Stakeholder News

Getting Standards to Work for All

Liz Gasiorowski
Content Leader, Communication & Engagement, ISO

Standards touch every facet of our lives. Through the products, processes and services we consume and undertake, they affect (and ensure) our safety and well-being in what we do, where we live and how we play.

There is a growing recognition that standards are not neutral; they are experienced differently depending on someone’s gender. A lack of gender responsiveness, for example, has been shown to have health and safety implications and, given the importance of standards to the economy, undoubtedly, the lack of gender responsiveness would have implications there too.

Why gender-responsive standards          

A robust standards system can assist in correcting these biases and ensure that the content and application of standards benefit everyone, irrespective of their gender. Taking concerted action on gender-responsive standards (GRSs), within standards development processes, is an important and necessary means of ensuring the adequacy of standards to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a Gender Champion, ISO Secretary-General Sergio Mujica explains: “We, at ISO, recognize that International Standards are essential tools toward reducing inequalities, creating greater sustainability and encouraging inclusive economic growth, all of which largely contribute to the SDGs, including SDG 5 (Gender Equality).”

With gender equality and women’s empowerment being key to achieving all 17 SDGs, multiple efforts are underway within ISO to mobilize gender action. In September 2022, ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) published guidance on GRSs, which offers practical steps to establish effective GRSs that drive gender issues as a strategic priority.

Building on ambition

The ISO/IEC guidance constitutes a practical instrument for standards developers seeking to improve the potential of standards as tools for sustainable development. It offers a baseline for technical committees aiming to ensure equal protection and benefit to women and men in the International Standards being developed, in line with the ambitions of the SDGs.

The new guidance is another step forward to the IEC and ISO commitments under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Gender Responsive Standards Initiative as well as more than 50 national-level commitments by IEC and ISO members.

Developed by the ISO/IEC joint strategic advisory group (JSAG), it aims to draw awareness and provide guidance to standards developers to create more gender-sensitive and gender-responsive standards. This necessitates that the needs, experiences and concerns of both men and women are considered and incorporated into standards as they are being created and updated.

Broadening the benefits to all

In order to reach true sustainable development, the UN’s 2030 Agenda – and more specifically SDG 5 on gender equality – needs to be brought into the product life cycle at the earliest possible time and be considered at all stages. ISO is helping to advance the agenda with a number of gender action initiatives, including the second iteration of its ISO Gender Action Plan 2022-2025, in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In the coming months, the JSAG will be seeking input from the IEC and ISO technical communities on the utility of the guidance and will be collecting specific case studies related to the guidance across product, process, service and management systems standards. The JSAG also plans to collaborate with UNECE in the deployment of training on this guidance to IEC and ISO technical communities.

Society has come a long way since the first International Women’s Day over a hundred years ago. Yet, looking ahead, there are still barriers that need breaking. According to the UNECE guidelines, standards are regularly lauded for their ability to improve health and safety, to support interoperability, facilitate trade and increase economic growth for companies and countries. And yet, standards are achieving these outcomes while not fully addressing the needs of half the world’s population.

Applying a gender lens to standardization work means addressing specific needs for women and girls, which in turn will help to develop more gender-responsive and -inclusive standards for everyone. Let’s take action, together, so that our world can benefit from having standards that respond to the needs of the whole population. Ultimately, addressing gender responsibilities will lead to transformative change and a more equal world overall.

For more updates on ISO gender initiatives throughout the year, be sure to follow on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Join the conversation with #ISOGenderAction.

For information or questions on the JSAG, please contact Nathan Taylor (JSAG Secretary), at

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