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When One Size Does Not Protect All: Understanding Why Gender Matters for Standardization

October 30, 2020

When One Size Does Not Protect All: Understanding Why Gender Matters for Standardization

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October is Women’s History Month in Canada. This year’s theme #BecauseOfYou, celebrates women and girls in Canada who have made, and continue to make, a lasting impact.

As the first woman CEO at the Standards Council of Canada, and also a professional Engineer, Chantal Guay is a role model. Chantal’s leadership has brought forward an emphasis on gender equality and has inspired SCC to take tangible action.

As part of our work to improve gender equality, SCC has done a cross-country analysis, using data from 106 countries, of the impact of gender on standardization. This ground-breaking research is captured in SCC’s new report When One Size Does Not Protect All: Understanding Why Gender Matters for Standardization. SCC’s research is gaining worldwide recognition. Understanding how standardization impacts women is essential to doing something about it.

SCC’s research, outlined in the report, shows that countries which are more involved in standardization experience fewer unintentional male deaths. As a country’s participation in standardization increases, the number of men who die as a result of unintentional injuries decreases. When the analysis was repeated to determine the impact of participation in standardization on the number of unintentional female deaths, there was no impact. Unlike for men, increasing participation in standardization is not associated with a decline in the number of women who die as a result of unintentional injuries. Standards are not protecting women as well as they protect men. Unfortunately, this is perhaps not that surprising of a finding considering that throughout the pandemic we have heard reports of female health care workers being at a greater risk of contracting COVID because of ill-fitting Personal Protective Equipment. Research has shown that the risk of being injured or killed in a car accident is 73% greater for women because crash test dummies are based on male anthropometry.

The failure of many standards to account for women may boil down to two inter-related factors: the lack of female representation in the development of standards and the lack of gender expertise in standards development. Here in Canada, SCC’s preliminary research shows that only 2% of our national standards contribute to SDG 5 – the UN’s gender equality goal. We are working hard to change this.

What is SCC doing?

In 2019, SCC became one of the first national standards organizations to publish a five-year strategy to improve gender equality in standards aligned with the United Nations Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards. Since then, we have been striving to establish a standardization system that is inclusive and equal, regardless of gender.
Recognizing the importance of considering gender in standards development, SCC – along with other national standards bodies, standards development organizations and international organizations – has signed the UNECE Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development. Additionally, SCC’s gender strategy emphasizes:

  • Increasing the participation of women on technical committees;
  • Building gender expertise into the standards development process; and
  • Conducting sound research into the impact of gender on standardization.

Standards are a force for good in societies, ensuring that products, services and processes work as intended. They support economic growth, facilitate trade, and play a role in protecting health and safety. By taking action to ensure that standards are gender responsive, those responsible for standards development will magnify the positive impact they can have on society as a whole.