Because they impact the way we live, work, travel, or consume, standards play a crucial role in shaping society. The fact that women have remained largely under-represented in standardization processes has meant that the standards adopted are sometimes simply unfit - or even dangerous - for half of the world’s population.

Some of the best-known examples include seat belts standards which have mostly taken men’s body shape into account, making women more likely to suffer from injuries during car accidents. Studies have also found that standard values used to set heating and air conditioning in offices are on average five degrees Celsius too cold for women.

In other words, gender-responsive standards are long overdue. Following groundwork supported by the International Gender Champions in 2017, the first ever Declaration for Gender-Responsive Standards and Standards Development was developed by the UN Economic Commission for Europe in 2018.

On 14 May 2019, some 50 organizations worldwide[1] signed this landmark document and pledged to create and implement gender action plans. The Declaration’s objective is to support more gender-balanced and inclusive standards development processes, as well as to strengthen the gender-responsiveness of standards themselves.

A gender lens in standardization is important to make standards relevant to everyone”, International Gender Champion and ISO[2] Secretary-General Sergio Mujica said, “this is why we want to focus on developing gender-neutral and gender-responsive standards, and we also want to further empower women to participate in standardization.

As Gender Champion and UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stated, the signing of this transformative Declaration by a wide range of actors is “a moment of celebration, but much remains to be done”.

More information:

[1] Signatories include international standards bodies (such as ISO, ITU, IEC, ASTM International), regional standards bodies (covering Africa, Europe and South Asia), and national standards bodies (including China, India, Thailand, Canada, UK, Spain, Mexico, Senegal, Morocco).

[2] International Standards Organization.