What is a Gender Focal Point?

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

An optical focal point is the point on the axis of a lens or mirror to which parallel rays of light converge and from which they appear to diverge after refraction or reflection. The role of a gender focal point is very similar: to bundle and synthesize information, knowledge, ideas and activities relating to gender and to disseminate these among colleagues across the whole organization.

Gender Focal Point ©miratrick

The Gender Focal Point is the key staff member within an organization dealing with its gender mainstreaming strategy and building capacities among his or her colleagues for incorporating gender into their work, in terms of content and processes. The Gender Focal Points role is “advocating for increased attention to and integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the agency’s policy and programming” (UN Women Training Centre 2016). Therefore, the Gender Focal Point shouldn’t work alone on gender issues but with a coordination team or committee that meets on a regular basis and is responsible for the coordination, monitoring and evaluation of the organization’s gender mainstreaming strategy (Norad 2015).

Generic responsibilities of the Gender Focal Point include (UN Women Training Centre 2016; ibid.):

  • to facilitate or coordinate the development and/or implementation of a gender action plan
  • to give technical support for the inclusion of gender issues in programs/projects
  • to ensure earmarked funds for gender mainstreaming activities
  • to develop capacity by identifying the needs of colleagues for information and training in gender mainstreaming and obtaining relevant documents and training material or gender trainers
  • to participate in and contribute to the work of UN inter-agency, donor, NGO and academic networks on gender equality
  • to participate actively and contribute to activities of relevant working groups on gender
  • to participate in gender communities of practice and gender networks, share information and prepare inputs into global reports, disseminate information among colleagues

Mind you, the person working as the Gender Focal Point doesn’t have to be female! There are more and more male gender experts. In highly technical sectors, such as chemistry and waste, there are arguments for and against engaging a social scientist as the gender focal points. A social scientist usually already has a very good understanding of gender aspects, a technical person with training in gender is more able to speak the technical language of her/his colleagues, understand their work and the culture of the organisation. To overcome the notion that gender is more of a women’s issue and to avoid the marginalization of the gender activities it is also a good strategy to rotate the position – for example every two years, and at high levels in the organisational hierarchy (Norad 2015).

In the past, “[g]ender focal points have often been the most junior female staff members, which sends a message that gender equality is not being taken seriously” (OSAGI 2001). In order to avoid this, ECOSOC Resolution 2004/4 “[r]equests all entities of the United Nations system to enhance the effectiveness of gender specialist resources, gender focal points and gender theme groups, by establishing clear mandates; by ensuring adequate training, access to information and to adequate and stable resources; and by increasing the support and participation of senior staff”. Accordingly, the UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP) requires entities to designate focal points “at the P4 level or equivalent or above”(UN Women 2012) and “at least 20 per cent of their time allocated to focal point functions” (ibid.).

BRS Conventions Secretariat “Gender Heroes” Campaign

Here are two examples of successful Gender Focal Point activities: The “Gender Heroes” Campaign and the “Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified Award” by the BRS Conventions Secretariat and its Gender Coordinator celebrated eleven women and men for their achievements in advancing gender equality and mainstreaming gender issues in the area of chemicals and wastes, and under the UNFCCC even 32 national gender focal points under the UNFCCC have been established so far to support the national inclusion of gender considerations into climate negotiations, implementation and monitoring.

For a new framework on the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020, the creation of a Gender Focal Point would be a groundbreaking step: the Gender Focal Point could coordinate the development of a Gender Action Plan; a multi-stakeholder working group on gender and chemical safety could be established and coordinated ;and capacities of regional/national focal points could be strengthened with regard to sex differences, gender analysis and gender mainstreaming in chemicals and waste management – all of this would help to create a gender-just healthy planet.

other #explanation blogs:


Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) (2015): Unit 10: The Role of the Gender Focal Point.

OSAGI (2001): UN System-wide Gender Focal Point Study. Executive summary. Online at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/gmfpstudy.htm

UN Women (2012): UN System-Wide Action Plan for Implementation of the CEB United Nations System-Wide Policy on gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Online at: http://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/how%20we%20work/unsystemcoordination/un-swap/un-swap-framework-dec-2012.pdf?la=en&vs=3435

UN Women Training Centre (2016): Webinar: Gender Focal Points as agents of Change. Online at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58iRu1wAxqA

Links to gender focal points and their activities:

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: https://unfccc.int/topics/gender/the-big-picture/introduction-to-gender-and-climate-change

BRS Conventions: http://www.brsmeas.org/Gender/Overview/tabid/3651/language/en-US/Default.aspx

Convention on Biological Diversity: https://www.cbd.int/gender/


Gender Impact Assessment – an instrument to create gender-just chemicals and waste policy

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

by Dr. Jutta Emig 

For our work on international chemicals and waste management, it is essential that we pay attention to women and gender issues. The gender actions developed by the BRS Conventions secretariat are an important step towards developing comprehensive gender strategies and taking effective institutional measures. This and other policy actions and instruments could serve as suggestions to create a gender-just framework for a sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020. One important instrument are Gender Impacts Assessments, and I would like to share the experience with the Gender Impact Assessment (GIA) developed in the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and share some aspects of ongoing work on gender and environment issues.

