IEC General Secretary and CEO Frans Vreeswijk, who couldn’t attend, signed the declaration in advance and sent a video message.
In his address, Vreeswijk said: “I believe gender diversity in standardization is important because different perspectives make technology solutions more relevant to all of society. I am delighted to sign the declaration on gender responsive standards and call on engineers and scientists everywhere to encourage more girls and women to choose professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics."
Gabriela Ehrlich, IEC Global Head Public Affairs & Advocacy, represented the IEC at the signing ceremony. As such, she participated in a panel session on the role of women in standards development. She stated that when women participate in standardization, they bring their own expertise and experience which increases know-how and adds value to the groups.
Ehrlich explained that electrotechnical standardization work is highly specialized; standards are developed by technical experts for technical experts. To reach greater gender diversity raises the issue of girls’ education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Ehrlich said: “To have diversity and later, hopefully, equality in standardization, we really need to strongly encourage girls and young women to study and take up positions in STEM fields. And we’re not talking of the token woman here and there. The system has to change in a big way with men in power positions supporting and driving this move. Only then will we be able to achieve gender diversity/equality.”
Gender inequalities are still deep-rooted in society but actions are undertaken throughout the world to reduce and ultimately eliminate discrimination against women and girls. As part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations has put forward SDG 5 which aims to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls by 2030.
In the field of standardization, still very much a man’s world, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) initiated the Gender Responsive Standards initiative in response to a mandate by the Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies (WP.6).
The Gender Responsive Standards initiative drafted the Declaration for Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development, which invites all standards bodies to pledge to make the standards they develop and the standards development process they use gender responsive by:
By signing the declaration, standards bodies demonstrate their commitment to gender equality and enhancing the contribution of voluntary standards to the achievement of the 2030 agenda on sustainable development.
In 2016, Frans Vreeswijk accepted for the IEC to participate in the International Gender Champions initiative. The initiative is an international network of senior leaders working to advance gender equality in the executive management of their institutions and their programmatic work, through concrete and measurable commitments. In this context, Vreeswijk’s role is to motivate IEC Members to encourage the participation of more qualified women experts in IEC technical work and encourage technical committees to consider a gender-balanced approach in all relevant IEC International Standards and send more women to the Young Professionals programme.