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