BMU developed its GIA model in 2004, in collaboration with the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE). GIA is a key instrument of the political strategy of gender mainstreaming, originally developed in the Netherlands in the early Nineties (Verloo/Roggeband 1996). It is an ex ante evaluation or analysis of a law, policy or programme that makes it possible to determine, in a preventative manner, if its future implementation “is causing negative consequences for the state of equality between women and men” (EIGE 2018). The basic understanding of GIA is “that the gender neutrality of political measures often has unintentional but highly consequential and often negative impacts on gender relations in a society and on men and women themselves” (ISOE 2002). Thus, the central question of GIA is: “Does a policy measure reduce, maintain or increase the gender inequalities between women and men?” (EIGE 2018).

GIA Stage Model

The environmental Gender Impact Assessment developed by BMU and ISOE is the specific review of an environmental policy measure by using a GIA stage model. Its three stages are:

  1. Relevance (Pre Test): In the first step it is checked whetherthe implementation of a GIA is relevant to the examined policy measure or not. Are persons directly or indirectly affected by the measure or parts of it and to what extend? At the end of this step, the decision is made if a GIA should be implemented or not. At the end of this step, the decision is made if a GIA should be implemented or not.
  2. Gender Impact Analysis (Main Test): In the second step, the gender
    impacts are analyzed. Which factors of the policy measure are influencing women and men, as well as gender relations? The aim of this working step is to provide a detailed description of relevant gender aspects of the examined policy measure that will lay the foundations for the subsequent rating.
  3. Rating and Voting: In the third step, the analyzed gender impacts are evaluated and improvements are developed. At the end these are again tested: Are gender aspects sufficiently taken into account within the new recommendations? Is gender equality better addressed by the measure than before the measure?

Last but not least, the GIA stage model has to be anchored in the regular work. In Germany, a Gender Focal Point at the Federal Environment Agency is managing the work on gender and environment issues and within the research project “The contribution of gender justice to successful climate politics”, the Federal Environmental Agency is currently further developing the GIA instrument and adapting it to issues related to climate change.

Gender Analysis – Photo: IDRC

In this context, the dimensions of gender analysis are being further developed, including with a view to the transformative potential of gender mainstreaming in all sustainable development policies. In a current research project on gender and climate change (Röhr, Alber & Göldner 2017) existing gender dimensions of such an analysis were harmonized and further developed. Seven provisional gender dimensions were identified (ibid.):

  • Care economy / care work (sex specific responsibilities for work and decisions inside the house and household; cost-benefit-analysis of care; logic and criteria of the care economy)
  • Income economy / paid work (sex-specific division of labour of paid and unpaid work; gender pay gap; poverty and poverty risks; distribution of wealth)
  • Public resources: provision, design, access, usability of public services and infrastructures (distribution of public space, public finance, quantity and quality of services & infrastructures, access to resources)
  • Structural aspects: symbolic order (dominant societal constructions of gender and gender identities, including perceptions, attitudes, risk assessments, and problem identification)
  • Structural aspects: institutionalized andro-centrism (institutional rationalities that determine the understanding of tasks, processes, organization and outcome; models of masculinity as the norm, conceptualization, methods, production of knowledge)
  • Power of definition and decision-making of actors (processes, decisions, power relations and governance structures, participation, empowerment, choice of instruments)
  • Body, health, intimacy (physical differences between the sexes and age groups, sexual harassment, reproductive health, sex-specific responsibilities for health, sex-specific perception of physical risks)

These seven dimensions allow identifying differences between genders in terms of roles, identities and behavior that lead to differences in exposure and impact and to address root causes of inequities, injustice and unsustainable development.

Transformative potential of GIA

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda clearly states that we need fundamental change: transformation of economies and societies towards justice, environmental protection, and resource-efficiency. Gender Equality is an essential cross-cutting task for advancing transformation towards sustainable development, justice and peace. GIA has enormous potential in this regard: beyond avoiding negative effects it can also be used in a transformative way as a tool for defining gender equality objectives and formulating policies that proactively promote gender equality.

Sex differences, and gender differences in terms of roles and identities are important to understand so that we can improve chemicals and waste management. But we can go a step further: We also need to understand structural causes of gender inequalities, environmental degradation and pollution. Gender injustices and gender inequalities are symptoms of androcentric structures in societies. Using GIA helps to see these connections and to find better solutions. A future framework for the sound management of chemicals and waste should use this potential and integrate GIA as a tool when developing chemicals and waste management policies.


European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) (2018): Homepage: http://eige.europa.eu/gender-mainstreaming/methods-tools/gender-impact.

Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) (2002): Gender Impact Assessment in the Field of Radiation Protection and the Environment. Concluding Report.

