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Women disproportionately vulnerable to health risks from chemical and waste pollution
To mark International Women’s Day, read our new Press Release on why women and girls are more likely than men to suffer adverse effects from chemicals and waste.

Women disproportionately vulnerable to health risks from chemical and waste pollution

Women disproportionately vulnerable to health risks from chemical and waste pollution

8 March 2019 - Due to a combination of socio-economic, cultural, and physiological factors, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to the harmful impact of pollution from chemicals and waste. At the same time, in many countries, women are increasingly assuming leadership roles in raising awareness, and protecting their communities, from these impacts.

The adverse effects of hazardous chemicals and wastes on different groups of the population vary depending on the level of exposure, behavioural patterns, age, biological effect (for example, endocrine disruption), geographical location, nutritional status and co-exposure to other chemicals. Certain types of chemicals, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), can build up to dangerous levels in humans causing adverse reproductive, developmental, immunological, hormonal, and carcinogenic effects with varied impacts on vulnerable groups of the population.

Women are often more exposed to chemicals and waste as a result of different socio-economic roles, defined along gender lines. According to a study in Indonesia, and indeed in many countries, women are still expected to perform the bulk of domestic work in and around the house, including the sorting, removal, and disposal of household waste, which in many cases include open burning of plastics and other household waste. This practice exposes women to highly toxic persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals with significant impacts on their health and as potential child bearers. Recent body burden analysis has shown that such chemicals do get passed out to children during pregnancy.1

In farming, more than 40% of agricultural work in developing countries is done by women and girls. Because women are twice as likely to be illiterate2 as men, vital chemical and safety information is often overlooked, increasing the likelihood of mis-handling and consequent unintended exposure to pesticides.

Cultural norms also impact on women and girls’ vulnerabilities. Of the estimated 13,000 chemicals3 used in beauty and hygiene products only about 10% have been evaluated for safety. A recent study concluded that women of colour, independent of socio-economic status, are most exposed to higher levels of such chemicals4 as a result of using products such as skin-whiteners and hair products, which often contain toxic substances, including heavy metals such as mercury and lead.

Such socio-economic and cultural factors are compounded by physiological differences between women and men, since their smaller size and role in the reproductive cycle, women are proportionately more heavily impacted than men even when exposure is the same. Up to 33% of a woman’s chemical burden can be passed on to her baby during gestation, through the placenta, as well as via breastfeeding.5 Women are often not even aware of the health risks they are facing, especially given that some of these chemicals can remain in the body for long periods and manifest themselves later in time.

On the other hand, there has been progress. Women are increasingly stepping forward to take on leadership roles to protect the most vulnerable segments of our population from the potentially harmful effects of certain chemicals and wastes. Both the Gender Heroes publication and the Gender Pioneers initiative under the BRS Conventions point to examples of the empowerment of women in marginalised communities and the impacts that their actions have had, for example, in the promotion of ecological agriculture, in the reduction of use of highly hazardous pesticides, in the protection of children from the toxics found in toys, and in the safer recovery and management of recyclable elements of e-waste from landfill sites. For more information on the BRS Gender Heroes and Gender Pioneers see: http://www.brsmeas.org/?tabid=4759

These examples emphasise the need for enhanced gender considerations and sound management of chemicals and wastes in the broader push for implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Indeed the relationship between chemicals and wastes and gender, under SDG 5, requires constant emphasis, attention, and mainstreaming. This will be further explored during the next Conference of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, in Geneva from 29 April to 10 May 2019, the theme for which is “Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste”.

Notes for Editors:

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes and is almost universal, with 187 Parties. With an overarching objective of protecting human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes, its scope covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous” based on their origin and/or composition and characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” – household waste and incinerator ash. See www.basel.int

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, is jointly administered by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment (UNEP). The 161 Parties to this legally-binding Convention share responsibility and cooperate to safely manage chemicals in international trade. To date 50 chemicals and pesticides are listed in its Annex III. The Convention does not introduce bans but facilitates the exchange of information among Parties on hazardous chemicals and pesticides, and their potential risks, to inform and improve national decision making. In addition, through the PIC Procedure, it provides a legally-binding mechanism to support national decisions on the import of selected chemicals and pesticides in order to minimize the risk they pose to human health and the environment. See www.pic.int

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment. Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems. The Convention requires its Parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment. As of today, this legally-binding Convention has 182 Parties, giving it almost universal coverage. To date, 28 chemicals of global concern have been listed under the Stockholm Convention.

