A Strategy for Gender Responsive Standards

There is a growing recognition that standards are not neutral, but in fact can be experienced differently depending on someone’s gender.

This prompted PASC member, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), to act so that women and men benefit equally from standardisation.

As part of these efforts, SCC released a report called When One Size Does Not Protect All: Understanding Why Gender Matters for Standardization.

The report includes a cross-country analysis, using data from 106 countries, to determine the impact of gender on standardisation.

The report found that countries which are more involved in standardisation experience fewer unintentional male deaths. It also found that when a country’s participation in standardisation increases, the number of unintentional male deaths decreases. However, when the analysis was repeated to determine the impact of standardisation on unintentional female deaths, it was found that there was no impact.  In other words, standards are not equally protecting men and women.

This report falls under SCC’s Gender and Standardization Strategy which includes activities focused on three key objectives:

  • 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 standardisation.

This initiative comes soon after the signing of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s Declaration for Gender Responsive-Standards in May 2019. More than 50 standardisation bodies from around the world, including nine PASC members, pledged to take a leadership role in advancing gender inclusivity and equality in standardisation.

Such action has the potential for far-reaching impact as standards touch virtually every aspect of life. Since standards reflect the perspective of those who participate in their development, making sure women’s viewpoints are included is well advised to help ensure that fundamental issues do not go unnoticed.

The case of crash test dummies illustrates what can happen when we presume gender-neutrality and when women’s experiences are missing in the standardisation process.

Despite seeing an overall decline in motor vehicle trauma over the past decades, researchers from the University of Virginia’s Centre for Applied Biomechanics found and recently confirmed that an important safety disparity persists; women in the driver’s seat are significantly more likely than men to sustain severe trauma.

This conclusion is partly explained by the fact that until recently, carrying out testing in the driver’s seat was done on the assumption that it was sufficient to use a standard test dummy – one that was designed to reflect the average male body.

With this study as a cautionary tale, changes are needed if women and men are to benefit equally from standardisation.