Gender Responsive Standards | Agoria

Gender Responsive Standards

Published on 25/06/21 by Dirk De Moor
There is a growing recognition that standards are not neutral, rather they are experienced differently depending on someone’s gender. This is why it is important to ensure that International Standards are gender-responsive so that both women and men benefitequally from standardization. Gender equality is Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and has been embedded as an integral part of the ISO Gender Action Plan (and the IEC’s equivalent plan).

In 2020, ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) partnered under the stewardship of the Joint Strategic Advisory Group (JSAG) to develop guidance to help technical committees ensure they are developing gender-responsive standards. A gender responsive standard reflects an understanding of physical differences and gender roles, and equally addresses the needs of women and men. As partof these efforts, JSAG conducted the first-ever industry questionnaire on genderresponsive standards development among ISO and IEC technical committees andsubcommittees. The questionnaire aimed to gain insight into our sector’s considerations of gender and to understand how committees are addressing the topic.

It was also an opportunity to discover how gender responsiveness has been integrated into standards development, following ISO and IEC’s signing in 2019 of the UNECEDeclaration on Gender Responsive Standards. The overall results of the questionnaire unearthed the lack of gender responsiveness in standards development and showed thatthere is a lot of work to be done.

Who took part? ISO and IEC technical committees and subcommittees were invited toparticipate. Perspectives were gathered from 356 respondents. The committees covereda range of sectors, from the more traditional technical industries to the service-orientatedones.

According to results, 25 % of respondents indicated that gender had been considered inthe work of their committee. Of those, the most commonly cited reason for considering gender was its relevance to the sector (25%).

The survey results highlighted that, even among committees that are considering gender,very few are addressing gender differences by collecting evidence (14%) and/or including sex-specific requirements in standards (13%).

While a significant number of respondents stated that their committees develop gender-neutral standards, research shows a more nuanced picture. In many cases, standards that are believed to be gender-neutral are often based on data/studies that have only considered one gender. Crash test dummies or the effects of electrocution are just two examples of where this bias can negatively impact women.

For committees that have not considered gender, the majority believe it was not relevantto their sector (79%). Respondents also noted that committee members have not raisedthe topic (50%). A recurring viewpoint in the comments received was that technical standards “are not a gender issue”.

The questionnaire also asked whether guidance on how to develop gender-responsive standards would be beneficial. Perhaps not surprisingly, results varied depending onwhether the committee had already included gender in its work. Only 31% of committees who had not previously considered gender wanted guidance, compared to 61% of thosewho had said that guidance would be beneficial for them.

As a key takeaway, the JSAG questionnaire results highlight the need to increase awareness of the importance of gender in standardization. With a mission to make a measurable positive impact on gender across the international standards world, ISO and IEC will continue to collect data on gender representation in standardization work. This will help establish a baseline and better understand the scale of the challenges, with a view to improving gender responsiveness in future standards development.

If you have any questions or would like to assist ISO and IEC in their efforts, please send an e-mail to

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