For more on gender aspects of chemicals and waste, see http://www.brsmeas.org/?tabid=3651 or contact Susan WINGFIELD, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (UNEP), Geneva: +41-79-233-3218, +41-22-917-78406, susan.wingfield@brsmeas.org

For BRS conventions general media enquiries see www.brsmeas.org or contact Charlie AVIS, Public Information Officer (UN Environment), Geneva +41-79-730-4495

 


1 From the BRS Scoping Study on Gender in Indonesia, full report here: http://www.brsmeas.org/?tabid=5816

2 Both statistics from FAO data summarised in the infographic at: http://www.fao.org/resources/infographics/infographics-details/en/c/180754/

3 Zota & Shamasunder, 2017, The environmental injustice of beauty: framing chemical exposures from beauty products as a health disparities concern, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Vol 127(4):418 online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28822238

4 Ibid

5 UNDP, 2017, Gender Mainstreaming - a Key Driver of Development in Environment & Energy. Available online: http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/Environment%20and%20Energy/Sustainable%20Energy/Gender_Mainstreaming_Training_Manual_2007.pdf

BRS Secretariat contributed to UNEA-4 in promoting sound management of chemicals and wastes
The Secretariat participated in more than 10 events, submitted numerous background documents, and staged 2 exhibitions throughout the 4th UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, 11 to 15 March.

BRS Secretariat contributed to UNEA-4 in promoting sound management of chemicals and wastes

BRS Secretariat contributed to UNEA-4 in promoting sound management of chemicals and wastes
 
Clean Planet, Healthy People: All pre-session working documents now online
All working documents for the 2019 COPs, and most information documents, are now available online.

Clean Planet, Healthy People: All pre-session working documents now online

Clean Planet, Healthy People: All pre-session working documents now online
 
Scientists predict collapse of wildlife populations due to pollution from chemicals and waste
With people everywhere marking World Wildlife Day on 3 March, read the new BRS Press Release on the impact of chemicals and waste on our planet’s fauna.

Scientists predict collapse of wildlife populations due to pollution from chemicals and waste

Scientists predict collapse of wildlife populations due to pollution from chemicals and waste
 
The latest BRS Newsletter is now online: all the news for a Clean Planet, Healthy People
A must-read for all those interested in, or working towards, the sound management of chemicals and waste.

The latest BRS Newsletter is now online: all the news for a Clean Planet, Healthy People

The latest BRS Newsletter is now online: all the news for a Clean Planet, Healthy People
 
UN agencies in Geneva join forces to reduce, re-use, recycle & refuse
BRS Secretariat, UN Environment and the UN Office at Geneva urge international Geneva to minimize single-use plastics.

UN agencies in Geneva join forces to reduce, re-use, recycle & refuse

UN agencies in Geneva join forces to reduce, re-use, recycle & refuse
 
As preparation for the 2019 Triple COPs, the outcomes of the Joint Bureaux meeting are now online
The report of the joint meeting of the COPs bureaux, held in Geneva from 15 to 16 November 2018, is now available online.

As preparation for the 2019 Triple COPs, the outcomes of the Joint Bureaux meeting are now online

As preparation for the 2019 Triple COPs, the outcomes of the Joint Bureaux meeting are now online
 
Plastic waste again in the spotlight as Geneva hosts High Level Dialogue on 14 February
BRS Secretariat joins forces with Geneva Environment Network and the governments of France, Gabon & Norway to further explore options for tackling marine litter.

Plastic waste again in the spotlight as Geneva hosts High Level Dialogue on 14 February

Plastic waste again in the spotlight as Geneva hosts High Level Dialogue on 14 February
 
BRS Secretariat marks International Day of Women & Girls in Science
Meet the BRS Science & Technical Assistance Branch, which has female staff from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, & Latin America, all working for a Clean Planet & Healthy People.