Verloo, Mieke/Roggeband, Connie (1996): Gender Impact Assessment: The Development of a New Instrument in the Netherlands. In: Impact Assessment 14/996, 3-20.

Röhr, Ulrike/Alber, Gotelind/Göldner, Lisa (2017): The contribution of gender justice to successful climate politics: impact assessment, interdependencies with other social categories, methodological issues and options for shaping climate policy. Summary of the 1. Interim report (work package 1). 


Photo: IISD Reporting Service

Dr. Jutta Emig is Head of the Unit International Chemical Safety, Sustainable Chemistry at the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and headed the ministerial project team for the development of GIA.


What is Gender Mainstreaming?

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

A strategy to achieve gender equality

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” Kofi Annan (1998)

UN SDG 5 – Gender Equality

There are global patterns of inequalities between women and men: Women tend to experience domestic violence more often than men; women’s political participation and leadership positions are limited; women and men have different access to resources; women are still more likely than men to live in poverty; and women and girls are often disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental disasters (UN 2002, UN Women 2018). And it is not only women who are negatively affected – gender inequalities impact whole societies: for example, not investing in female education lowers the gross national product; gender discrimination in the labour market decreases national income; and gender inequality reduces the productivity of the next generation because it has negative effects on household investments in nutrition, health and education of children (UN 2002). “Achieving greater gender equality will require changes at all levels, including changes in attitudes and relationships, changes in institutions and legal frameworks, changes in economic institutions, and changes in political decision-making structures” (UN 2002).

Definition of Gender Mainstreaming

The strategy for promoting gender equality is Gender Mainstreaming. Since 1990, there was a growing debate about gender mainstreaming strategies in the UN as well as the EU. Gender Mainstreaming was then endorsed in the Beijing Platform for Action, agreed at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. It was finally defined in the ECOSOC agreed conclusions 1997/2 as: “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. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality” (ECOSOC 1997). This official UN definition is strong with regard to including all different spheres and levels and all the phases of the policy cycle but also has some weaknesses from a feminist perspective: the actors in charge of implementation are not mentioned; it remains a top-down approach; the definition reduces the term ‘gender’ to ‘women and men’ and is not used as an agenda-setting approach. When developing a particular Gender Mainstreaming Strategy, it is therefore useful to also take note of other definitions, for example: Gender Mainstreaming is “the (re)organization, improvement, development and evaluation of policy processes, so that a gender equality perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the actors normally involved in policy-making” (Council of Europe, 1998).

How to mainstream gender

The primary objective of gender mainstreaming is to design and implement development projects, programs and policies that:

  • Do not reinforce existing gender inequalities (Gender Neutral),
  • attempt to redress existing gender inequalities (Gender Sensitive/Gender Responsive),
  • or attempt to re-define women and men’s gender roles and relations at the structural level (Gender Positive / Transformative).

Institutional gender mainstreaming strategies ideally combine several components (EIGE 2016):

  • A goal definition for mainstreaming gender with targeted actions for gender equality
  • A gender analysis of the initial position
  • A gender impact assessment of planned measurements, programs and projects
  • Gender budgeting
  • A combined approach to responsibilities (where all staff share responsibility, but are supported by gender experts or a gender focal point)
  • Gender trainings and gender awareness raising
  • Monitoring and evaluation

Opportunities, obstacles and processes in the context of gender mainstreaming are often very different for each area of work. Thus, “there is no set formula or blueprint that can be applied in every context. However, what is common to mainstreaming in all sectors or development issues is that a concern for gender equality is brought into the ‘mainstream’ of activities rather than dealt with as an ‘add-on’” (UN 2002) – “it requires change in all mainstream policies, programmes and resource allocations” (UN 2007).

Gender mainstreaming is not a new strategy. It builds on years of experience of trying to bring gender perspectives to the center of attention in policies and programs and is used nowadays by numerous institutions at all political levels, inside and outside government.

Many lessons have been learned and we can build on this knowledge and experience when mainstreaming gender in the sound management of chemicals and waste management in the SAICM Beyond 2020 framework. Our policy suggestions for SAICM Beyond 2020 are based on UN agreements since 1995 and lessons learned about effective gender mainstreaming, e.g. the actions on mainstreaming gender done by the BRS Conventions secretariat.

First steps for a Gender Mainstreaming Strategy in SAICM


Council of Europe (1998): Gender Mainstreaming: Conceptual Framework, Methodology and Presentation of Good Practice. Final Report of Activities of the Group of Specialists on Mainstreaming.

ECOSOC (1997): Mainstreaming the gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/ECOSOCAC1997.2.PDF

EIGE (2016): What is Gender Mainstreaming?

UN (2002): Gender Mainstreaming. An Overview. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/e65237.pdf

UN (2007): Mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system. Report of the Secretary-General, 2007/64.

