Gender – Why it matters and what BRS is doing

“Linking gender equality with sustainable development is important for several reasons. It is a moral and ethical imperative. Efforts to achieve a just and sustainable future cannot ignore the rights, dignity and capabilities of half the world’s population.” UN Women World Survey 2014.

Charlie Avis: Kerstin, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, please tell us why gender is relevant to the sound management of chemicals and hazardous wastes and the implementation of the BRS conventions?

Kerstin Stendahl: Incorporating gender consideration into the sound management of chemicals and wastes is absolutely key because women, men, boys and girls are exposed to chemicals and hazardous wastes 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.  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.

Gender equality, sustainable development and the sound management of chemicals and wastes is a model example of synergies at work, and thus the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. Without gender equality the BRS conventions will fall short of full implementation and will not therefore contribute to sustainable development to their best possible capacity.

It is very encouraging that the international community now recognizes that negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda will need to harbour, nurture and execute these fundamental ideas.

CA: What is the Secretariat doing towards this goal?

KS:  Gender equality at all levels is an important factor in making implementation of our conventions efficient.  This is why the BRS secretariat strives to make gender considerations an integral part of our day-to-day work.  Through the dedicated work of our gender coordinator and the gender task team we have devised ways and means to mainstream gender into the planning and execution of policies and activities, as decided on by the Parties.  Have a look at the BRS Gender Action Plan at

CA: The conventions aim at protecting all human beings and the environment, why do we need to focus especially on gender?

KS: Gender mainstreaming requires us to carefully assess whether the action we take will equally impact the lives of women and men, boys and girls.  It is not an easy task and we still have a lot to do in this area, not least when it comes to addressing the unsound management of chemicals and wastes and the disproportionate impact that they have on women and girls. We also need to encourage and empower women to be part of decision – making, whereby their knowledge, experience and expertise is equally heard and accounted for.  Significant in this regard is the question of access to Secretariat training and support services. In 2014, 52% of the more than 1,100 participants in the BRS technical assistance webinar programme were female, demonstrating that women are aware of – and can use just as easily - this very popular format for building individual and institutional capacities. In this way, we support women (and men) to empower themselves to play a role for securing the sustainable management of chemicals and waste.

CA: What support is out there, to help make this happen?

KS: Thankfully, the BRS is supported and guided in its gender work by a pool of competence and expertise among governments, within UNEP and the UN system at large.  Amongst these, the work of UN Women, deserves a specific mentioning.  Its report World Survey 2014  focusses on the theme of gender equality and sustainable development and is an essential read for all of us aiming at a sustainable future. ( )  

CA: Are there already any specific activities going on?

KS: Through the Task Team’s work and as part of the BRS Gender Action Plan, the development of internal baseline data and statistics on involvement of women and men in projects and programmes of the secretariat is well underway. More substantively, we monitor consideration of gender aspects in proposal development and project implementation, and facilitate and encourage training of staff on gender mainstreaming. And we are collecting success stories of gender mainstreaming in chemicals and waste projects which will be showcased as “gender heroes” during our triple COPs in May. Lastly, the secretariat is actively contributing to the forthcoming (UNEP) Global Gender and Environment Outlook, and collaborates with the UNEP Gender and Social Safeguards Unit on online and face-to-face trainings on gender and environment.  I also hope that we will see more discussions about the gender dimension in the implementation of our conventions during the triple COPs in May. 

CA: Tell me about the Secretariat’s staffing, is that gender balanced?

KS: It is certainly something we monitor and bear in mind as part of all action on human resources together with other aspects, such as regional balance.

I would say that we our track record is quite good. Because of specific attention we now have a gender ratio of 50% men and women at “director” level, 49% men and 51% women at “professional” level, and 56% women and 44 % men at “general service” level.