BRS Secretariat marks International Day of Women & Girls in Science

BRS Secretariat marks International Day of Women & Girls in Science
 
The 2019 Triple COPs are coming!
Read the new BRS Blog to find out how the COPs will contribute to a clean planet and healthy people.

The 2019 Triple COPs are coming!

The 2019 Triple COPs are coming!
 
First batch of pre-session documents, including budget documents for consideration by the COPs, now online
Pre-session documents for the 2019 COPs, including the proposed programmes of work and budgets for the conventions for 2020-2021, are now available.

First batch of pre-session documents, including budget documents for consideration by the COPs, now online

First batch of pre-session documents, including budget documents for consideration by the COPs, now online
 
Chemicals and waste “Information Fair” at the 2019 BRS Triple COPs
Apply for space at the Information Fair, 2 to 4 May, to showcase products, processes or partnerships which improve implementation of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions.

Chemicals and waste “Information Fair” at the 2019 BRS Triple COPs

Chemicals and waste “Information Fair” at the 2019 BRS Triple COPs
 
Four joint regional meetings to help Parties prepare for the 2019 Triple COPs
Regional preparatory meetings for the 2019 COPs will be held throughout March 2019, jointly with meetings on the Minamata Convention & SAICM. Invitation letters for the meetings have been sent out.

Four joint regional meetings to help Parties prepare for the 2019 Triple COPs

Four joint regional meetings to help Parties prepare for the 2019 Triple COPs
 
Read the BRS Press Release on Plastics in the Mountains
In Geneva on International Mountains Day, experts urge greater efforts to beat plastic pollution upstream, since Mountains Matter.

Read the BRS Press Release on Plastics in the Mountains

Read the BRS Press Release on Plastics in the Mountains
 
Improved governance called for to prevent 12,000 million tonnes of plastic waste by 2050
Read the BRS Press Release on marine litter, as BRS and Barcelona conventions join forces to help beat plastic pollution.

Improved governance called for to prevent 12,000 million tonnes of plastic waste by 2050

Improved governance called for to prevent 12,000 million tonnes of plastic waste by 2050

7th December 2018: Geneva, Switzerland - With UN Environment reporting that 12,000 million tonnes of plastic will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050 under current trends1, the international community mobilised in Geneva, Switzerland this week to explore ways to tackle marine plastics litter, one of the most visible and pressing environmental issues of our time.

Improved governance, a holistic approach, a possible new global treaty, strengthening existing initiatives and instruments, and better coordination among them, were considered as options, which will go to the next UN Environment Assembly, UNEA-4 in Nairobi next March, for consideration and actioning.

One existing legally-binding instrument, the Basel Convention, was recognised as a valuable avenue for governments and stakeholders to tackle plastic pollution, given it is almost universal and has a number of relevant features, with amendments being discussed at its next conference of the parties next year. Focussing on tackling waste generation at source and at the household level, a Basel Convention Partnership on Household Waste was initiated in 2017 to explore and disseminate innovative solutions, an integrated approach, avoidance and minimisation of waste at source as well systems for the collection, separation, transport, storage, treatment, processing, recycling and where necessary, final disposal, of household waste. More information is available here: http://www.basel.int/?tabid=5082.

Responding to the call for urgency and to improve actions in the Mediterranean region, strengthened cooperation between international agreements was announced on Friday 6th December, with the secretariats of the Barcelona Convention2 and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions3 signing a new memorandum of understanding aimed at boosting regional efforts including to beat plastic pollution.

Next, the Basel Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP), in April/May 2019, will consider a range of additional steps to better address the challenges of plastics wastes4 including proposed amendments to the Convention to better address plastic wastes5; a set of further actions and establishing a new Partnership on Plastic Waste designed as an international vehicle for public-private cooperation, sharing of best practices, and technical assistance in the area of at-source measures to minimise and more effectively manage plastic waste, thus helping tackle the global environmental problem of marine plastic litter. More information on minimising plastic waste is available here: http://www.basel.int/?tabid=6068.

