The Fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5) will take place from 25 to 29 September in Bonn, Germany. This side event explored recent developments in our understanding of the interconnectedness between human rights, the environment and a just transition, and identify key entry points to strengthen a human rights-based approach to accelerate the global sound management of chemicals and waste.

About this Event

In July 2022, the General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. The resolution, which followed recognition of the right by the Human Rights Council in October 2021 was an unprecedented decision, adopted with unparalleled support (161 votes in favour, no votes against, and eight abstentions).

In June 2022, the International Labour Conference adopted a resolution recognizing “a safe and healthy working environment” as a fundamental principle and right at work, supporting a just transition to a low-carbon world. And in June 2023, it adopted a resolution concerning a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.

In May 2023, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution regarding the impact of chemicals, waste and pollution on human health, which affirmed “the need to tackle pollution as a cornerstone of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”.

The adoption of these recent significant resolutions are important steps in securing the enjoyment for all people to non-toxic environments in which to live, work, study and play, ensuring effective, inclusive, evidence-based, accountable environmental action, and protecting human health and the environment. They also highlight that a human rights-based approach is essential for a post-2020 chemicals and waste strategy.

This event explored recent developments in our understanding of the interconnectedness between human rights, the environment and a just transition, and identify key entry points to strengthen a human rights-based approach to accelerate the global sound management of chemicals and waste.

Drawing upon the voices of the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, UN entities, and representatives from civil society organizations, and States delegates, the panel shared specific examples of rights-based environmental action targeting chemicals and waste, highlighting how States can take more effective action through compliance with their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights to meet the ambition and correspondent action required to effectively protect human health and the environment from chemicals and waste throughout their lifecycle.

Speakers

By order of intervention

Marcos ORELLANA

UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

Santos VIRGÍLIO

Ministry of the Environment, Angola | SAICM Regional Focal Point for Africa

Joaquim PINTADO NUNES

Chief, Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health Branch, ILO

Rory O’NEILL

Labour and Occupational Health Adviser, International Trade Union Confederation

Sarojeni RENGAM

Executive Director, Pesticide Action Network PAN Asia Pacific

Rochelle DIVER

Indigenous Representative

Gohar KHOJAYAN

Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment and IPEN Member

Ana Paula DE SOUZA

Human Rights Officer, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights | Moderator

Highlights

Summary

Opening

Ana Paula DE SOUZA | Human Rights Officer, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights | Moderator

  • In 2006, States committed to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, understanding and respecting ecosystems, and addressing the gap between the current reality and our ambition in our global efforts to achieve the sound management of chemicals. This is goal of the Dubai Declaration.
  • 17 years on, toxics and waste continue to be responsible for ongoing massive human rights harms that negatively affect multiple aspects of human life and dignity, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, indeed our health well-being and survival all depend on a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. There can no longer be any doubt that the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is part of the interconnected goal of the human rights law, and that it must be accepted and protected by all States for all people.
  • What does its recognition mean for all of us? First, the recognition empowers all people with a critical tool to hold their governments, big polluters, and all those responsible for environmental harm to account. Time and again, we see that it is the people who are in vulnerable situations that disproportionately suffer from the human rights impacts of pollution, nature loss, and climate change.
  • The word recognition is significant: human rights may be recognized by governments, but they do not come from the government. They simply arrive because we exist as human beings. They are inherent to us all. Broader recognition simply creates better conditions for action and accountability. It is important because the stage of our environment today is in crisis.
  • All States already have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. This is extended to protect people from foreseeable and preventable human rights harms caused by all forms of environmental degradation. What we are discussing at ICCM5 – and what should be the focus of all multilateral negotiations – is how to achieve that. Any other discussion is a distraction.
  • Recognition also supports the accountability of duty bearers, including States and businesses. This right is a moral compass at a time when catastrophic impacts of corporate greed and unsustainable and unprincipled management of chemicals has been documented so thoroughly that there is no longer any doubt to the extent which we are undermining our common future unless we immediately put on the breaks.
  • We need the international community to add single-minded purpose and solidarity to deploy any possible recourse and resource to protect and fulfill the human rights.

Failure to rise to this challenge is not an option. At ICCM5, States must control the serious global chemicals and waste crisis and commit to a higher-level vision, articulating a vision that protects human health and environment that is grounded on human rights.

