Women have long been associated with the environment, from the language used in describing nature to the individuals working the land. The language of “Mother Earth” and its weather is often feminine. Although some would discourage the use of these ideas due to personal standpoint, one cannot help but notice the connections the society has made in our ideas of a nurturing nature, and the similarities made between the roles of women in the society, as mothers. Women are also more likely to be working in agriculture or environmental movements around the globe. Although environmental concerns directly affect lives of on the Planet Earth, the relationship between women and these environment concerns remains unique and worth addressing. The information about environmental issues, specifically with respect to gender can be discouraging and, to some, scary. However, in no way is fear meant to be the end result. Instead, being informed is a way to call for action, a way to begin to make a difference in the environment, and in one’s self.
One of the many definitions of Sustainability, which I personally accept is that ability of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. We can ensure that we do not undermine the ability of the future generation to meet their needs in various ways, such as Sustainable agricultural practices, Fair Trade policies as well as simple day-to-day life choices. The key concepts of sustainability directly affect the lives of women. Everyday choices concerning energy use and general consumption may not change your personal life, but can aid workers and farmers from around the world especially the emerging world. Sustainability promotes and protects the health of farmers and farm produce consumers as well as works to preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.
Arguably, a key component of Sustainability is Fair Trade principles, which include Fair Wages, Conducive Workplaces, Consumer Awareness and Education, Environmental Stewardship, Financial and Technical Support, Respect for Cultural diversity, and Public Accountability etc.
According to the Fair Trade Federation, 70% of the worlds 1.3 billion poor people surviving on less than $1 a day are women. It is evident that 70% of the artisans participating in Fair Trade practices are women. Hence adopting Fair Trade policies, which allow women to earn a good income and increase their control over their families spending, could rapidly reduce poverty and give women better representation. With such Policies, Women are more likely to spend their income on better schooling for their children, better healthcare, and overall healthier food. Therefore, it is obvious that a support Fair Trade Policy is a direct support to women.
There is also the environmental benefit in adopting fair trade. Here, farmers incorporate sustainable farming practices that guarantee safe and chemically free farm produce, mostly organic, and harness bio-diversity, as well as, which keep contamination from entering the ecosystem. In this respect, Fair Trade not only positively influences the environment but also transforms our lives especially women and children.
One of the major areas of global environmental concerns and research is tied to climate change and global warming. Scientists and environmental activists link a number of catastrophic events through the years, and around the world to the excessive warming of the planet earth. Though there are many schools of thought on this subject which of the divide you belong and no matter the cause, or type of these catastrophic events or disasters women and children are generally more vulnerable.
The various cultural roles of women place them at greater risk during natural disasters; they play roles in maintaining their household, assisting in organizing the community and strive to do any work available in a fairly new informal economy created after disasters.
Coupled with Environmental crisis, this means that women would have to spend more time finding food, shelter as well as fetching water and firewood. Women are more likely to suffer illness and even death as they stay behind during evacuations to help the elderly and young.
Education is paramount in terms of mitigating the effects of global warming and taking steps to live more conscientiously with respect to the earth. Becoming aware and changing ones negative impact on the earth can help save lives around the world and preserve the Mother earth.
The Environment and Women’s Health:
The US Food Drug Administration (FDA) standards of acceptable exposure to environmental contaminants are often based on how men are affected. However, women’s bodies are different- they have different organs, hormones, and the higher potential to store contaminants in their bodies due to how women carry their natural body fat. The ability for chemicals and contaminants to stay in the body known as body burden is tested through urine, blood, body fat, and breast milk. Women carry these chemicals in higher dosage and in more ways than men. One of the greatest potentials of harm is to the fact that women’s bodies are humans’ first natural environment. In this respect in-vitro harm can be done to babies and also later through breast milk. The effects of pesticides, and other harmful substances contained in household products such as plastic are linked to diseases in women, and consequently passed on to their children.
There is growing evidence that many of the diseases affecting women such as cancers of all kinds; heart disease; endometriosis and fertility challenges are all connected to environmental concerns. These facts are scary, however there is HOPE if we stay informed as well as take personally steps to be the change we all desire and in our communities.
By Co-author, Maureen Agumagu- Nesrea Nigeria