in agricultural communities can create opportunities to unpack root causes of unsustainable behaviour in communities and has potential to support transformational change. For example, a large number of women in South Asia, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture and related tasks such as washing pesticide containers and thinning crops exposed to pesticides. The resulting exposure calls for the regulation of the use of highly hazardous pesticides.

3. Chemicals in products (CiP)

Efforts to label and classify chemicals help consumers make informed choices. By engaging with consumer product sectors, there are opportunities to empower workers and consumers, for example, to understand potential exposures to chemicals and to target initiatives to empower particular vulnerable groups. UNEP’s Chemicals in Products programme promotes transparency of information in supply chains and is currently focused on, but not limited to, the following sectors: textiles, toys, building materials, and electronics.

4. Hazardous substances within the life cycle of electronic products

The manufacture of electrical and electronic products relies on the use of over 1,000 chemicals, many of which lack comprehensive health and safety information due to weak regulatory policies. As the electronics industry has grown, women in Latin America and Asia have become the primary source of labour, and are now exposed to high levels of toxins such as lead and chromium.

5. Nanotechnology and nanomaterials

Nanomaterials, which can be found in many consumer products, can affect both male and female reproductive systems. These materials are prevalent in pharmaceuticals and textiles, and in the products related to information and communications technology.

6. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs)

EDCs affect the hormone systems of men, women and children. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics notes that the global rise in non-communicable diseases, as well as the increase in preterm births, low-birth-weight babies, and the early onset of breast development can be partially attributed to EDCs.

7. Environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants (EPPPs)

The sources of pharmaceutical pollution include drug manufacturing, human excretion, disposal from homes and hospitals, and wastewater from large-scale livestock operations. However, gender-specific effects of EPPPs remain largely unknown, due to the limited methods to measure such a wide-spread phenomenon.

8. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

PFCs have become extensively used in both industrial and consumer products to make them resistant to stains, water, grease, or heat. Studies have shown that high levels of PFCs can be highly toxic, and animal tests have found PFCs to be potentially carcinogenic in the reproductive and fetal development stages, although these effects on humans remain inconclusive.

In general, all of the SAICM emerging policy issues and other issues of concern have susceptibility and exposure considerations related to gender, though no on-going gender activities are formally identified within the Strategic Approach context. A gender review across the current emerging policy issues and other issues of concern has been initiated as part of the SAICM GEF Project on global best practices on SAICM emerging policy issues.

What can we do for the future?

There are numerous relevant, diverse and influential stakeholders that can contribute and enable gender mainstreaming in chemicals and waste management.  These include, amongst others, national and local governments, intergovernmental organizations, regulatory bodies, regional bodies, donor organizations, NGOs, industry associations, farmer organizations, media, consumers, employers, educators and researchers, health professionals, workers and trade unions and indigenous peoples.

When it comes to designing the future for SAICM and the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020, all stakeholders have the opportunity to tap into the potential to address gender issues, promote equality, and protect vulnerable populations in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Strong legislation, effective information systems as well as scientific evidence and knowledge for chemicals are at the core of the SAICM community efforts on emerging policy issues today and remain relevant in the future to protect human health and the environment from harmful effects of chemicals across the lifecycle.  There are additional opportunities for strengthening focus on developing, collecting and analysing gender-disaggregated data, indicators and other information to support decision-making.

Let’s work together in moving forward to apply a joint gender lens in our work-planning, prioritizing, implementing and decision-making!

This article is based on the policy brief by the SAICM Secretariat; published September 2018 at

Please follow SAICM on twitter @chemandwaste

To find out more about SAICM, please visit


Brenda Koekkoek, Photo by IISD

Brenda Koekkoek works with the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Secretariat, administered at the United Nations Environment Programme. Brenda has over fifteen years of environmental policy-related experience, particularly in relation to pollution. She is a Canadian national, previously working with Environment and Climate Change Canada.  Much of her work has focused on building strategic partnerships as well as overseeing stakeholder consultation processes.

Toxic Gender? The Role of Sex and Gender in Chemicals Management

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

by Arn Sauer, Jürgen Arning, André Conrad, Małgorzata Dębiak, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, Nadja Steinkühler[1] – Umweltbundesamt – German Environment Agency




Engagement with the role of sex and gender in chemicals management is not a new phenomenon either internationally[2] or in the German context,[3] but it is persistently complicated. The relevance of sex (physical/biological) and gender (social/behavioural) aspects to chemical risk assessment and management is usually discussed in three ways: 1) in relation to sex/gender and exposure; 2) in relation to sex/gender and issues of impact assessment and 3) in relation to the issue of gender balance and equal participation of women and men in chemicals management decision-making. The embodiment approach, based on epigenetics, developmental biology and neuroscience, has added to this discussion yet another dimension, in which the debate of “nature vs. nurture” has been reconciled. Social, cultural and physical environments influence gene activation and physical processes[4]; hence, biology is not destiny in the sense that an individual’s biological characteristics are not pre-determined, but are rather the co-products of genes and the individual’s own experiences as well as those of past generations. Despite these long-term and recently emerging, ongoing discussions, sex/gender or embodiment approaches have not yet arrived in the oft-cited mainstream chemicals policy.