Securing the Enjoyment for all People to Non-Toxic Environments

Marcos ORELLANA | UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

  • We often speak about human rights-based approach, but what is it? Mainly, it calls for a consideration of all human rights issues that are relevant in a given situation and that includes principles, norms, and the range of issues that arise.
  • Some ask whether this approach is in opposition to other approaches, particularly the ability of human rights-based to synergize with other approaches such as risk management or market-based approaches? It is not either-or: a human rights-based approach sets a baseline of respect to individuals and groups.
  • One of the most important aspects of the human rights-based approach is the focus on persons and groups in vulnerable situations. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December, we recall that this declaration sets the standard of achievement for humanity. A promise of a world free of fear and want, a vision where no one is left behind. This explains the focus is on those who suffer, on those who experience abuse or violations of their dignity.
  • For years, the mandate on toxics and human rights created by the Human Rights Council have adopted this approach to deal with chemicals and wastes. The previous mandate holder dedicated thematic reports on Workers’ Rights and Toxic Exposures (A/HRC/39/48) and on the Principles on the protection of workers from exposure to toxic substances (A/HRC/42/41), which the Human Rights Council took note of.
  • He also prepared a report on the rights of the children (A/HRC/33/41). There have been numerous actors involved in the interfacing discussions on children and the environment. It is very welcome to see that earlier this year, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is the entity that oversees compliance, monitors implementation with the Convention on the Rights of Children, released General Comment No. 26 on children’s rights and the environment. This document explicitly regards the right to a healthy environment as included and present in the Children’s Rights Convention, and it is directly linked to the rights to life, health, an adequate good standard of living, education, speaking specifically on the duty to closely regulate toxic substances, especially developmental neural toxins.
  • During my mandate, a thematic report was presented to the UN General Assembly on Indigenous Peoples and toxics (A/HRC/51/35). It chronicles historical patterns and experience of discrimination. We have been very pleased to see how some of the recommendations are already being acted upon, such as the opening for review of the FAO/WHO International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management, so that it can align itself with the standards in the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • In 2024, a report on women and toxics structural marginalization structures of power in decision-making and economic spheres is being prepared. Consultations have been conducted with the Commission on the Status of Women, at the most recent Conference of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, and will take place at UNEA and elsewhere.
  • The rights-based approach involves the values of solidarity in the shaping of norms. It also involves self-awareness, empathy which is arguably one of the defining features of what makes us human. It also involves action to enhance visibility to address specific issues and vulnerabilities and to elaborate special measures of protection, to overcome the legacy and experience of discrimination.

Chemicals and waste instruments face a strong challenge of changing direction and becoming fit to overcome the global chemicals emergency. The human rights-based approach offers the tools to do this, to move us to a chemically safe circular economy.

Stakeholder Perspectives on Integrating Human Rights-based Approach to Accelerate the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste

Santos VIRGÍLIO | Ministry of the Environment, Angola | SAICM Regional Focal Point for Africa

  • The concept of human rights comes from the Global North. When it comes to reporting, countries like mine, especially African countries, are always the countries where human rights are not respected because governments do not create laws.
  • When we talk about human rights and chemicals, we have to call up to the north to revisit the concept of human rights – who are considered human beings? Only after having this question answered that we can go to the chemicals. How do we assure that such rights are observed?
  • Coming to ICCM5, in the intersessional process, we emphasized one of the most important rights when talking about chemicals is sharing information. As we live in a global community, chemicals used in one part of the world will eventually affect another. Chemicals produced in other countries are produced in a few countries are used worldwide. Those who are producing have the information on the chemicals used on the list of products they put in the market. Most of the countries, on the other hand, are consumers and traders, but we don’t have information about the products that we use and trade. There is no available information for everybody.
  • Even when this information is available, there is no transparency in terms of the supplied information. In so doing, we often do not have the rights to having such information, the right to be able to decide whether to use a product or not. We do not know how to use the products properly, and if something unexpected occurs, we do not have the means to deal with such events.
  • It is also something that we can find in the past: we have been colonized. Colonialists do not respect nor treat people well. We are left with such legacy, such as chemical stockpiles in our countries. Now, the world is asking us to deal with them. We didn’t create them and we are obliged to deal with them. The only way to do so is through solidarity and compromise from those who created the problems in our countries. We are not here to blame others, but as we are planning [our future], we have the right to be alive and to live a proper life. Give us the information, share the resources, most of which were taken from our territories. Share the profit you are making with us to allow us to deal with the problems you created for us. We are not asking to come and solve our problems but give us the resources to solve the problems, most of which created by yourselves.
  • When you are talking about recognizing human rights, we are not all in the same level of information, so we cannot be asked to have the same responsibility. Some of us have more responsibility than the others. If you do not recognize this, there is no way we can deal with our problems.

