Women Leaders and the Importance of Fostering Women Leadership

Women Leaders and the Importance of Fostering Women Leadership


On June 21, 2023, HEJSupport participated as a panellist at the IPEN-UNEP webinar- Breaking Barriers: Women’s Leadership in Addressing Chemicals and Waste Issues.

Olga Speranskaya, HEJSupport Co-Director, spoke about the importance of fostering women’s leadership in the work on chemicals and waste. She noted that women leaders can bring unique viewpoints and approaches to solve various problems. Their participation in policy processes helps create a more diverse and inclusive society.

Women leaders often prioritize health, gender equality, women’s rights, and social justice. They can advocate for policies that address women’s specific needs and challenges, leading to more equitable societies.

Women’s leadership is essential for addressing issues related to toxic chemicals, particularly in sectors dominated by women, including:

  • Textile and garment sector
  • Electronics industry
  • Beauty Salons
  • Agriculture
  • Informal sector

It is known that these and many other workplaces expose women to hazardous substances, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and potentially dangerous working conditions. Often no information on their health hazards is provided, leaving women unaware of the potential health effects.

For example, negative health consequences for women working in the textile and clothing sector, among other things, include breast cancer, spontaneously aborted first pregnancy, and hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. But women do not always associate their health problems with toxic chemical exposure as they are unaware of what chemicals they are exposed to.

Additionally, women may face health and safety risks due to differences in body size, reproductive health concerns, and a lack of personal protective equipment tailored to their needs.

Moreover, many workplaces can be demanding, requiring extended working hours and fieldwork. Balancing work responsibilities with family and caregiving can be particularly challenging for women, leading to work-life conflicts.

When women hold leadership positions, they inspire and empower other women and girls and show them how to overcome barriers and challenges, including those related to chemical exposure. They promote policies that support work-life balance, such as flexible working hours, parental leave, and childcare facilities. They also promote a supportive and inclusive work environment that encourages healthy work-life integration for all employees.

Unfortunately, women continue to face gender disparities and discrimination in various spheres of life. Fostering women’s leadership helps challenge and break down these barriers. When women have equal opportunities to rise to leadership positions, it promotes gender equality and sends a powerful message about the value of women’s contributions and capabilities.

In addition, research has shown that organizations with diverse leadership teams, including women, tend to perform better. Diverse perspectives contribute to more innovative thinking, and better decision-making based on the diverse skills and expertise that women bring to the table.

I want to highlight that women play a crucial role in the work of IPEN by addressing toxic exposure from chemicals and waste in different countries and regions. IPEN women leaders are known around the world. They work in communities affected by toxic chemicals in various economic sectors. They fight gender inequality at workplaces and raise awareness and understanding among women from poor and marginalized communities about health risks associated with toxic chemicals exposure.

Some women leaders from IPEN participating organizations specifically focus on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides, and their health effects on women and children in rural areas. They work at the policy and community level, bringing their knowledge and expertise to ensure better control over toxic chemicals; they promote safe and non-chemical alternatives and ecosystem-based approaches in agriculture.

IPEN women leaders also play a critical role in raising the understanding of mercury health effects in artisanal and small-scale gold mining communities where women and children suffer from mercury exposure or in the textile sector where hazardous chemicals are applied at nearly all stages of textile and clothing manufacturing.

Women leaders from IPEN participating organizations educate families and local communities about toxic chemical health threats, care for children suffering from exposure, and generate data that justify the urgency of addressing the health effects of toxic chemicals.

IPEN Women’s Caucus fosters partnerships among women professionals in chemicals and waste management, and encourages knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and joint initiatives to advance gender equality and empower women. We set up meetings to share experiences, concerns, and challenges and brainstorm new ideas and innovative approaches to minimize toxic exposure to women, children, families and communities.

For example, our recent face-to-face meeting was held in Paris before the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop a legally binding global instrument on plastic. Many IPEN women leaders work globally and nationally to address plastic pollution from waste, hazardous additives, and processing aid chemicals in plastics. Thus, participating in the negotiations allows them to share their knowledge with national governmental representatives to help promote essential elements in the plastic treaty, including addressing health issues associated with plastic chemicals exposure. Many IPEN women leaders call for transparency of chemical information in plastics throughout the entire plastic lifecycle, including traceability of chemicals in plastic products, and prioritizing products for women and children.

There is a lot to do, and together, we are very positive and look forward with optimism and belief.

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Written by Olga Speranskaya