Although these topics have not yet been tackled in a structured manner within the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA), the agency has had some initial experience in this area in the form of a pilot study on cleansing agents.[5] Results of the pilot study showed that impacts on women were significantly higher as compared to men, due to the higher exposure of women to cleansing agents. This higher level of exposure can be attributed to a gender-role typical division of household labour, in which women perform more household cleaning, have a more predominant role in choosing cleansing products, and are thus exposed to more advertising for these products. That the interrelationship of sex and physical susceptibility to chemicals beyond pregnancy in humans remains an under-explored topic cannot be attributed solely to a lack of awareness, but rather chiefly to inconclusive data, data gaps and governance issues within chemicals management. It appears difficult to gain insight into the importance and relevance of sex and gender issues in all sectors of chemicals management (research, policy design and governance),[6] which calls for heightened attention to these topics, and when they are found to be relevant, decisive action. But why is gender in chemicals management so “toxic” and complicated? What do we know and what do we have yet to learn?

What we know and how it is relevant

A recently finished project “GeUmGe-Net”[7] (an interdisciplinary research network on sex/gender in environmental health) demonstrated in a systematic review of publications in environmental toxicology, environmental medicine, environmental epidemiology and public health that sex/gender aspects are still widely ignored in these disciplines.[8] There are some things, however, that we do know: The established risk assessment schemes for chemicals are based on animal experiments and/or in vitro observations. Epidemiological data or other human data are used only in exceptional cases. It is hypothesised, and some indicative evidence exists to suggest, that different population sub-groups are more susceptible to chemicals than others either because they are exposed more due to habits, due to their different environments and professions (the gender dimensions) or because they exhibit higher chemical sensitivities (sex).[9] The chemical exposure and the chemicals’ effects on the target organism might depend on various factors, e.g. geographical location (nearby releases of chemicals from industries like petrol stations or refineries), behavioural patterns (i.e. usage of cosmetics, cleansing agents or paints), age (esp. in utero, in childhood and at a young age), nutritional status (e.g. due to the influence of nutrition on the immune system), biological effects (e.g. metabolism, endocrine systems, pregnancy) or the burden of chemicals within each individual body, as a mixture of different chemicals are always present and effective in each individual’s body at the same time.

The aforementioned early UBA pilot study on chemicals in cleansing and washing agents[10] addressed the difference in chemical burdens on women and men and possible consequences for chemical risk assessment. Statistical data taken in 2001/2002 from the initial study[11] showed that women spent seven times longer cleaning clothes, three times longer cleaning the living space and two-and-a-half times longer cleaning dishes, than men. The second statistical update of the German time study based on data taken in 2012/2013[12] indicates that, even today, differences between women and men— especially in households with children— remain significant. Despite some equality gains and the increased participation of women in the labour market, traditional roles and responsibilities have changed only marginally, particularly in family constellations. Socialisation theory is as prevalent as ever: The persisting division of labour between women and men at home, the labour market segregation with regards to different occupational choices as well as differences in spare time activities or consumer choices affect chemical exposure and safety. We know, moreover, that even performing the same tasks might make a difference and results in differences between women and men. For instance, it has been shown that the mortality rate in the cleaning industry in Belgium was higher for men than for woman if compared to non-manual workers of the respective sex.[13]. The authors discuss as possible explanations of the higher male mortality factors such as: the higher employment rates of men in highly-exposed industrial cleaning jobs, or the greater number of women working part-time, but also their greater readiness to leave jobs when experiencing health problems because they contribute less to the family income. This study poses a range of open questions; among others, it does not address whether the disparity in mortality rates could be attributed to a lower chemical risk awareness among men (who perhaps unconsciously adhere to constructions of invulnerable masculinity?), when handling cleansing agents. What is a certain and persistent finding in this and in other studies is that exposure to different materials, precautionary measures taken during exposure, as well as duration of exposure may vary according to gender. In combination with physical factors and different metabolic reactions to toxins between women and men (sex), these findings point to the need for a gender- and sex-sensitive chemical risk management.

