United Nations
Environment Programme

‘Gender Heroes’ Take Action on Chemicals and Waste

On the morning of the 4 May 2015, the silence of the Centre International de Conférences was broken by almost 1,200 participants from 171 countries amassing near the shores of Lake Geneva. The previously quiet auditoria, chambers and halls transformed into bustling hives of activity for the 11-day Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions (BRS), the three leading multilateral environmental agreements on chemicals and waste management.

On the sidelines of the conference, members of the BRS Secretariat’s Gender Task Team launched a compilation of stories that highlight grassroots action being taken by individuals and communities around the world to protect the most vulnerable from the potentially harmful effects of certain chemicals and wastes. The collection of inspirational case studies covers a range of issues, from pesticide use in the Asia- Pacific and toxic toys in Kazakhstan to e-waste management in Africa.

A number of the authors presented their stories at the launch and the publication, “Gender Heroes: from grassroots to global action”, was distributed to all 1,200 participants in the COP.1

The BRS Secretariat’s Deputy Executive Secretary, Ms. Kerstin Stendahl, explains the thinking behind the report: “We sought to promote gender issues to the forefront of the chemicals and waste agenda and for people to understand that this is absolutely key because women, men, boys and girls are exposed to these harmful substances in different ways and to varying degrees depending on where they work and live. In addition to gender differences in exposure to hazardous substances, there are also differences in physiological susceptibility between men and women, girls and boys.”

She continues: “We need to take these differences into account when we devise measures for the sound management of chemicals and wastes so that we tailor our responses with gender aspects in mind. We achieved this, at least to a certain extent, by compiling concrete examples of cases where people have problems with chemicals and wastes and how they can overcome these problems.”

Through a call for submissions, the Secretariat requested Parties and other stakeholders to submit stories of how gender issues are considered in and impacted by hazardous chemicals and waste management at the local, national and regional levels.

Ms. Stendahl concludes: “It was an inspiration and a delight to bring to our Parties and partners a varied collection of stories from around the world that provided a snapshot of how gender perspectives are being incorporated into the sound management of chemicals and wastes. Staff members enjoyed the creativity of the work on the publication and were very much encouraged by the feedback received from partners who enthusiastically contributed. Gender mainstreaming is a relatively new dimension under the BRS Conventions and we were pleased to see interest in the publication from various stakeholders.”

This interest was even more evident during the weekly serialization of the stories on the BRS website between November 2015 and January 2016, and their dissemination via social media (Safe Planet on Facebook and @ brsmeas on Twitter), leading to additional outreach and interest of 200,000 people via Twitter alone.

The days of frantic activity in Geneva drew to a close and the halls of the Centre International de Conférences fell silent, but the unsung gender heroes continue to quietly pioneer for the safe management of hazardous chemicals and wastes, from grassroots to global action.

1 Publication available at: http://synergies.pops.int/Portals/4/download.aspx?d=UNEP-FAO-CHW-RC-POPS-SEC-REP-BRS-GenderHeroe.English.pdf