Joaquim PINTADO NUNES | Chief, Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health Branch, International Labour Organization

  • Our first concern is that about 1 million workers die every year because of exposure to chemicals competition space. 14,000 workers will die due to such exposures and it is completely unacceptable because all of those deaths without exception are predictable.
  • Our second concern is that groups and workers in the most vulnerable situations are those most affected. At least half of global employment is informal, and we can think how to address the specific needs of workers, but also economic units working in the informal economy. Even to address the needs of workers in formal employment relationships is already so difficult.
  • When we say that workers in vulnerable situations deserve special consideration, it is because some groups are not even governed by political legislation, such as migrant workers and those in informal economies. Even when they are within international frameworks,
  • for example, in developing countries, those specialized services and expertise required to assess the risks of exposure to work and occupational health hazards including chemicals, and to identify the most effective public measures are almost non-existent. We estimate that, a couple of years ago in the developing world, only around 20% of workplaces are covered by occupational health services. These figures are alarming.
  • The adoption last year of a new resolution by the International Labour Conference will now upscale the importance of the occupational safety and health, which is now recognized as a fundamental principle and right at work — human rights within the context of labor — will help us make progress. Now all our members, including governments, employers and workers, have very specific obligations to respect, promote, and progressively realize.
  • National frameworks will have to be adopted to the principles of two other conventions: Conventions 115 and 187 which are quite comprehensive. For example, countries are required to have national policies addressed in line with chemical hazards that should be complemented by national strategies or programs, which also need to be comprehensive in terms of addressing all hazards to all groups of workers. All these practices and standards [should be implemented], including the public sector where we do see some deficit in many countries.
  • Specific measures need to be adopted in every single workplace. They need to have a system for managing all occupational hazards present in the workplace, including exposure to chemicals. We are also hoping that recent developments in terms of just transition will help us to make progress, confirming that there is a very close relationship between all that takes place in chemicals, the environment, the creation on new jobs in so-called new green industries.
  • What we are working on now is preparing a new global strategy for occupational safety and health, a new plan of action where we do ask for multilateral collaboration that will include very specific components on chemical hazards.
  • We need to consider international ethics because what we need to work on together is to avoid that hazards are exported from one country or region to another, something that has been happening from the Global North to the South. It is important to have binding legal instruments. It is important to have non-binding frameworks such as what will be adopted here this week. However, it is important to encourage the responsibility, the diligence and the ethical behavior of all those that can assist.

Rory O’NEILL | Labour and Occupational Health Adviser, International Trade Union Confederation