UN Women (2018): Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Further information on Gender Mainstreaming with links, resources and tools:

Gender Mainstreaming in general:

UN Women: Gender Mainstreaming. http://www.unwomen.org/en/how-we-work/un-system-coordination/gender-mainstreaming

European Institute for Gender Equality: What is gender mainstreaming.


Gender Mainstreaming and chemicals:

UNDP (2007): Chemicals Management: The why and how of mainstreaming gender.


BRS Conventions: Gender. Overview. http://www.brsmeas.org/?tabid=3651

MSP Institute (2018): Policy Suggestions. How to integrate gender in SAICM Beyond 2020. http://gender-chemicals.org/policy-suggestions-for-integrating-gender-in-saicm-beyond-2020



Brief Report: Gender and Chemicals at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in New York, July 2018

by Anna Holthaus, MSP Institute

The HLPF  is United Nations platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year’s theme was ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’. SDG 12 “Responsible Consumption and Production”, dealing explicitly with the management of chemicals and waste, was among the individual SDGs under review this year. That’s why the MSP Institute attended HLPF2018 to work together with other women’s groups and feminists of the Womens Major Group (WMG) to increase attention, inter alia, to gender and chemicals issues.

WMG tweet on SDG12

The WMG was created at the 1992 Earth Summit and is an official participant in the United Nations processes on Sustainable Development. With over 600 members it is responsible for facilitating women’s active participation, information sharing and input into the policy discussions at the United Nations. 180 WMG members attended HLPF 2018, meeting daily and advocating for feminist positions (see the WMG Position Paper, with a special section on SDG 12, p12). In addition, we took part in the daily WMGs social media campaign #FEMINISTDEMAND (see our tweets) and special protest actions against the killing of environmental defenders in Colombia.

Our flyers at the German Side Event on SAICM Beyond 2020

There was a lot going on regarding chemicals and waste at HLPF: The goal of creating a global circular economy was a significant topic in the review of SDG 12 (see ENB Report), the European Commission presented the first European strategy for plastics, the German government held a side event on SAICM Beyond 2020 and Sweden launched the high ambition alliance on chemicals and waste. So it seems that things are moving – yet the interlinkages with gender issues received little or no attention, presumably often due to a lack of awareness. There is a long way to go to increase awareness of gender aspects of chemicals and waste management, and we hope that the SAICM Beyond 2020 process can contribute to laying foundations for gender justice in chemicals and waste management in the future.

HLPF Closing Session – Photo by Kiara Worth/ENB

The HLPF itself concluded by adopting a negotiated, but not legally binding, Ministerial Declaration. This reaffirms Member States’ commitment to realizing the 2030 Agenda and leaving no one behind – but did not move beyond already agreed language. Quite the contrary, Russia called for a vote on a paragraph affirming gender equality, aiming to weaken language there, and the US and Israel declined the Ministerial Declaration as a whole. These instances illustrate how the global consensus on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda can be undermined in times of globalizing nationalism.

For us, the trip to HLPF was still worth it: we made quite a few new contacts, had intense discussions with colleagues, and shared information about gender in chemicals and waste management with many governments and stakeholders from around the world.

Women and Chemical Safety in Africa: the Case of the Flower Sector

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

by Dr. Yahya Msangi


The fight for chemical safety in Africa is complicated by many factors. First is the fact that many chemicals do not cause instant visible harm, damage or death. Chemicals are silent operators. In a continent where there are a number of other causes of instant harm, damage and death such as mosquitoes, wild animals and pathogens effects of chemicals are not prioritized. Other factors that complicate the fight for chemical safety are culture, poverty, high rates of illiteracy, aggressive marketing by the industry, lack of expertise, poor policies and enforcement of legislations.

There is no group that is more affected than women and children, in particular working women, and the flower sector shows the typical problems.

Flower farm worker, Tanzania – Photo by Sam Fox/Equal Times

The Flower Sector, Women and Chemicals in Africa

Kenya was the first country in Africa to develop the flower sector and it was followed by Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Ethiopia. Flower production shifted from Northern developed countries to Southern developing countries due to lower health and environmental standards in the South, availability of sunshine, free land and water. Labor costs are also much lower. But production of flowers requires intensive use of chemicals and plastic sheets. This increases the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals to women. Why women? Because the flower industry is feminine! In general, flower production employs 80 % women, particularly girls of ages between 16-28 years. Why? There is a silent belief that flowers require tenderness in their production, and women are linked to tenderness. However, behind this there are hidden reasons!

In Africa, women are less educated and are therefore paid less than their male counterparts. In Africa, women are brought up to become obedient and less argumentative especially in front of men (though the workforce is feminine almost 90% of supervisors in flower farms are men!). When you are paid less and expected not to speak out the possibility of exposure to chemicals increases. For example, low salaries force women in the flower sector to work longer hours in order to earn overtime pay. Women also don’t ask for personal protective clothing (PPE) as doing so will be regarded as being argumentative, which is against culture and tradition.