Differences in external and internal exposure to chemicals that are due possibly to the influence of gender can be observed in environmental health monitoring studies: UBA’s German Environmental Survey (GerES), for instance, showed a higher average indoor air concentration of limonene in bedrooms of girls.[14] A possible explanation for this result is that girls use products like scented candles, fragrances or cleansing agents more often. In the German Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB), copper levels in blood plasma are substantially higher in women,[15] which can be explained by the use of oral contraceptives.[16]

In terms of perceived health impacts, the UBA’s environmental awareness study shows that women are more aware of health-related environmental risks. Thus, women tend to feel more exposed to environmental factors, such as chemicals in products and plastic particles in drinking water and food. These gender differences may be related to the fact that women generally have a higher awareness of the environment but also of their own health, whereas men (on average and along with other intersectional factors) are more negligent of their own health and do not attribute the same importance to environmental risk as do women.[17]

What we do not know (yet) and how to tackle it

With regards to sex, toxicological research appears to focus mainly on endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Some ubiquitous chemicals such as phthalates, used as plasticisers, and the plastic ingredient Bisphenol A have an impact on the endocrine systems of test organisms, and it is assumed that they can also disturb the endocrine systems of women and men.[18] What is known from environmental toxicology is that synthetic estrogens and other chemicals acting as endocrine disruptors demonstrate adverse effects on environmental species such as, for example, impacting life-cycles and reproductive success or by altering the sex ratio in fish.[19] In the heyday of high doses of contraceptives, women who were taking the “the pill” were thus advised to collect their urine separately and to dispose of it as hazardous waste in order to avoid impacting the environment. Compounds such as ethinyl estradiol (EE2) present in these medications are not, in fact, easily filtered out or degraded in our water treatment plants. Current contraceptives contain much smaller estrogen doses; however, the basic problem of insufficiently treated waste water and the addition of EE2 to the total environmental burden of estrogenic active chemicals remains. At the same time it stays unclear to what extent the estrogenic burden in surface water might result in relevant drinking water contamination with endocrine disruptors, with potential impacts on the human reproductive system, i.e. on male semen quality.[20]

Discussions within chemicals management around how to effectively tackle emerging issues such as endocrine disruptors have not yet come to a convincing conclusion. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is developing adequate testing and assessment methods for these chemicals of emerging concern as well as approaches for how to evaluate them.[21] Such chemicals of emerging concern are amongst others hormones, pharmaceuticals and hormone mimetic synthetic chemicals and their activity as endocrine disruptors. Regarding endocrinologically active chemicals, regulations like the ones for biocidal and plant protection products have classified certain chemicals as endocrine disruptors based on well-established scientific criteria accepted across the EU.[22] Still, our knowledge of endocrine disruptors is limited and confined to certain endocrine pathways (such as sex steroids and substances that affect the thyroid) and to only very few vertebrate species besides humans (mainly fish, amphibians and rodents). Thus, the regulation of endocrine disruptors in the environment still suffers from gaps in scientific knowledge and uncertainties, as well as from a lack of widely-accepted criteria for the identification of such chemicals across all relevant legislative frameworks. To tackle these issues, more research and the development of new or the amendment of existing endocrine-sensitive test methods are needed. Additionally, on the policy level, a consensus on the classification of endocrine disruptors based on well-substantiated science must be reached, irrespective of the regulatory consequences this classification may have for single substances under different legal frameworks.

Gender Balance and Participation in Decision-making within Chemicals Management

Last but not least, and similar to all science- and technology-dominated fields, chemicals management has much room for improvement in terms of the number of women in decision-making bodies. The target of gender balance seems hard to meet, but some promising initiatives have recently sprung up. The Quick Start Programme[23], for example, which funds small projects in developing countries, requires an ex-post evaluation of the gender balance in decision-making bodies. UBA research funding does not yet engage in similar activities; however, the UBA has a successful gender equality strategy for its own staff and is currently catching up fast in its last remaining field of gender imbalance on the managerial level. The UBA currently has its first female president, Maria Krautzberger, and in terms of top-level managers, the UBA has achieved gender balance. Steady improvement in gender representation within middle and lower management, with 40% female and 60% male managers overall in 2018, show that the UBA is closing in on its ultimate goal of equality, which it wants to reach during the next gender equality plan 2020-2023 (earlier than 2025, as demanded by the current coalition government)[24].


