What has gender got to do with chemicals?

Together with WEP and Balifokus, we presented our new publication and documentary film “What has gender got to do with chemicals” at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, on December 5th, 2017.

The film has been released to the general public and is being disseminated by the secretariat of the global chemicals conventions, the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS) where the short version (3 minutes) and the long version (30 minutes) can be found here.


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The documentary film shows the women’s organisations WEP Nigeria and WECF International, who investigate how women and men are impacted by hazardous chemicals and waste in Nigeria, and also how women and men are contributing to solutions to stop pollution.

The film follows Dr. Priscilla Achakpa, Director of the Nigeria-based civil society organisation “Women Environmental Programme – WEP” on a scoping study interviewing women farmers, waste scavengers, electronic waste handlers and various ministries, agencies and medium sized businesses working on laws, enforcement and solutions. “We found severe pollution from chemicals, which effects the entire pollution through the open burning of waste, but the least affluent groups are in particularly badly impacted, for example the young men scavenging waste including electronic waste, and women farmers using highly hazardous pesticides.

Dr. Achakpa presented these insights during her presentation at the United Nations following the showing of the movie to an audience of 150 people. She concluded that “the most shocking is the information that women food-vendors are buying adulterated cooking oils containing PCBs, a potent carcinogen. The women are unaware of the toxicity of this oil, and they like using it, as the volume does not decrease as fast as when using vegetable oils”.

Achakpa also announced that we will release the film on national television in Nigeria so as to reach over a 100 million Nigerians, and inform them about the dangers of persistant-organic-pollutants, and to call for responsibility of international companies to stop the dumping of e-waste and products containing harmful chemicals in our country.

We coordinated the film production. The camera and editing was done by Laure Poinsot.

ECF and BALIFOKUS also presented at the UN the accompanying publication “Gender Dimensions of Hazardous Chemicals and Waste Policies under the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions” which is available for download here.

Yuyun Ismawati of Balifokus commented “the case study for Indonesia shows high levels of pollution from chemicals and waste. The largest waste dump of Jakarta has open burning of harmful plastics and e-waste. These toxic fumes are not only a disaster for the 5000 scavengers who live around the dump, but also enter into the rice fields, the egg and meat of domestic animals for consumption, and into the rivers, water ways and air. According to Ismawati: “Not only the waste dump is polluted, also the inner city. Measurements found high levels of new POPs such as flame-retardants in the air in the business district, probably coming from the electronics, decoration and building materials. Everybody is,- unknowingly,- exposed to these chemicals emissions which can lead to diseases such as breast cancer.”

Ismawati presented furthermore results of her investigation of small-scale gold mining activities in Indonesia: “The most severe health effects were observed in children from gold miners, many of which are born with birth defects, such as missing fingers and limbs. The birth defects are probably caused by the burning of mercury to extract the gold from the ore. Mercury has been banned globally under the Minamata Convention, but unfortunately, informal trade continues, and the gold miners are often not informed of the great risks to their and their children’s health. We need immediate action to stop the trade in mercury and to provide alternative job opportunities for the mining families”.

Our Sascha Gabizon explained that “The studies and film show that both in Indonesia and in Nigeria there are also great initiatives being taken, often by civil society organisations and responsible entrepreneurs. We met with entrepreneurs, women and men, in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital and largest port, where container ships bring tons and tons of electronic waste and polluting products into Africa. For example, we filmed a woman entrepreneur who has a community-plastic-collection project. And a partner business of Hewlett Packard that shows how to safely treat e-waste, sending the most hazardous parts back to Europe for destruction”.

Dr. Achackpa concludes: “What we need now is a conscious strategy by our government to address the social dimensions of chemical and waste policies. We need to assess different roles and impacts on women and men. We need to ensure more women in decision making on chemical policies. We need the government to support activities of civil society women’s organisations. And we need to combine better management of chemicals and waste, with the empowerment of women and men to halt the negative impacts, through a Gender Action Plan”.


Yuyun Ismawati – Gender dimension of hazardous chemicals in Indonesia

Priscilla Achakpa – Chemicals & waste: lessons from Nigeria

Olga Speranskaya – IPEN gender initiative and UNEP partnership

Alexandra Caterbow – IPEN survey, women and chemicals

For more information contact:

Sascha Gabizon, WECF International wecf@wecf.eu

Yuyun Ismawati, Balifokus yuyun@balifokus.asia

Priscilla Achakpa, WEP Priscilla.achakpa@wepnigeria.net


The activities were made possible thanks to the financial support of the Governments of Sweden and Germany.