Strengthening women’s participation in the standards development process, with UNECE guidelines

Taking concerted action on gender equality and inclusion within standards development processes is an important and necessary means of ensuring the adequacy of standards to address sustainable development challenges.

UNECE, with its longstanding history as a convener of national, regional, and international standards bodies, offers a series of normative tools to guide organizations in their efforts to promote the full and effective participation of women in the standards-development process. The UNECE Gender-Responsive Standards Initiative (GRSI) has released a draft report for comment, “Guidelines on Developing Gender-Responsive Standards”, which offers practical steps to establish effective policies and practices which drive women’s equal participation as a strategic priority.

The GRSI guidance report, in combination with UNECE and UN/CEFACT standards and recommendations, constitutes a practical instrument for countries seeking to harness the potential of standards as tools for sustainable development. The report offers a baseline for national standards bodies (NSBs) aiming to ensure equity in their working processes and greater efficacy in the standards they develop, in line with the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Women’s full and effective participation in and contribution to the economy is critical to harness gender equality and women’s empowerment as drivers of sustainable development”, said UNECE Executive Secretary, Olga Algayerova. “The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women and girls threatens to undermine the hard-fought gains towards gender equality in recent years. As part of urgent, targeted action, gender-responsive policies and tools can support women to shape a more sustainable post-pandemic future”.

The report constitutes the first attempt to develop guidelines for gender-responsive standards. Advanced over several rounds of collaboration, the guidance is a product of the diverse perspectives and professional experiences of a multi-disciplinary group of experts under the Gender-Responsive Standards Initiative. As noted by the group’s Lead, Michelle Parkouda, “the guidance report distils best practice and focuses policies on informed, practical solutions to longstanding challenges and structural inequities, which are exacerbated by a lack of women’s participation in the standards-development processes. Through the work of the Gender-Responsive Standards Initiative, UNECE has challenged standards development bodies and organizations to improve gender-responsiveness in standardization.”

The guidelines support the active and intentional efforts of workplace leaders (e.g., directors of standards bodies, heads of technical committees) and staff to take steps to implement changes, intended to build workplace commitment to gender equality and set expectations on the efficacy of standards for women and girls. Top-level leaders may set the organizational tone, but leaders at every level of a standards body can take steps to adopt new practices and behaviors which view inclusion as an opportunity.

Addressing the barriers to greater representation in the standards development process, the report guides standards bodies to practice measures which recognize the value of diverse voices and promote the participation of women across the professional setting.

The guidelines support standards bodies to take an intentional, measurable approach to women’s full and equal participation. They can be used by any national standards body or standards developing organization to improve workplace equality. Whilst the guidance is ostensibly related to gender, many of the principles induce broad, incremental change and can be applied to other groups marginalized in the standards development process.

An advanced copy of the report has been made available online and will be updated based on invited comment and feedback. UNECE welcomes comments on this document until May 2022. The final report will be presented at the 32nd Annual Session of the Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies (WP.6), 7– 9 November 2022.