Sex and gender issues in chemicals management may have been “toxic” in the past, in the sense that they did not receive (enough) attention from various scientific communities and responsible agencies, but they cannot remain so in the future. The need for change is why it is so crucial that SAICM draws attention to sex and gender issues as it does in its paper “Gender and the sound management of chemicals and waste.”[25] This paper will also be discussed in the UBA with regard to how susceptibility and exposure are influenced by sex/gender, how these interactions affect domestic life as well as occupational health and what we can learn from these insights for future research and policy advice. The 2030 Agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)[26] provides a window of opportunity to mainstream awareness of the gendered effects also into chemicals use and chemicals management. The cross-cutting SGD 5 “Gender Equality” in particular, in combination with many other relevant SDGs,[27] will raise awareness of the need for integrated approaches and the adequate involvement of all sectors, stakeholders, and societal groups, and will also be relevant to the sound management of chemicals beyond 2020.

As a country of the Global North, Germany’s main areas of concern with regards to chemical safety and sex/gender could be related to chemicals in products (e.g. cosmetics and beauty products) and endocrine-disrupting chemicals together with environmentally-persistent pollutants, as these are either not being filtered (completely) by water treatment plants or persist and accumulate in fatty tissue. Yet another potential area of inquiry is determining the toxicological endpoints of chemicals (with regards to germ cell mutagenicity, reproductive toxicity, organ toxicity and carcinogenicity) and their possible sex/gender interactions and differences, as attested by the Scientific Group on Methodologies for the Safety Evaluation of Chemicals (SGOMSEC).[28] Some of the open questions in toxicology and exposure science might hopefully be answered in UBA research projects. The UBA is already taking part in the collaborative research project INGER (Integrating Gender into Environmental Health Research),[29] aiming the conceptualisation of gender theories in human biomonitoring studies. The UBA’s department for toxicology and environmental health has also designed a governmental founded project for the statistical analysis of toxicological studies according to sex related differences in toxicity in rodents that should start in 2019.

In terms of research governance, and independent from chemicals management like in the current SAICM processes, the UBA has introduced a gender mainstreaming strategy, according to which all newly designed research projects are subject to a gender relevance test. If gender is found to be relevant to the project, a full gender impact assessment should be performed in order to integrate sex and gender issues into research questions, methods and results. Accordingly, in 2018, the UBA has introduced a gender relevance tick box: once ticked, the UBA gender quality officer will then be involved through the course of the project. She and her research officer for gender mainstreaming are thus able to give feedback and support, if needed, in developing the research concept. In the environmental research funding programme of the UBA, for example, a total of 16% of all submitted proposals in 2018 were earmarked as gender relevant. This general research quality assurance mechanism will hopefully also contribute to more gender- and sex-sensitive chemical and toxicology research in the future.

What could be improved with regard to participation in chemicals management is the involvement of women’s organisations and female experts in conducting such research and providing policy advice. Here, a gender balance in all key commissions and scientific boards is already required by law,[30] and now needs to be carried out in practice. In terms of equal opportunities and the participation of women in chemicals management, the UBA has made great advances in the past and will continue to do so, due to its gender equality plan and established quotas therein.


Arn Sauer, Jürgen Arning, André Conrad, Małgorzata Dębiak, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, Nadja Steinkühler from the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt).


[1] Acknowledgements: This article benefited immensely from discussions with Dr. Petra Greiner, Caren Rauert and Dr. Hans-Christian Stolzenberg. We also thank Kai Egener for editing the article.

[2] United Nations Development Programme / UNDP Environment and Energy Group (UNDP) (2011): Chemicals and Gender. Gender Mainstreaming Guidance Series – Chemicals Management. UNDP: New York,; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2007): Chemicals Management: The why and how of mainstreaming gender. UNDP: New York,

[3] See for example relevant for the German context: Gertler M. (2004): „Umwelt, Geschlecht und Gesundheit“ – Ein Geschlechtervergleich aus umweltmedizinischer und toxikologischer Perspektive [doctoral Thesis].Bayerische Julius-Maximilians-Universität zu Würzburg: Würzburg; or: Buchholz K. (2006): Genderrelevanz und Genderaspekte von Chemikalienpolitik. In: Ebeling S., Schmitz S. (Hrsg.): Geschlechterforschung und Naturwissenschaften. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften: Wiesbaden, p. 139-160.

[4] Bolte G., David M., Dębiak M., Fiedel L., Hornberg C., Kolossa-Gehring M., Krauss U., Lätzsch R., Paeck T., Palm K. & Schneider A. (2018): Integration von Geschlecht in die Forschung zu umweltbezogener Gesundheit. Ergebnisse des interdisziplinären Forschungsnetzwerks Geschlecht – Umwelt –Gesundheit (GeUmGe-NET). Bundesgesundheitsbl. 61, p. 737–746.