  • I want to look at two things: the theory of what should happen to protect workers and the reality happening. We have an enormous wave of rights, such as ILO Convention 170 and Convention 174. We have national laws with understanding and acknowledgement… There are a lot of things in place that say: workers should not get sick, workers should not get harmed, workers should not die prematurely.
  • But currently happening is a discussion on the language of the vision that is being discussed in the Conference: chemicals when not properly managed can be harmful.
  • Governments and industries have said it is crucial that chemicals are not pictured as something inherently bad or that they have their uses and are beneficial. It’s when it’s not properly managed that it becomes a problem.
  • This ignores human rights and the political context in which chemicals are used. In reality, laws never say “Chemicals must not harm you at work”. They say things like, “Chemicals must not harm you at work, so far as this is reasonably practicable.” They say in the laws that ILO has, “in accordance with national practice”. These are very local expressions: my version of reasonably practicable can be defined by companies selling and profiting.
  • We are looking at the commercial exploitation of chemical sales. Now, that currently means that the chemicals can be used and are useful in our everyday lives. But it can also mean that the priority of profit is that it profits shareholders, boardrooms and the already privileged, or it can be that it profits the workforce of the community through decent, safe and sustainable work.
  • The latter has not happened. We have not seen sustainable work and there are 100 bodies on the pile every year that shows that is the case, and that is an undercount. When we look, we can count the bodies that are visible, but we deliberately and consistently miscount and discount. Women barely appear in that death count because they have not been included in the studies where we evaluated risk on chronic hazards like chemicals. Or they are not included in the criteria at all. If we do not count the bodies, the bodies do not count.
  • The difference between the rights and safety law – our little special expert world – and reality is human rights. When I am dealing with occupational health and safety, I can be told we are not meant to be exposed, about rights of information, the right to act, and the right to refuse: all rights in national laws and the ILO Standards. But, we have no rights at all if we get fired or victimized. We lose our jobs and our health as a result of standing up.
  • This happens way too often. Nearly 200 environmental activists are murdered every year despite rights laws. This means that we need the will and need to enforce that will to exercise our rights. The reality for a lot of us is that a lot of the labor is insecure, migrant, outsourced, exploited and vulnerable workers. Many of them don’t have access to laws or to systems, even though theoretically, all the laws in international standards cover all workers.
  • The issues we have to address is that workers should be formalized, informal labor is exploitation. Workers should have the freedom of association and the right to organize. Fundamental rights within the ILO is something that has not come into the workplace. Workers have to have the right to collective bargain, so they can stand together and be a voice against the interests in business which might not always become compatible with their interests. They should have protection from victimization. They should have access to justice. They must be a just transition because the choice between exposure to poisons and exposure to poverty is no choice at all. We need a transition whereby through State investment, public investment, and investment by industry, must move from hazardous production to safe sustainable and decent work for the communities and the planet at large.
  • In our world now, this means that that has got to be in the human rights language. It means we have got to reference the UN Guiding Principle. It means that we have got to act whenever and wherever we can, whether through procurement, through influencing World Bank or multilateral development actors. One of the keys for us is the UN Guiding Principles where we take the issue to companies in due diligence and supply chain and value chain responsibility.
  • You may think that major multinationals are behaving very well, but that responsibility rarely cascades down. The most advanced products we use all the time are mobile phones and computers made with minerals that in general are two stages down the supply chain, but produced by artisanal miners, informal miners, child miners in several countries. We need human rights language to ensure that supply chain responsibility and real life health and safety exist.
  • We do not pretend that health and safety is a thing which is self-contained and out there and it happens. It does not happen in isolation. It only happens if you have human rights. To get there, we need trade unionists, we have to build capacity in the grassroots so people can organize, we have to give people the information that we have in order to provide them support and solidarity to organize.
  • It doesn’t end there. The factories and the mines that our workers are working in are what are polluting when not properly managed and not properly controlled. Our alliances have to be broader than within the workplace. They have to be within the workplace and outside the workplace. We have to be part of the community. We have to be part of the environmental movement, and we have to be part of the workplace.

Sarojeni RENGAM | Executive Director, Pesticide Action Network PAN Asia Pacific

  • It is important to emphasize the impacts of pesticides because unintended pesticide poisonings cost 385 million every year, an unknown number of long-term effects, and 150,000 pesticide related suicides. For everyone of this number there is a farmer, there is a worker, there is a woman, a family, a child suffering the debilitating impacts of pesticides.
  • They also contribute significantly to all the current global crises: climate disaster, biodiversity loss, and chemical pollution. It threatens the survival of the planet as we know it.
  • Pesticides violate the rights to health, to life, to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and the livelihoods of farmers, agricultural workers, Indigenous Peoples, women, local communities, children, and consumers.
  • These are fundamental rights recognized by the international community, but the reality is that on the ground, farmers and agricultural workers use pesticides under perilous conditions. In PAN Asia Pacific’s various documentation, we have found that many farmers could not read or understand the labels, or they simply do not consult the labels due to a general unawareness of pesticide dangers. Professional personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate for the climate conditions could not and still cannot be obtained in many parts of Asia. As such farmers and workers use makeshift protective equipment are used by some and remain very ineffective. In the Philippines, the workers use bras as face masks, and in India, they use scarves to cover their heads.
  • Similarly, studies show that most farmers and farm workers when asked if they have ever received training on protective measures, they always say no. Workers in Indonesia and Malaysia in oil palm plantations use highly hazardous pesticides without any protection, spraying for eight hours daily, Many of these workers are women and often are on contract and have no health benefits or social protection. If they fall sick, they bear the cost of medical expenses or are left to suffer the consequences.
  • In Malaysia, many migrant workers working in perilous conditions including without proper accommodation, exposure to chemicals, and even passports kept by their employees. The labels are often torn by plantation owners so that workers are not aware of what they are spraying overly exposed to.
  • Despite being fully aware of the conditions of use prevalent in farming communities, corporations still sell highly hazardous pesticides. The pesticide industries’ [recommended] use is not possible giving the conditions of use in the South. Even though the industry is aware of these conditions of use, they continue to sell harmful pesticides.
  • In addition, the export [to the South] of pesticides banned domestically for reasons of human health and environment is still allowed even though the people of the South use these pesticides in really perilous conditions. When pesticides are banned, the same companies that produce them put a pressure on developing countries to recede the bans. This has happened in many instances, where even Thailand was pressured to recede bans of three pesticides. There is a lack of accountability of corporations and unethical practices.
  • The commitment to transition away from highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) require ensuring that rural people who feed the world are ensured of their basic rights, which includes not just the right to safe working conditions and a clean and healthy environment, but for peasants the right to land and resources, and the people’s right to food sovereignty.
  • In the Global South, most of land is controlled by big plantations and landlords. They get concessions from the government to even log and do monocultures of oil palm trees, endangering the lives of Indigenous Peoples. Even for those who own land, the profit-oriented food system and neoliberal policies dictate what they should grow which are mostly monocultures and cash crops that use a lot of HHPs.
  • A radical transformation of the food system is essential to uphold all human rights. For this framework and reason, we are here to push for the fact that the harms caused by HHPs are a violation of basic human rights, and to call for redress that ensure that manufacturers of HHPs are also accountable for these harms. One of the targets is to try to eliminate the harm caused by HHPs and find the alternatives. As such, we are supporting the African region’s push for a Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides. We need to have that move forward to advance the elimination of HHPs.

