Standards in the digital society should be responsive to gender equality

Standards in the digital society should be responsive to gender equality

Standards are key contributors to an inclusive digital society. Products, systems and services must be mutually compatible and interoperable, so that people can communicate with each other through different devices. The Internet of Things (IoT) represents a stage towards full digitization and also relies on good standards. However, the lack of human-oriented standards and consistent interoperable solutions throughout the products and services can be risky for the implementation of the new IoT eco-systems since interoperability is essential for ensuring seamless flow of data across sectors and value chains.

Being convinced about the foundational role of standards in the digital society we have to consider also their quality and how they relate to human rights and to the right of equality, in particular. The one-sided design of the men’s world is usually replicated in the preparation of standards. Thus women remain widely under-represented in the committees that develop standards and lay out the specifications for products. In addition, standard setters do not sufficiently understand the underlying bias in the data they use as reference in their activities.

In March 2020 UNECE and UN/WOMEN agreed on working jointly to address this critical gender gap, promoting the adoption of gender responsive standards and technical regulations. When used effectively, standards can present policymakers with mechanisms of accountability and assurance for transformative change to attain the objectives envisaged by the 2020 UN “Decade of Action” initiative.

The Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development is an outcome of the work of the UNECE Gender Responsive Standards Initiative established in 2016. It aims to provide a practical guide for standards bodies to make the standards they develop, and the standards development process they follow, gender responsive. The declaration acknowledges the pervasive and influential role of standards in society but also concludes that representation of women in standards development is almost always below parity and that the different consequences for men and women are not explicitly addressed during the standards development procedures. The document invites Standards bodies to “strive to create a standards development environment which enables gender inclusivity and equality” and “to conduct yearly research with committee members to learn about any differences in experiences in standards development based on gender”. One of the goals is to structure a network of gender experts acting as a resource to support standards development committees in their work.

So far the Declaration has been signed by 65 signatories including international and regional standards bodies. They take on the responsibility to devise action plans for the implementation of the principles on gender equality in standardisation.

Compiled by Media 21 Foundation (2020) from

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