Solutions for the waste and chemical pollution crisis from a gender perspective – Case studies from Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Indonesia

Hazardous chemicals and waste are a serious problem for people all around the globe. Our online event last week at the HLPF, the High Level Political Forum, demonstrated once again that women are impacted differently from these chemicals and waste and therefore solutions need to have a gender-perspective and need to be based inclusive, in order to create a better health for women worldwide.

At the HLPF side-event “Solutions for the waste and chemical pollution crisis, from a social-inclusion and gender perspective” we presented case studies from the following four countries: Bolivia, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria.

Prof. Aliyu Jauro from Nigeria is the CEO of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA). he showed that Nigeria has a problem with waste and chemicals. The effect on women is different from that on men, as women tend to do most of the agricultural work and are mostly affected by the harmful pesticides. Additionally, women do most of the cleaning in the household and will be in touch with harmful cleaning chemicals. Whereas, men are generally required to do more of the dangerous jobs, which can lead to more risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals. The case study represented by Prof. Aliyu Jauro demonstrates once again the importance and necessity of including a gendered lens when looking at these case studies. The Nigerian case study was further elaborated by Anne Marie Abaagu and John Baaki from WEP. What becomes clear here is the need to the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides. An example of this is neem oil pesticide, which is a powerful natural insecticide. WEP recommends using more of these kinds of organic fertilizers and encouraging the private sector to produce more of them through loans.

Stop the import and use of mercury

One of the most striking case studies was presented by Carmen Capriles, who is the founder and coordinator of Reaccion Climatica. She showed how and in what way hazardous chemicals and waste influence health in a different manner, namely according to gender. The key problem in Bolivia is the influence of mercury on women who work in gold mining. Capriles firstly argues that we need to take immediate measures to stop the import and use of mercury, secondly she recommends finding job opportunities for indigenous women outside of gold mining, thirdly she states that we need more health studies to better understand the consequences of these harmful substances.
Sara Brosche, science advisor of the International Pollution Elimination Network (IPEN) backs this up by explaining women’s exposure to mercury and other chemicals. Women are mostly exposed to mercury due to their diet which includes large amounts of fish. But are also more impacted by exposure to chemicals, as they often work in gold mining. Illiteracy also adds to the problem, if you are unable to read the warning labels you won’t take the right precautionary measures when working with cleaning products for instance.

The importance of data

Anna Kirilenko and Indira Zhakipova from the Kyrgyz NGO BIOM / EKOIS pointed out again, that women are differently impacted by the use of hazardous chemicals. An important example of this is the informal pesticides trade, where pesticides are delivered from China and women are unable to read the labels which could contain warning signs. They recommend to focus more on women as actors, and include the role of women in national implementation plans regarding chemicals and waste. And to make sure that more research is being done and more data are collected.

Yuyun Ismawati, senior advisor of the Nexus3 Foundation and member of our International Advisory Board, presented the case study for Indonesia. She recommends an annual report on gender and chemicals, to make sure more information is available, especially from a gender perspective. Just as we have seen above, there is a dire need for more information on this front with a gender perspective.

More information on the case studies and the downloads of the reports can be found here

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) is organized by the United Nations, it is an event which focuses on Sustainable Development and was first organized in 2013. This year, 2021, it took place from the 6th of July till the 15th. On the 7th of July we hosted our side event to the HLPF, named: Solutions for the waste and chemical pollution crisis, from a social-inclusion and gender perspective. Within this event we launched a four country case study which has looked into SDG12, which focuses on sustainable management of waste and toxic chemicals. The moderators of this event were Dr. Priscilla Achakpa, who is the global president and founder of Women Environmental Programme Nigeria (WEP) and Sascha Gabizon who is the executive director of Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) International.