Women in the flower sector are more exposed during high demand seasons in the developed countries i.e. during Valentine, Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter. Ironically it is fellow women in developed countries who are the main consumers of flowers during these periods! The more the demand in the North, the higher the rate of exposure in the South. Cases of instantaneous abortions, nausea, loss of consciousness, etc. are not very uncommon during these periods, particularly in the green houses and grading rooms.

In order to address the situation a group of NGOs and Trade Unions established the International Cut Flower Code of Conduct (ICC). This code mainstreamed gender and chemical safety issues and was used by many   programs including the Fair Flowers Fair Plants Program (FFP – Netherlands, see also their benchmark document for label certification), the Flower Labelling Program (FLP – Germany; not active at the moment), Max Havelaar – Switzerland), The Kenya Flower Council and the Ethiopian Code for the cut flower industry.

Mainstreaming gender and chemical safety in codes of practice for each industry or occupation is the best way of protecting women, girls and children. In my view, all international programs including SAICM, Paris Climate Agreement, Agenda 2030 and others should design appropriate codes of practice or provide guidance to stakeholders rather than just mentioning gender issues in their texts. To me, just mentioning or acknowledging the gender dimension is not enough; it is artificial mainstreaming. Real mainstreaming requires more than text!


Dr. Yahya Msangi

Dr. Yahya Msangi is the International Tech Adviser for Sustdev, Climate Change and Chemical Safety at the Youth NGO “Welfare Togo”. His profession is Environmental Resource Management and Occupational Safety and Health with work experiences in Agriculture Land use Planning, Farm Management, Workers Unions and the Global Pesticides Project.

More information about Welfare Togo and their work you can find on their website: https://twelfare.wordpress.com/, or you can contact them via E-mail: togowelfare(at)gmail.com



Introducing our new blog series “How to create a gender-just healthy planet” – with experts and explanations every two weeks

“Healthy [environment] [planet], healthy people!” – This is the vision with the most support for a new international framework on chemicals and waste management beyond 2020.

And we agree: this vision can be a strong statement for the future.

Health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO 2006). We all know that this is not the case for everyone around the world, nor for our planet. One reason are massive gender inequalities, manifest in every dimension of sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that gender equality is central to this transformative vision as an important goal in itself and as a catalyst for progress across the entire Agenda (UN 2015). Therefore, it is crucial to integrate a gender perspective into the implementation and monitoring of all the Sustainable Development Goals and UN Institutions working on them (UN Women 2018) – including in chemicals policies.

In short, there are three main reasons why gender is an issue for chemicals policy:

  1. Gender, as a social category, is linked to gender-specific norms of behaviour, roles in society as well as the development of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ identities, which in turn influence people’s behaviour, including their impact on the environment, their affectedness by environmental degradation, and their access to and power over resources.
  2. Gender, as a biological category, shows that women’s and men’s bodies are affected differently by certain chemicals – exposure, risk, and impacts can be different between the sexes.
  3. Gender analysis allows to ask questions that help us understand and unpack root causes of unsustainable behaviour and societies, and hence have a transformational potential. We need to tap into this potential in order to bring about sustainable development, justice and peace.

SAICM has an agreed Overarching Policy Strategy (OPS) that sets out the scope, needs, objectives, financial considerations underlying principles and approaches, and implementation and review arrangements of SAICM as a platform and process. The OPS underlines the specific importance of women as stakeholders and their still evident lack of representation in the implementation and decision-making processes for the sound management of chemicals and chemical safety (SAICM 2012).

Yet, specific knowledge on differentiated and long-term effects of chemicals on women and men is still lacking. Most delegations and stakeholders are not aware of the knowledge we do have. Comprehensive gender analysis of chemicals and waste management is lacking even more. Like in many other areas, we need to increase research to obtain sex-disaggregated data, analyze gender roles and identities and how they impact our interactions with chemicals and waste along the whole life cycle. But how to go about that?

Blogs with experts and explanations

With our new blog article series, we want discuss how we can create a gender-just healthy planet and demonstrate the potential of gender mainstreaming into chemicals policies. There will be a brief article every two weeks.

  • Blog articles by experts from organisations and stakeholders – e.g. relevant UN bodies, governments, gender experts, and colleagues working on implementation projects dealing with gender and chemicals and waste – will share their expertise and experiences
  • Blogs offering explanations and background about concepts, tools and strategies to mainstream gender into chemicals and waste management.

Enjoy reading!

