A higher standard: Global tools for the empowerment of women & girls

We live in a world designed by men, for men. Women are widely under-represented in the committees that develop standards that lay out the specifications for products that we consume every day, for personal protective equipment and for the infrastructure on which economies depend upon. Additionally, standard setters do not sufficiently understand the underlying bias in the data they use as reference.

Tackling these complex issues requires institutional cooperation. Building on UNECE expertise on standardization and on UN/WOMEN’s leading role for gender equality, the two agencies convened an online event on 19 March 2020. The UN agencies agreed on working jointly to address this critical gender gap, promoting the adoption of gender responsive standards and technical regulations as powerful tools to attain SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).

“It is important to bring practical solutions, to create standards that form gender accountable governance systems, policies and laws that include and work for everyone” said Alia El-Yassir, UN Women’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Featuring representatives of key players from the field of international standards, the virtual meeting highlighted good practice and examples of authorities, which have embraced standards as instruments for the achievement of sustainable development. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the British Standards Institution (BSI) and DIN, the German Institute for Standardization, shared their success stories and communicated the importance of gender equity in standards.

As Justin Wilkes, Executive Director of the European Environmental Citizens’ Organization for Standardization (ECOS), said, “gender balance in standardisation is crucial to make standards more inclusive. The standardisation system must have balanced representation and reflect the society that it seeks to serve”.

The event also brought together signatories to UNECE’s Declaration on Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development, which supports gender-balanced and inclusive standards and standards development processes.

The UNECE Declaration has now 65 signatories  including international standards bodies (such as ISO, ITU, IEC, ASTM International), regional standards bodies (including African Organization for Standardization (ARSO), the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) & European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the Standards and Metrology Institute for the Islamic Countries (SMIIC)), and national standards bodies from all world regions (including Brazil, India, Thailand, Canada, UK, Germany, Bolivia, South Africa, Senegal). The number of signatories has continued to increase with 15 organizations joining just in the first three months of 2020.

By signing the UNECE Declaration, standards bodies pledge to create and implement gender action plans.

“Standards are developed for and by a large number of diverse stakeholders. As such, they are not only “shared solutions” but also mechanisms of accountability and assurance for transformative” change”, said Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of UNECE.

The United Nations “Decade of Action”, launched in January 2020, calls for the acceleration of sustainable solutions to meet the world’s foremost challenges. When used effectively, standards can be ‘shared solutions’ to such global challenges, and present policymakers with mechanisms of accountability and assurance for transformative change.

The online meeting was held as part of the 2020 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the UNECE Region.