NOTES for EDITORS:

The Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, or BRS Secretariat, supports parties implement the three leading multilateral environment agreements governing chemicals and waste, in order to protect human health and the environment. See www.brsmeas.org for more info and follow @brsmeas twitter feed for daily news.

The Barcelona Convention was adopted in 1976 and aims to protect and improve the marine and coastal environment in the Mediterranean, whilst promoting regional and national plans contributing to sustainable development. Today, 21 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the European Union, are Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention. The UN Environment / Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) is a cooperative effort to support the implementation of the Barcelona Convention. See web.unep.org/unepmap for more info.

Media enquiries, interviews:

Charlie Avis
Public Information Officer
BRS Secretariat
Charles.avis@brsmeas.org
Tel: +41-79-7304495

 


1. UN Environment UNEP/AHEG/2018/1/INF/3: Combating marine plastic litter and microplastics: an assessment of the effectiveness of relevant international, regional and subregional governance strategies and approaches; p.9;  available at : https://papersmart.unon.org/resolution/uploads/unep_aheg_2018_inf3_full_assessment_en.pdf

2. Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean.

3. Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

 

Side event in Geneva marks conventions joining forces to beat plastic pollution
The Barcelona and BRS conventions strengthen their cooperation to support the Mediterranean Action Plan and tackle marine plastic litter, at a signing event on 7 December 2018.

Side event in Geneva marks conventions joining forces to beat plastic pollution

Side event in Geneva marks conventions joining forces to beat plastic pollution
 
BRS opens Illegal Traffic meeting in China: Read the keynote on the Operation Demeter IV initiative
Preventing, detecting & acting against the illegal transboundary movements of hazardous & other wastes is a crucial element in the global waste challenge.

BRS opens Illegal Traffic meeting in China: Read the keynote on the Operation Demeter IV initiative

BRS opens Illegal Traffic meeting in China: Read the keynote on the Operation Demeter IV initiative
 
Beat Marine Plastic Pollution: UN experts meet in Geneva to examine options
Important meeting assesses how to improve governance for tackling marine plastic pollution.

Beat Marine Plastic Pollution: UN experts meet in Geneva to examine options

Beat Marine Plastic Pollution: UN experts meet in Geneva to examine options
 
Electronic reporting system of the Basel Convention - an overview
The objectives of this webinar are to provide an overview of the electronic reporting system of the Basel Convention and enhance understanding of the reporting obligations under the Basel Convention. It is primarily intended for newly-designated focal points for the Basel Convention.

Electronic reporting system of the Basel Convention - an overview

Electronic reporting system of the Basel Convention - an overview
 
Life-Cycle Approach to chemicals and waste in the spotlight in Beijing, China
Basel and Stockholm Convention Regional Centre’s roundtable meeting brings together participants from 7 Asian countries to discuss better approaches to chemicals and waste management.

Life-Cycle Approach to chemicals and waste in the spotlight in Beijing, China

Life-Cycle Approach to chemicals and waste in the spotlight in Beijing, China

Beijing, China, 27-28 November 2018

The BRS Secretariat, together with the Basel and Stockholm Convention Regional Centre in China, organized a regional roundtable in Beijing from 27 to 28 November on the life-cycle approach for the sound management of hazardous chemicals and wastes. The roundtable, attended by 20 representatives from seven Asian countries, was organized within the framework of a project on the life-cycle approach being implemented by BCRC China.

Recognizing the need to better understand the socioeconomic aspects of phasing out or reducing the use/production of specific hazardous chemicals, the workshop participants were introduced to the concept of life-cycle assessment and its practical application in China and the pilot country of Sri Lanka. Each country participant shared national experiences of implementing the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, highlighting in many cases the need for strengthened capacities for the sound management of hazardous chemicals and waste, including through the application of the life-cycle approach. The roundtable culminated in a group exercise whereby the participants considered the application of the LCA methodology with respect to POPs of concern in their countries.

For further information please contact Susan Wingfield: susan.wingfield@brsmeas.org.

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