Anna and Minu from the MSP Institute – Project “Gender and Chemicals Beyond 2020”

P.S.: If you would like to join the group of blog authors, let us know! We’re happy to include your article in the series. Pls email anna.holthaus(at)msp-institute.org


SAICM (2012): SAICM Texts and Resolutions of the International Conference on Chemicals Management. http://www.saicm.org/Portals/12/Documents/saicmtexts/New%20SAICM%20Text%20with%20ICCM%20resolutions_E.pdf

UN (2015): Transforming our world. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/21252030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development%20web.pdf

UN Women (2018): Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2018/2/gender-equality-in-the-2030-agenda-for-sustainable-development-2018#view

WHO (2006): Constitution of the World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/governance/eb/who_constitution_en.pdf

Learning from other UN Processes: Gender and Chemicals and the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn

by Anna Holthaus, May 17, 2018

This year, gender was an issue high on the agenda of the meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place from 30th April – 10th May in Bonn, Germany. I attended the event on behalf of the MSP Institute to observe the UNFCCC negotiations and the Women and Gender Constituency active at the climate meetings, and to take away lessons learned for our work on integrating gender in SAICM Beyond 2020.

The In-Session Workshop on Gender, the Gender Dialogue and several side events on gender and climate change provided insights and inspiration. I also talked to delegates about their experiences and asked them what their recommendations for other processes might be.

Gender and the UNFCCC

When women’s groups and gender experts started talking about gender and climate change in the 1990s and then with growing force in the early 2000s, there was rather little response. But in the last few years, the UNFCCC has made major strides towards the integration of gender in its decisions:

  • 2014: COP20 adopted the Lima Work Programme on Gender – to enhance gender balance, to provide knowledge and capacity building on gender-responsive climate policy
  • 2015: Paris Agreement – includes gender equality and women’s empowerment as core principles in the preamble, gender is also mentioned in the chapters on adaptation and capacity building
  • 2017: COP23 adopted the first Gender Action Plan, to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation, to promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention and the Paris Agreement on the national and sub-national levels

Several gender-related events at the meetings in Bonn fostered exchange about the first experiences with the Gender Action Plan between Parties, the Secretariat, UN entities and women’s groups. Parties reported about their nomination of national gender focal points for the climate negotiations, workshops on gender and climate change held by the Balkan States and the Dominican Republic, and experiences with gender budgeting by Mexico and Canada. Parties were particularly pleased with the strengthened (or in some cases first ever) cross-ministerial collaborations as part of the gender mainstreaming process. UN and UNFCCC entities reported about gender trainings for their staff members and successful collaborations with the gender experts of the Women and Gender Constituency, which is one of the nine observer groups accredited to the UNFCCC, with 27 civil society organizations as members. Moreover, women and gender organizations like GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice presented new tools for gender analysis and gender impact assessment and discussed with Parties how they can be used effectively.

However, despite these encouraging events some gaps and challenges seem to remain: often, sustainable funding for gender mainstreaming is missing. In many instances, gender issues are limited to women’s vulnerability and participation rate – which is of course important, but definitively not enough. This is demonstrated by a gender analysis of the INDCs submitted by countries, undertaken by WEDO in 2016.

Nevertheless, the positive mood among participants at the gender events shows that a major step has been taken with the Gender Action Plan and that there is political will, even if this has to be pushed continuously by women and gender activists.

Gender Workshop – Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

What to learn for SAICM?

In SAICM, we are further along in some respects. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The experiences of the UNFCCC and their process of integrating gender shows:

  • institutionalization of gender mainstreaming is indispensable at the international and national level à a beyond 2020 framework needs a similar Gender Action Plan
  • full participation of Women Groups und Gender Experts is very important for the process, their expertise has to be included in a meaningful manner à women’s organizations’ participation should be supported, and a gender caucus or working group should be established in a beyond 2020 framework
  • a lot of different useful methods and mechanisms are available on gender mainstreaming à gender analysis tools on gender and climate change and mechanisms like national gender focal points can serve as models to support gender-responsive policy-making and implementation on chemicals and waste

By the way, the BRS Convention was mentioned as especially progressive several times during the days in Bonn: the BRS Gender Action Plan was developed in 2013, women’s participation rate is high and 91% of the initial National Implementation Plans analyzed include women and gender keywords (see IUCN 2017).

A framework on chemicals and waste management beyond 2020 should not lag behind this kind of standard! The next two years present a unique window of opportunity to integrate gender, and do it on the basis of what we know may work in terms of generating knowledge, building capacities, and getting powerful policies implemented.

–> Take a look at our policy suggestions for gender in SAICM Beyond 2020.

Only with gender justice can there be a healthy planet for all!   

PS: Many thanks to LIFE e.V. and GenderCC for your support and the possibility to attend these inspiring meetings!


Gender and Chemicals at the 2nd meeting of the SAICM intersessional process in Stockholm, March 2018

Gender and SAICM Beyond 2020 – An Occasional Newsletter

The 2nd Intersessional Meeting of the SAICM Beyond 2020 process took place March 13-15, 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden. Anna Holthaus of the MSP Institute was there, working to increase attention on gender and chemicals issues, providing information and suggestions on how to integrate gender in a future policy framework on chemicals and waste.

SAICM Beyond 2020:
Adopted by the First International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM1) on 6 February 2006 in Dubai, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is a policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world. It is a multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral platform with a Secretariat at UNEP’s Chemicals and Waste Branch in Geneva.

