Striking a balance with gender-informed standards

Insights from men and women improve safety for all

By Antoinette Price

Traditionally, women have not been encouraged to participate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As a result, a low number has made it into this field. Standards are meant to improve the safety and quality of products and services used by everyone. However, to achieve this, they must include the significant physiological differences between men and women and their potential impact in daily situations.

Girls should be encouraged to study science and engineering Girls should be encouraged to study science and engineering

One well-known example is the crash test dummy for vehicles, which until recently, was based on a male model. Given the diverse male/female height and weight averages, trials revealed that manufacturers using male dummies only, could not provide the same level of safety for all vehicle occupants.  A female dummy has since been developed.

Contributing to UN Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Working Party (WP.6) on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies has launched a new initiative to make standards gender-informed and ensure that they contribute to women’s empowerment. During a panel to discuss how standards and technical regulations contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goal 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, Gabriela Ehrlich, IEC Global Head, Marketing and Communications, explained what IEC is doing to improve its gender balance.

IEC work directly impacts 12 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UN recognizes energy as a cornerstone for economic development, facilitating poverty and hunger reduction efforts, improving education, providing better quality healthcare and ultimately empowering women. 

In other words, providing access to electricity enables the use of simple technologies, such as cooling systems, which preserve food longer and reduce hunger. Solar lights and safe medical devices can significantly improve healthcare, particularly for women giving birth at home. Having light after dark means girls can study in the evenings and further their education, while access to a power supply can also facilitate e-learning options.

The IEC provides the technical foundation for all forms of electricity generation, both off-grid and on-grid. This includes small and big solar, wind, marine and hydro electricity. It also contributes the technical foundation for electrical and electronic hardware in education: computers, routers, printers and similar. IEC work also covers the basis for testing and certification of safety, energy efficiency and the reliability of many types of devices. IEC International Standards underpin infrastructure investment, for example in tenders by the World Bank; they encourage technology transfer and are often used in technical regulations.

…particularly Goal 5 for women and girls

In relation to SDG 5, we are committed to helping increase women’s participation in IEC work, involving qualified women wherever possible, and we are encouraging our members to do the same”, said Ehrlich.

Despite being far from parity in technical work, Ehrlich highlighted some areas where IEC is ahead of the STEM curve with significant female participation. This includes the IEC Systems Committee on Active Assisted Living (SyC AAL), which has a majority female management. One third IEC Young Professional Leaders are women, as are both the IEC Affiliate Country Programme Leader and the Executive Secretary. The IEC Central Office has already achieved gender equality at top management level, and the Africa Regional Centre has management parity.

Other participants on the panel included representatives from UNECE, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC).

IEC joins International Gender Champions initiative

Additionally, IEC President and CEO, Frans Vreeswijk recently accepted for the IEC to participate in the International Gender Champions initiative. The initiative is an international network of senior leaders working to advance gender equality in the executive management of their institutions and their programmatic work, through concrete and measurable commitments. In this context, Vreeswijk will motivate IEC Members to encourage the participation of more qualified women experts in IEC technical work and encourage technical committees to consider a gender-balanced approach in all relevant IEC International Standards and send more women to the Young Professionals programme.

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Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender equality The objective of Sustainable Development Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls (Photo: United Nations)
Solar power allows girls to do their homework Solar power allows the girls do their homework after dark
Girls should be encouraged to study science and engineering Girls should be encouraged to study science and engineering