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Chemicals are a gender issue

Some 90% of household responsibilities in Indonesia are performed by women – making them much more exposed to harmful household chemicals than men. Recent studies show that perfluorinated compounds - toxic chemicals used in consumer applications – can be present in human breast milk in the country.

This example illustrates the increased health impact that harmful chemicals have on a woman and her family. It was part of a discussion on hazardous chemicals and gender during a side-event at the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Conference of Parties (COPs) held in Geneva on 3 May.

The event showcased lessons and best practices for ensuring that gender issues are taken into account when the Conventions are implemented.

National Implementation Plans for reporting progress under the Stockholm Convention on restricting and/or eliminating Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) involved a significant amount of gender considerations, it was revealed, with 91% of plans submitted including at least one reference to gender and/or women key words.

However, along with the positive, the report also indicated that work still needs to be done to better mainstream gender into the three Chemicals Conventions. Specifically, significant efforts are needed given that only 2% of National Implementation plans under the Stockholm Conventions characterized women as agents of change - recognising the positive health impacts that gender measures have on society as a whole. Furthermore, only one Party mentions a gender and/or women keyword in its National Report to the Basel Convention.

As regards the Conference of Parties themselves, reports put together by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature showed that there was a 5% increase in government delegate and NGO observer representation by women between the 2013 and 2015 editions, indicating a move towards parity.

Short excerpts were played from a documentary film on gender and POPs in Nigeria. The film highlights the hazardous effects of POPs, and sheds light on the gender perspective of the problem.

The side event concluded with the award ceremony for the recipients of the Gender Pioneer for a Future Detoxified Award. Award winners from all UN regions and backgrounds were recognized for their work promoting gender equality in the implementation of the BRS Conventions. Both male and female recipients were honoured for their dedicated work in various parts of the world.

One of the 11 winners of the award was a young entrepreneur from Egypt. 26 year-old Yara Yassin started a social enterprise employing marginalized women in Egypt, called Up-fuse. The organization empowers local women while producing bags and luggage made from up-cycled plastic bags – combining gender empowerment and environmental preservation.

The gender side-event was supported by the Federal Government of Germany and the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden. It was organized by the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, along with Women in Europe for a Common Future – a network of women’s and environmental organisations.

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