Rochelle DIVER | Indigenous Representative

I am an Anishinaabe woman from the Great Lakes, an Indigenous person in what is now known as the United States and Canada. Colonization still plagues us, our food systems, and our inherent right as Indigenous People.

We are hunters, fishers, and gatherers. Unfortunately, we are not able to live our traditional subsistence lifestyles anymore because of the constant threat of new contaminants and the contaminants that have already been recognized as harmful to human health. For example, our fish are filled with mercury. Young women and women of childbearing age can no longer eat the fish of our Lake Superior, which is one of the largest fresh deep-water lakes in the world. It is completely contaminated with POPs, PFAS.

We have a pipeline going right under our nation. We have a new threat of what they are calling a “green innovation mine”. When we hear about just transition, we really need to think about what that means. Is there a way to mine nickel in a clean and healthy way? There is not, but they are calling it a just transition because it is going to move us towards electric cars. There is copper there as well, so as all the minerals that we really need for what they consider to be a just transition. For my people, it is not just, and it is not a transition. It is more extractives that are going to put more contaminants into our waters and our food systems.

The Great Lakes are part of the five Great Lakes of the United States, going all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, and the State of Minnesota is the head of the Mississippi River as well. As such, this is not only our problem, but everyone’s.

We have inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples. The international framework where these rights are encompassed is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). These are rights that we never relinquished. We never gave up in the face of colonizers, although some think that they are rights that were given to us. However, we all know that that is not true for any of us. No one can give us rights or take our rights away, they could only be upheld or they can be violated.

How can we change this trajectory? How can we fully uphold, respect and realize the rights of Indigenous Peoples in spaces like this? One example is UN Food and Agriculture (FAO). In 2010, FAO adopted a policy on Indigenous Peoples affirming the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the highest international standard, specifically regarding free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Consent, not consultation. These are the core principles being recognized by FAO, who acknowledges their responsibility to observe and implement the UNDRIP. This could possibly be realized through UNEA, UNEP and all environmental processes. We are very committed to working on that moving forward.

Article 29 of UNDRIP clearly says that “States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous Peoples without their free, prior, and informed consent.” Obviously, this is not being realized. The Dakota access pipeline was the first time that it really made international and mainstream media news, but it is important to say that we are fighting these struggles every single day. Frontline defenders have no choice. We have to wake up and fight against another multinational corporation that wants to contaminate our lands and waters, food systems and the health of our future generations.

In this regard with FAO that co-houses the Rotterdam Convention that allows for countries to manufacture and export and pesticides. We need to think about who is on the other end of that. In another side event, it was said that the Global North has stated they need to create these chemicals for the Global South because they have different climates and come from tropical places. In the example of the Yaki nation, which is located in what is now known as the United States and Mexico, we are seeing the manufacture of chemicals on the United States side but just across the border being sprayed. What they are saying is not true: we are talking about 10 kilometers across the border that they are beginning to use these highly hazardous pesticides.

When this disinformation comes out, we need to take it upon ourselves to combat this disinformation because, once it gets into people’s minds, sometimes they hear it just as a fact.

