SA commits to empower women in standards development

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

South Africa has signed a Declaration on Gender Responsive Standards and Standards Development, joining over 55 other countries in efforts to meaningfully include women in all decision making in standards development.

"This Declaration on Gender Responsive Standards is an important step for South Africa as we begin to meaningfully include women in all decision making platforms, beginning with standards development.

“While there are women who participate in standards development processes,While there are women who participate in standards development processes, they are in the minority and become scarcer still in the development of technological and scientific standards,” said the Group Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), Jodi Scholtz.

Scholtz, who is also the co-administrator of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), signed the declaration in Cape Town at the 42nd General Assembly of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on Tuesday.

South Africa is hosting the weeklong assembly made up of various standards bodies that are discussing various standards related issues.

Scholtz said women are often in the minority in the standards development process and even scarcer in the development of technological and scientific standards.

“Technical committees, which are open to individuals from all walks of life, are responsible for the development of standards and it is imperative for women to get involved in these.

“Technical committees develop the parameters and specifications for a range of products and systems, and is extremely powerful to ensure inclusivity,” she said.

Women, Scholtz said, can play a role in sectors such as mining and construction, which remain largely male dominated.

The declaration is an initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). According to the commission -- which has been working with national standards bodies in various countries -- globally there is a lack of participation and representation of women in standardisation.

Gender balance

 For society to move towards gender balance, women need to be included in standards development processes. The involvement of women at the fundamental stage of standards development will ensure inclusivity at all stages of society as standards are implemented. 

With SABS signing the declaration on behalf of South Africa, the organisation commits to engaging with government departments, women's groups and non-governmental institutions to ensure that the needs of women and girls are included in technical committees.

SABS will also ensure gender sensitive criteria are adopted in the standards and commits to employing more women in senior positions within the organisation.

"Women are under-represented in various structures of society. Improving participation at a technical committee level will greatly enhance the gender imbalance in South Africa through the inclusion of gender sensitive technical specifications in standards that set the guidelines,” said Scholtz.

Some of the ways in which standards development can benefit women include influencing the development of standards for pay parity, infrastructure sanitation requirements and clothing.

“The more women are present and involved at all levels of society, the more their voices and interests can be better represented," Scholtz said.

Albania, Austria, Bolivia, Canada, Mozambique and the Netherlands are some of the countries that have signed the declaration.

The ISO assembly will conclude on 20 September. The SABS is an agency of the dti. –