Gender and E-Waste:
Policy Considerations for Developing Countries

Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series E-124. August 2020.

SLIDE 1: Cover Slide

The document was first prepared for the World Conference on Information Society organized by the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on 25-29 May 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.

SLIDE 2: Gender and Waste Management: why is it important?

Developing countries are facing a critical policy priority to adopt an integrated approach to e-waste management system: how do we look at the entire life-cycle of electronic goods? COmbined with the fact that most e-waste processing and recycling is undertaken by the informal sector, this brings gender dimensions of e-waste management to the fore: What issues do we need to consider in incorporating gender issues in e-waste management? What dimensions of governance, education and technology policies do we need to implement? What can governments, business/industry, and the broader civil society do?

SLIDE 3: The Human Angle

The starting point to a gendered approach to e-waste management is to consider the broader context of gender issues in general - the working conditions of women (particularly low-income women who work in the informal sector - where most of the e-waste processing takes place). Lower levels of income education, skills and knowledge about e-waste management further compounds the disadvantageous situation that women find themselves.

SLIDE 4: Need for Change

From an e-waste perspective, the primary need to reduce e-waste requires an acknowledgement and understanding the changes that are needed for a coherent gender-sensitive approach - changes in the thinking of multiple stakeholders: , consumers (sharing costs of safe recycling and better consumption/purchasing decisions); manufacturers (lifecycle considerations in manufacturing products, design for disassembly, labelling and product tracking); recyclers (appropriate technology and safer working conditions, education nd skill development); governments (laws, rules and regulations, financial assistance).

SLIDE 5: Finding the Middle Ground

The issues surrounding the global e-waste problem is well known - the increasing volumes and types of e-waste and the global scale of manufacturing and sale of production systems - means that end-of-life electronic waste is also "globalized", particularly in its flow to developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where the informal economic sector is involved in its recycling. This is the point of intersection with gender issues, where women play a disproportionately large role in e-waste processing. There is a clear need to find the middle ground in policies and solutions for the processing of e-waste.

SLIDE 6: Supportive Policy Contexts

There are a number of broader policy contexts that can help provide better support for women in the e-waste sector. Such policies (for example those related to the informal sector as a whole, green economy, consumer education, poverty alleviation, education and vocational training, gender mainstreaming policies et al.) will need to jointly address the challenge of both e-waste and gender spheres.

SLIDE 7: The Global Level: Producers and Recyclers

The supportive policies that ill create a safe, healthy and productive working environment for women in the e-waste sector requires action in both the "production" countries (i.e. where the e-waste is generated) and in "recycler" countries (i.e. where the e-waste is processed and recycled).

SLIDE 8: The Local Level: Manufacturers and Recyclers

At the local level, manufacturers and recyclers will have to work together to achieve and implement solutions in the governance and education spheres. They include, for manufacturers, product take-back systems at their end of life, EPR, CSR and other initiatives, Design for environment, or material labelling/tracking systems. For recyclers, initiatives could include distribution of safety gear, tools and creating a safe working environment, worker awareness and education, streamlining the recycling market, or skill development and on-the-job training.

SLIDE 9: Pressure on the industry

Pressure on the electronic industry to take action on e-waste can come from three fronts. National and local governments can exert pressure through appropriate laws, rules and regulations; industry associations, business groups and chambers of commerce can (jointly) develop guidelines and recommendations that individual industry members can adopt; and NGOs, universities and training institutions (including consumer and end-user groups) can target awareness seminars and campaigns.

SLIDE 10: The GET Approach

Bringing these ideas together is the GET approach - covering the dimensions of governance, education and technology, requiring action at the global, national and local levels. When laid out in the form of a matrix, the governance/education and technology action that need to be taken at the global national and local levels can be identified. Thus, each of the nine cells of the matrix represent a package of actors and actions to be taken at the appropriate level within the three spheres of governance, education or technology.

SLIDE 11: Policy Cycle

There is a policy cycle at play within the matrix cells of the GET approach covering the interlinkages between regulatory environments, technology and product development and use/disposal. These issues will have to be considered in identifying the actors/actions to populate the GTE matrix.

SLIDE 12: GET Approach - Governance

These are some of the key issues that need to be considered in the sphere of governance, including legislation, laws, rules, regulations, codes and standards.

SLIDE 13: GET Approach - Education

These are some of the key issues that need to be considered in the sphere of education, including awareness raising, information campaigns, skills development, training and capacity development..

SLIDE 14: GET Approach - Technology

These are some of the key issues that need to be considered in the sphere of technology, including the technology and product design, manufacture, use, disassembly and disposal.

SLIDE 15: Challenges and Opportunities

A number of challenges will have to be addressed by the GET matrix, including the problem of middlemen in the flow of e-waste, lack of skills and awareness, lack of appropriate technologies for proper recycling, awareness of health risks and involvement of criminal elements - with its attendant opportunities.

SLIDE 16: Stakeholder Analysis

A number of different stakeholders need to be involved, bringing in different resources and knowledge sets into the picture to take action on the e-waste front. These stakeholders operate at different levels from global to local levels, providing different inputs and resources. For example, at the global level, UN and other international organizations focus on longer-term, "soft" issues, while at the local level, consumer groups and workers unions focus on short-term, "hard" issues.

SLIDE 17: Key Takeaways

The key takeaway from this presentation is the fact that the resources and tools are there, but need being brought together - in terms of disparate actors and actions - into a coherent and coordinated framework, that will benefit the end-of-life recyclers, particularly women at the local level.

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