Category Archives: Post-Conflict/Disaster

Day 29- Environmental Activism

Most rational people understand and accept that humanity’s actions have severely negatively impacted the environment, and yet most people do little or nothing to change their personal impact on the environment. I too am guilty of not always recycling, throwing batteries in the trash, (which I excuse-away in my mind as understandable because I live in a country where I do not speak the language and thus cannot seek proper channels for disposal), leaving my computer on and plugged in for days at a time, lounging in the shower, using synthetic petro-chemical products, and generally being wasteful. That I am not perfect in my own personal protection and defense of the environment does not lessen my commitment to making the world a better place, both figuratively and literally. Bad behaviors are not generally changed overnight, and so, I forgive myself if I have a lapse in judgement or memory and wound the planet, but I still consider myself an ecofeminist.

Not all women who participate in activism on behalf of the environment identify as ecofeminists, or even feminists in general. The link between the subjugation and exploitation of women and the subjugation and exploitation of the natural environment is the backbone of the ecofeminist discourse. Many women who participate in environmental organizations or movements do so as a result of the negative health impacts environmental degradation has had on them, their homes or someone they love. For years reports have surface that women (indigenous women especially) are and continue to be more severely affected by climate change, pollution, deforestation, increased food costs which can result in women resorting to prostitution or families selling their daughters, and other aspects of environmental concern because of social inequalities already present before environmental problems surface, but they are also taking the initiative to educate themselves and empower those around them.

Women are disproportionately represented in environmental organizations: they are often a majority of grassroots/local members and activists but are very few officers or leaders of major organizations. Often women, and the specific effects of environmental degradation on them, are specifically (if not intentionally) left out of papers, conferences and legislation surrounding environmental issues. Increasingly (and alarmingly) environmental organizations that are committed to nonviolent tactics, such as gluing themselves to the offices of companies they are protesting, are falsely linked to militaristic environmental groups that shamefully use terrorist tactics to try and overcome the system–more on why that will never work in a later post. The women in these peaceful groups are at an increased risk of violence if other members think the use of violence is an acceptable way to get what one wants, and are often under attack from corporations, police and non-activist citizens who feel threatened by the truth being spoken.

Internationally, Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and the first environmentalist to earn the Nobel Peace Prize, is a shining example of the potential for leadership and positive change in the environmentalist movements. Vandana Shiva is another “world-renowned environmental activist” who shows that women can be extremely capable leaders, especially when they are so personally impacted by the issue at hand. Many women are discovering the power of blogs and writing to share their ideas and concerns about the environment, like this woman. Also, see this list for information about some of today’s leading Jewish environmental activist women.

The link between family planning and climate change is a hot issue for many feminists, including the women of color RJ group SisterSong, because attempts to control women’s fertility and take away their right to bodily autonomy have been “justified” whenever anything needs protecting (like a specific gene pool, for example). This article Collective_Voices_Vol4_Issue9 shows why trying to limit women’s fertility will not be the answer to climate change. Please do not misunderstand: I fully support all women having accurate information about and access to all kinds of birth control so that they can make their own fully-informed decisions. What I do not approve of is anyone imposing their views of what is right, or moral, or healthy or “best” on someone else.

Women are often assumed to be more “in-tune” with nature because of menstruation, or because the femininely-linked intuition and emotion are seen as more basic human traits than the masculinely-linked logic and reason. (Even big-name politicians fall prey to these assumptions!) These assumptions merely feed into the social constructions of gender roles in any given society, which are often responsible for the impact environmental issues disproportionately have on women in the first place, creating a vicious cycle.

If you would like to become more involved in environmental issues there are many, many areas of concern. A quick google search for organizations in your area will be a good start. Women are effective and capable leaders and members of environmental activist organizations not because they (more than men) have some innate connection to Mother Earth but because they are effective and capable people.

Attention: If you happen to be in Denton, Texas today head up to the University of North Texas this evening for a discussion of environmentalism and social justice from one of the founders of Code Pink, Diane Wilson.

Day 26- RAISE Initiative

Yesterday’s discussion centered on Reproductive Justice (RJ) and SisterSong, a US-based women of color collective working for RJ. Today’s post features an organization that understands the need for reproductive justice to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds all the time, even in times of crisis and emergency.

The RAISE Initiative-Reproductive Health Access, Information and Services in Emergencies-aims to improve the quality of life of those affected by natural or human-made disasters. Oftentimes, and especially in the wake of a major catastrophe, reproductive health (RH) is overlooked or seen as an unnecessary or secondary concern of governments and NGOs working to help people recover from a disaster.

Numerous case studies have shown that when water, food and shelter are the only concerns of organizations seeking to “help” survivors, harm inevitably comes to the groups with the highest pre-disaster risk factors for vulnerability: basically anyone who is not able-bodied, adult-but-not-elderly, and male. Consider that the number of boy and girl children, adult women, disabled or ill adult men, and elderly men and women combined is considerably higher than the number of healthy, nondisabled men ages 18-55; with this fact in mind it is absurd that what is “normal” and necessary for survival is based on what that minority of the population may need.

Women are at least half of any population, (although, because of socially-constructed gender roles and a lack of survival skills women may have been disproportionately killed in any disaster) and their needs should be taken into consideration when providing any services to an affected population. Women’s needs may include sanitary pads, extra-nutrition if they are pregnant or breastfeeding, well-planned and secure shelter, soap, and birth control. Many people mistakenly believe that life stops for survivors in post-disaster camps, but babies are born and love is made, even in the shadow of chaos.

Much has been written about the opportunity that arises in the wake of a disaster to weaken patriarchy and reinforce gender equality and yet the same mistakes are made over and over again, from Haiti to Pakistan to Japan.

RAISE, which has offices in New York, London, Brussels and Nairobi,  recognizes the vital role in overall health that reproductive health plays, and understands that these needs in an emergency setting are even more pressing. “Access to reproductive health care is a basic human right. Yet integrated and fully comprehensive reproductive health services are not the norm in most emergency settings. People are displaced from their homes for many reasons, and an overwhelming number of preventable deaths and illnesses related to reproductive health affect populations in crisis.”

RAISE, as far as I know, is one of the only organizations of its kind. I know very little about the Reproductive Health Response in Crisis Consortium, or the Women’s Refugee Commission. If you know of other organizations that specifically address the reproductive health needs of populations affected by disaster please share them in the comments section. RAISE is unique in its approach, and addresses RH through technical support to partner organizations, clinical training, advocacy, research, and documentation and dissemination of information.

Additionally, RAISE offers resources for advocacy, up-to-date news articles about reproductive health issues, and a large multimedia library with information about sexual and reproductive health in numerous contexts.

“By promoting awareness of the full range of reproductive health (RH) challenges in refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) situations and the consequences of inaction, RAISE Initiative staff and advocacy partners work to mobilise key humanitarian actors – UN agencies, international bodies, donor governments and host countries – to include RH as an integral part of their humanitarian response and action.”

RAISE works on long-term projects in a number of places, including Colombia, two projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, the Thai-Burmese border, and Uganda. RAISE offers a number of services such as comprehensive reproductive health care, emergency obstetric care, family planning, testing and information for HIV and STIs, and assistance in bringing about an end to gender-based violence.

If you would like to help make RH a priority in both emergency and everyday situations, there are many ways to contribute to or participate in the RAISE Initiative. RAISE offers clinical training in emergency obstetrical care, post-abortion care, and family planning, in addition to offering a multimedia training tool for clinical care for sexual assault survivors. You can also subscribe to their email list for regular RAISE updates and a weekly literature review.

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