[5] The project was conducted by Dr. Marike Kolossa- for the UBA unit responsible for Washing and Cleansing Agents in 2004, compare Röhr, Ulrike (2017): Geschlechterverhältnisse und Nachhaltigkeit [“Gender Relations and Sustainability”, a later publication of the project report from 2004 with updated preface], Umweltbundesamt: Dessau-Roßlau, p. 14; 45-46, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[6] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) / Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) (2017): Gender and the sound management of chemicals and waste. Second meeting of the intersessional process to consider the Strategic Approach and the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. Item 4 of the provisional agenda. Considerations for Beyond 2020 (SAICM/IP.2/6). UNEP: Stockholm.

[7] Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

[8] Bolte et al. 2018, see footnote 4.

[9] IPEN & Pesticide Action Network (2017): Beyond 2020: Women and chemical safety. SAICM: Geneva, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[10] German Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt) (2017): Geschlechterverhältnisse und Nachhaltigkeit [“Gender Relations and Sustainability” publication of project report from 2004 with updated introduction]. Umweltbundesamt: Dessau-Roßlau, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[11] German Statistical Office (destatis) (2004): Wo bleibt die Zeit? destatis: Wiesbaden, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[12] German Statistical Office (destatis) (2015): Wie die Zeit vergeht? destatis: Wiesbaden, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[13] Van den Borre L. & Deboosere P. (2018): Health risks in the cleaning industry: a Belgian census-linked mortality study (1991–2011). Int Arch Occup Environ Health 91(1), p. 13-21.

[15] Conrad A., Schröter-Kermani C., Rüther M., Uhlig S., Bartel-Steinbach M., Lermen D., Göen T. & Kolossa- M. (2015): The German Environmental Specimen Bank: Further Insight into Inter-individual Variation in Human Biomonitoring Data. Presentation at the 25th Annual Meeting of International Society for Exposure Science. 18.-22.10.2015, Henderson/Nevada.

[16] Berg G., Kohlmeier L., Brenner H. (1998): Effect of oral contraceptive progestins on serum copper concentration. Eur J Clin Nutr. 52(10), p. 711-715.

[17] UBA (2017): Umweltbewusstsein in Deutschland 2016. Umweltbundesamt: Dessau-Roßlau, p. 30, (last accessed 2019-01-31); Fink, E. (2015): Gesundheitsverhalten aus der Genderperspektive – Das Konzept des „doing genders“ und die Perspektive der Intersektionalität als Erklärungsansatz. Gesundheitswesen (77), p. A28.

[18] Konieczna A., Rutkowska A., Rachoń D. (2015): Health risk of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA). Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 66(1), p. 5-11.

[20] See for example Bonde J.P. (2010): Male reproductive organs are at risk from environmental hazards. Asian J Androl. 12(2), p.152–156.

[21] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2012): OECD Guidance Document on Standardised Test Guidelines for Evaluating Chemicals for Endocrine Disruption. Series on Testing and Assessment (ENV/JM/MONO(2012)22). No. 150. OECD: Paris, (last accessed 2019.01-31).

[22] Regulation (EU) No 528/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2012 concerning the use of biocidal products and how they are made available on the market; Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and the repeal of Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC.

[23] SAICM (2018): Quick Start Programme Overview. SAICM: Geneva, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[24] CDU/CSU, SPD (2018): Ein neuer Aufbruch für Europa. Eine neue Dynamik für Deutschland. Ein neuer Zusammenhalt für unser Land. Koalitionsvertrag zwischen CDU, CSU und SPD. 19. Legislaturperiode [„Coalition treaty between CDU, CSU and SPD“], p. 24, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[25] SAICM (2017): Gender and the sound management of chemicals and waste (SAICM/IP.2/6). Second meeting of the intersessional process to consider the Strategic Approach and the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. Item 4 of the provisional agenda*. Considerations for Beyond 2020. Stockholm, Sweden, 13.-15.03.2018, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[26] Compare the Sustainable Development Goals, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[27] SAICM & IOMC (2018): Chemicals and Waste Management: Essential to Achieving, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Information Document SAICM/IP.2/INF.5. SAICM: Geneva, (last accessed 2019-01-31).

[28] Gochfeld, .M. (2007): Framework for gender differences in human and animal toxicology. Environ. Res. 104: 4 -21.

[29] The collaborative research project INGER is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (01GL1713) and consists of the project partners University of Bremen, Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research, German Environment Agency, department of toxicology and health-related environmental monitoring, Helmholtz Centre Munich, Institute of Epidemiology, and Humboldt-University of Berlin – Gender and Science, see

[30] Bundesgremienbesetzungsgesetz (BGremBG), (last accessed 2019-01-31).