Friday, June 6, 2008

"Sex and the City" and the Environment

No, this post is not about SJP launching an eco-friendly clothing line (although she should!), or that her recent green outfit was environmentally friendly (I am sure it wasn’t). [And I don’t care what anybody says, her Philip Treacy hat was amazing. I mean, really, it looked like an acorn, people. So fab. In a world struggling against homogenous, bland fashion (um, hello shapeless Lauren Conrad dresses for $200!! Are they serious? ), Treacy allows women a little bit of well-placed eccentricity. Go SJP.]

Anyway, all this talk (and this talk) about the movie, the television show and the role of women in our society – interspersed, of course, with news updates on the progress of the monumental democratic primary race – has reminded me about how I became an environmentalist in the first place.

You see, I didn’t become and environmentalist because of pandas (though, they are so cute, aren’t they? And they do deserve for us to protect their habitat.) I became an environmentalist because I believed in the power of women and giving women the opportunities to live a better life. Feminism led me to environmentalism. Though you may not see the connection.

Long, long ago (okay, not so long ago), back when I was just a youngun’, I was majoring in Soviet Area Studies at the university. One thing that we learned about was the role of women in the Soviet society. Women were accepted into the workplace with open arms . . . but they were still expected to clean and raise the kids and take care of their husbands . . . it was called the “double burden”. I wondered, “how does this fit in with the goals of feminism?” - something that I knew very little about. I was inspired to really look into what feminism was . . . and what it wasn’t. In my research, I stumbled upon a concept called “eco-feminism” that tries to establish a connection between the dominance of men over women and humanity’s dominance over nature. This was an interesting concept for me to consider. But, what really caught my attention were the statistics about how women – all over the world – are the individuals most impacted by environmental degradation.

Women – esp. those women who don’t live in industrialized, first world economies - have primary responsibility for raising children: feeding them, making sure they are healthy and getting them to school. Women are also the ones responsible for finding clean water, fuel for cooking/heating and food for domestic animals. Women grow vegetables, fruit and grain for home consumption and also for sale. Basically, women interact with, and depend on, their environment much more than men in their daily lives. So, when the environment goes to hell, these women suffer most and the whole family is affected. Here are some examples from the UNFPA.

  • Toxic chemicals and pesticides in air, water and earth are responsible for a variety of women's health risks. They enter body tissues and breast milk, through which they are passed on to infants. In a village in China's Gansu province, discharges from a state-run fertilizer factory have been linked to a high number of stillbirths and miscarriages. Water pollution in three Russian rivers is a factor in the doubling of bladder and kidney disorders in pregnant women, and in Sudan a link has been established between exposure to pesticides and perinatal mortality—with the risk higher among women farmers.
  • Deforestation or water contamination increases the time women must spend seeking fuelwood or safe, clean water, and increase women's risk of water-borne disease.
  • In urban settings in particular, air and water pollution can be extreme, and sanitation and waste treatment poor or non-existent, presenting new threats to health, particularly for women, who have the highest levels of exposure. In the Indian cities of Delhi and Agra, for example, drinking water comes from rivers heavily polluted by DDT and other pesticides.

So, my appeal to all you ladies reading this is: next time you get all indignant for the right of Samantha to have as much sex as she wants with as many younger men as she wants, also try to remember how your personal actions are affecting the rights and opportunities of women in other parts of the world. Perhaps you might be inspired to drive less (reducing GHG emissions might help slow the drastic environmental changes that are negatively impacting women) or perhaps you might choose to purchase your outfits from a company that cares about the women it employs (Fair Trade) or perhaps you will buy organic (reducing the amount of pesticides in the environment). Whatever you do, remember: that we are all connected. Now, more than ever.

Painting by artist: Alex duMauriƩe

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