July 30, 2009

Reproductive Justice and Environmental Health: A New Report From Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice

by Morgan Clark
Our Bodies Ourselves intern

The first day of my internship with Our Bodies Ourselves began with a fascinating web conference on reproductive and environmental health, organized by Reproductive Health Technologies Project. Presenters from Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, and MomsRising spoke about their organizations’ efforts in addressing “increasing evidence that industrial chemicals are linked to infertility and a host of negative health outcomes such as early puberty, miscarriage, and reproductive cancers.”

During this web conference I learned about a new report (pdf) published by the Oakland-based Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ). The latest volume in their Momentum Series, “Looking Both Ways: Women’s Lives at the Crossroads of Reproductive Justice and Climate Justice,” highlights the interconnectedness of reproductive health issues and the climate crisis.

The report offers an insightful framework for approaching issues that disproportionately affect vulnerable people, particularly women living in poverty and women of color. An example is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which, among many of the disastrous outcomes, saw a rise in sexual abuse and a decline in access to reproductive health services.

The report finds that while Hurricane Katrina “brought shape to the emerging understanding of women and climate change in the United States, the scope of the climate crisis demands much more: that we not only address how women will be impacted— and how to protect their rights — but also how women’s lives are wrapped up in both the causes of, and potential solutions to, the climate crisis.”

Looking at how women’s lives are binded to some of the causes of the climate crisis, the paper also analyzes the effects of everyday workplace exposure to certain chemicals on women’s health and fertility. It underscores the importance of using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research to determine “the impact of the entire life cycle of a chemical or material on the environment or a particular aspect of the environment – such as energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, or water contamination.”

An LCA study generally looks at the following phases: raw material acquisition, materials manufacture, production, use/reuse/maintenance, and waste management. In other words, it is important to consider the environmental impacts of how a chemical was made, distributed and disposed of, as well as look at how a chemical’s use in a workplace affects the health of a worker. For more information, the EPA has a website on Life Cycle Assessment Research.

The nail salon industry in California is one of the examples cited, because it is a fast-growing industry that exposes workers to toxic chemicals, some unregulated, that contribute to global warming. The ACRJ’s POLISH program works with the nail care industry to improve the health of nail care workers and to reduce negative environmental impacts. Further,

[a] reproductive justice analysis of working conditions in nail salons directs improvements not only to making the nail salon environment one that is conducive to good health, but also to increasing wages, improving benefits, reducing working hours, reducing harassment and discrimination, and creating more educational opportunities for workers.

ACRJ’s important work, with POLISH and its other programs, makes “clear that the preservation of the planet remains intimately connected to protecting the reproductive capacities and self-determination of marginalized communities.”

I found the ACRJ’s report enlightening. I appreciated its broad perspective on reproductive health and the causes and effects of climate change. As someone concerned with the rapid decline of our environment, and its effects on our health, I appreciate the efforts of the ACRJ and the other organizations that presented during the web conference in addressing these issues.

Morgan Clark is a PhD student in public policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.


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