To show how this was possible for us, we used other UN mechanisms such as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to get a recommendation to FAO and the World Health Organization to amend the Pesticide Code of Conduct to be in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is what all of these mechanisms should do and this is a process here that should be discussing the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We just came out of a negotiating session where one of the most powerful countries in the world said verbatim, “We do not support the term the right to obtain and healthy environment.” With this recommendation, we took it to FAO, we took it to WHO and the JMPM, we are igniting the process currently to amend the Pesticide Code of Conduct to be in line. This is going to be our concrete example of how change can be made, and we are going to use this example to every international process, mechanism, agency that we possibly can to follow in the positive footsteps of FAO.

Gohar KHOJAYAN | Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment and IPEN Member

  • Our NGO is a SAICM focal point for Armenia, and to address chemical and health stresses faced by women and their families, our NGO works successfully with the government by participating in national discussions, awareness-raising activities and initiatives that tackle issues of concerns, including pesticides. Without this, the opportunity with the government would not have existed, so this is our approach from the national level.
  • Our focus is protecting the rights of women and children to a healthy environment. Based on our experience, we know that empowering women to participate in the lives of their communities, going to the local level, particularly in rural areas, is key for combating inequalities.
  • Armenia’s agricultural and rural development sectors are areas for our economic development. However, the potential contribution of women in fostering inclusive rural economic development is underutilized. They are quite well educated and are well motivated, but approximately 35% of employed people are involved in agriculture. Over more than 50% are women but almost all of these women at 85% approximately are involved in the informal sector.
  • Many women are heading households which is more likely to be in extreme poverty if a woman is heading the household (at about 30% of households). Women’s limited technical knowledge on agriculture and persistent stereotypes about female leadership capability limit women’s self-confidence to pursue decision-making positions in the agricultural sector, even if they have a higher education.

    Distributing a solution of tasks based on gender stereotypes limit women’s engagement in higher paid jobs involving the use of machinery technologies, and the traditional ideas about household decision making and division of labor including childcare constrain a woman’s engagement.

  • We want to advance women’s leadership by increasing the access of women to training and information about those threats caused by toxic chemicals while involving the most disadvantaged women. We want to promote gender equality messages by identifying and linking positive masculinity to tradition.
  • One of the main challenges that we are dealing with in interacting with women farmers is the issue of pesticides, particularly HHPs. In 2020 we conducted a study to analyze HHPs that are used in Armenia and are imported. They flew in from countries where they are banned, and that is the issue of ethics. We saw that of the pesticides that we analyzed the active ingredients allowed for use in Armenia. We revealed that 25% of them belong to carcinogens or possible carcinogenic substances. It means that this requires investigation of possible connection of increasing morbidity and mortality which we are facing.
  • If we looked at main causes of mortality in Armenia, the prevalence of cases of cancer among women and the incidents and mortality from cancer or breast are noticeably high. Over the last 30 years, we have noticed that cancer morbidity and mortality rates have increased two or three times. This can be due to lifestyles, widespread use of chemical products, use of HHPs in agriculture could also develop such factors but the vast majority of cases of pesticide poisoning are not reported to medical services because the victims often self-medicate, and they do not report. These are not just numbers. Behind these numbers are real lives of real women and their families.
  • It is important to highlight a story of a woman that we met when we were doing awareness-raising and training for women working in greenhouses. She was 42 years old, had a child who was born a in 2013. The following year, she was affected by cancer and she told the child that it was difficult to live in the capital and work in the factory. At the age of three, the child started showing behavior problems and the boy was diagnosed with autism. The woman was not able to live with this boy in the city because he had behavior problems, so she needed some support from her extended family. She came back to her village, and now lives with her brother and brother’s family.
  • She now is in agriculture, she works in the greenhouse in small garden and what she is using pesticides. She is not wearing protective equipment although she knows about it but has to be reminded all the time. Before she got married, her husband worked with his father again in a greenhouse, they were using pesticides and both of them lost their lives to cancer. Now she thinks that perhaps both her husband’s cancer and her child’s autism are somehow linked to the use of pesticides.
  • I am here today to bring the voice of this woman and other hard-working and desperate women who are looking at us in search of solutions to ensure their protection from toxic chemicals that impact them, but above all the impact in the lives of their loved ones and cherish them all.

Closing

In a few words: From a human rights perspective, what is required to ensure that the new framework has the level of ambition needed to confront the global toxic crisis?

  • Global Alliance of HHPs, responsibility, agroecology, global morality to address toxic issues, all human rights are interconnected to be recognized in the framework, monitoring and surveillance, solidarity, corporate accountability, organization!

“Nothing good will happen unless we make it happen. We don’t make things happen unless we collaborate and work together in an organized way.”

 

Video

Live from the World Conference Center Bonn (WCCB)

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