SAICMs overall objective “is the achievement of the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle so that by the year 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health”.
At the moment, there is an intersessional processconsidering achievements so far and preparing a possible future platform for the sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020.

Gender & chemicals:
There is a number of gender aspects relevant to chemicals and chemicals and waste management:

  • Gender, as a social category, is linked to gender-specific norms of behaviour, roles in society as well as the development of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ identities, which in turn influence people’s behaviour, including their impact on the environment, their ffectedness by environmental degradation, and their access to and power over resources.
  • Gender (or sex), as a biological category, shows that women’s and men’s bodies are affected differently by environmental and physical conditions such as temperature, food, or chemicals.
  • Gender analysis allows to ask questions that help us understand and unpack root causes of unsustainable behaviour and societies, and hence have a transformational potential. We need to tap into this potential in order to bring about sustainable development, justice and peace.

Before the 2nd Intersessional Meeting, the gender and chemicals project team – Minu and Anna – , started to raise awareness on gender and chemicals – via email, blog articles, on twitter and LinkedIn and even in the very traditional way of marching in the streets by joing the demonstration at the international women’s day on 8th March in Berlin, Germany.

We brought our flyers, posters and policy suggestions to Stockholm and discussed our ideas with a many different stakeholders from governments, NGOs, IGOs and industry. We felt that there is definitely interest in the issue: nearly all of our flyers and information materials was taken and we heard a lot of supportive comments in direct conversations. On the other hand, we noticed that there are gaps in knowledge about gender, its definition and its transformational potential, although the paper on gender prepared by the SAICM secretariat is a very good starting point for the basic understanding of gender and its complex interconnections to chemicals and waste.

The plenary sessions started and ended with strong statements on the importance of gender equality, e.g. by the Asia-Pacific Region and the NGO Togo Welfare on behalf of IPEN. But in between, there was not much attention being paid to gender. During discussions on the future vision, policy principles, objectives & milestones, implementation and governance, not many colleagues mentioned women’s or gender issues.
In general, there is still a way to go to develop a shared understanding of how a future framework will look like (see ENB). Chronical problems of underfunding and very little visibility and political attention also don’t help taking a integrative and mainstreaming approach.

Yet one thing is clear: for healthy people and a healthy planet we need a gender-just chemicals and waste policies! Gender has to be mainstreamed in all principles and strategic objectives, a Gender Focal point should be created and a Gender Action Plan be developed.

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

Next stepping stones for the SAICM Beyond 2020 process include meetings at the global and regional level; many countries also hold national level meetings and stakeholder workshops. Upcoming international meetings include:

  • OEWG – February 2019*
  • 3rd Intersessional – June 2019*
  • Regional Meetings*

*Dates to be confirmed

We will continue to advocate for these and other ways of integrating gender and share information, ideas, events and policy suggestions with you – and we are always keen to hear from you about your work and your ideas on gender and chemicals!

Thank you and best regards,
Anna and Minu from the MSP Institute and the Gender & Chemicals Project

PS: If you want to join our mailing list for more Occasional Newsletters in the future, just let us know: info(at)msp-institute.org


SAICM Beyond 2020 – Integrating Gender Now !

By Minu Hemmati and Anna Holthaus, MSP Institute

(also published as a guest blog at http://blog.felixdodds.net/2018/03/guest-blogsaicm-beyond-2020-integrating.html)

With the year 2020 fast approaching, Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) and its stakeholders are currently developing pathways for the international management of chemicals and waste, building and re-building the platform for Beyond 2020.  We therefore have a unique window of opportunity over the coming years to increase attention and achieve results regarding integrating gender issues.

There are various gender aspects and women’s issue relevant to chemicals, and chemicals and waste management (e.g. Hemmati & Bach 2017). Most of these issues are not receiving the attention they should in order to ensure the best possible decisions in policy-making and effective implementation.

Why Gender and Chemicals ?

  1. Gender, as a social category, is linked to gender-specific norms of behaviour, roles in society as well as the development of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ identities, which in turn influence people’s behaviour, including their impact on the environment, their affectedness by environmental degradation, and their access to and power over resources.
  2. Gender, as a biological category, shows that women’s and men’s bodies are affected differently by certain chemicals – exposure, risk, and impacts can be different between the sexes.
  3. Gender analysis allows to ask questions that help us understand and unpack root causes of unsustainable behaviour and societies, and hence have a transformational potential. We need to tap into this potential in order to bring about sustainable development, justice and peace.


SAICM has an agreed Overarching Policy Strategy (OPS) that sets out the scope, needs, objectives, financial considerations underlying principles and approaches, and implementation and review arrangements of SAICM as a platform and process. The OPS underlines the specific importance of women as stakeholders and their still evident lack of representation in the implementation and decision-making processes for the sound management of chemicals and chemical safety (SAICM 2012).

Yet, specific knowledge on differentiated and long-term effects of chemicals on women and men is still lacking and rarely known to delegations and stakeholders. Comprehensive gender analysis of chemicals and waste management is lacking even more.


How to Integrate Gender in SAICM ?

Gender Justice is essential to achieve all of the Sustainable Development Goals. The recent report about women and gender and the SDGs shows how much progress needs to be made. However, we can build on existing programs and ongoing work – the women’s and gender movement has learned a lot about gender mainstreaming, gender justice, and useful strategies and tools. Experiences close to SAICM include the Gender Action Plan of the BRS Conventions, and work on other gender and environment issues, such as climate change (e.g. UNFCCC, GenderCC), biodiversity (e.g. UNCBD), and environment in general (e.g. UNEP GGEO).

Like in many other areas, we need to increase research to obtain sex-disaggregated data, analyze gender roles and identities and how they impact our interactions with chemicals and waste along the whole life cycle.


Our Policy Suggestions

Developing SAICM Beyond 2020, the process is now, at the 2nd Intersessional, focusing on discussing the elements of a future platform: vision, policy principles, objectives & milestones, implementation, and governance. We have followed previous discussions and prepared suggestions to support fully integrating gender:

An overall vision for international chemicals and waste management should be ambitious and brief – like a short sentence motto, for example:

Together for chemicals without harm, or Healthy Environment, Healthy Lives for All

The vision could be accompanied by a longer sentence of explanation with reference to transformation and (gender) justice, for example:

To achieve the precautionary and sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle in ways that minimize adverse effects on human health and the environment, as an essential contribution to transformation towards justice and sustainable development

Policy principles should reiterate the gender-related aspects already included in the OPS – but should make stronger references to including women in decision-making, gender justice, and gender responsiveness of policies (building on SDG5 – gender equality), and references to equal distribution of benefits from green and sustainable chemistry (also see SDG10 – reducing inequalities within and among countries).

We suggest to include reference to women and gender when dealing with implementation and governance, including issues of capacity building, financing and decision-making at all levels. It would be important to create a Gender Focal Point in SAICM and develop a Gender Action Plan for SAICM, and to mainstream the use of Gender Impact Assessment tools.

Women and chemical safety should become a high-level issue of concern (IPEN/PAN 2017).

National Action Plans should contain a section about gender-related activities and outcomes of all chemicals, wastes and agriculture projects, and the National Action Plan process should systematically 
include women and gender experts.


Learning From Other UN processes

Experiences from other UN processes show that integrating gender in (primarily, and hitherto) environmental discussions is not easy. “Gender and climate – really? Is atmosphere male or female, masculine or feminine? – hahaha”! Or: “Let’s not make the climate debate broader than it needs to be by introducing such exotic social issues like gender – this will not help making progress but water down the discussion.”

These were among the responses when women’s groups and gender experts started talking about gender and climate change, in the 1990’s and then with growing force in the early 2000s.

On chemicals, we are further along in some respects. There are more data and research on women’s and men’s bodies’ reactions to chemicals, exposure patterns, health risks, and so on. But there isn’t that much work with a specific gender lens, and there isn’t enough attention to these issues. So the time is now – developing SAICM Beyond 2020 and integrating gender!


Your support for a gender-just chemicals future beyond2020!

We have developed suggestions on how to integrate gender in a SAICM Beyond 2020 decision. It should be included in vision, principles, objectives and milestones, implementation arrangements and governance. We are seeking to discuss these suggestions with colleagues from governments, UN and all stakeholders to discuss our ideas on how to integrate gender in SAICM Beyond 2020. Let us know what you think (contacts below) – and if you are in Stockholm for the SAICM meeting, we’re happy to have a coffee!



GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice. A global network working on a range of issues relating to mitigation and adaptation.

Hemmati, M. & Holthaus, A. 2018. Gender & Chemicals Beyond 2020. Policy Suggestions – How to Integrate Gender in SAICM Beyond 2020. Berlin: MSP Institute

Hemmati, M. & Bach, A. 2017. Gender & Chemicals: Questions, Issues, and Possible Entry Points. Berlin: MSP Institute

IPEN/PAN 2017. Beyond 2020: Women and chemical safety.

UN Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions: Gender Action Plan (integrating gender, gender pioneer awards, etc).

UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD): Gender and Biodiversity (Gender Plan of Action, Gender Mainstreaming, etc).

UN Environment Programme 2016. Global Gender and Environment Outlook (GGEO).

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): Gender and Climate Change (intergovernmental process, events, Gender Action Plan).

UN Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) 2012. Overarching Policy Strategy.

UN Women 2018: Turning Promises Into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York



Dr Minu Hemmati, project lead, Associate, MSP Institute – minu.hemmati(at)msp-institute.org

Anna Holthaus, project coordinator, MSP Institute –anna.holthaus(at)msp-institute.org

Websites www.gender-chemicals.org / www.msp-institute.org

Follow us on twitter@GenderChemicals and @byMSPInstitute