Social Justice, Women of Color and the Environment

The saying goes that women hold up half of the earth. But when it comes to environmental degradation, they often shoulder more of the burden. That's especially true for women of color. A recent conference in Pittsburgh addressed these concerns on the local front and worldwide. The Allegheny Front's Kara Holsopple reports. If the topic of women's health and the environment is of interest to you, see the links below for two Pittsburgh events. Women for a Healthy Environment hosts a speakers panel on March 22. And the Women's Health and Environment conference is set for April 21st.

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OPEN: The saying goes that women hold up half of the earth, but when it comes to environmental degradation, they often shoulder more of the burden. That's especially true for women of color. A recent conference in Pittsburgh addressed these concerns on the local front and worldwide. The Allegheny Front's Kara Holsopple reports.

HOLSOPPLE: Jacqui Patterson is sometimes the only person with her hand up, challenging conventional notions of women of color and environmental issues at conferences and meetings. Patterson's the climate change liason for the NAACP.† She spoke at a recent Pittsburgh conference about reproductive justice and environmental justice for women of color.† Patterson sees disturbing links between women's issues, like reproduction, and the global discussion about climate change.

PATTERSON: The global south is actually the least responsible for climate change in terms of their emissions and it's actually the overconsumption in the rich north that drives climate change, but yet using that to say we need people in the global south to have fewer babies.

HOLSOPPLE: Patterson says women and communities of color are disproportionally affected by the negative effects of environmental damage. Extreme weather attributed to climate change creates challenges for meeting healthcare and birthing needs, and violence against women rises during disasters.† She says women of color and their families are more likely to live closer to toxic waste sites and have less access to clean air, water and healthy food.

La'Tasha D. Mayes of New Voices Pittsburgh, the organizer of the conference, says all that needs to change. And not just by neutralizing the negatives, but she says, capitalizing on the positives. When green technologies and development opportunities come to the region, Mayes wants voices traditionally left out to be part of the conversation.

MAYES: We are not going to wait around until all the decisions have been made. We're going to be right there on the forefront. But that begins with educating women of color about the issues so they can be engaged.

HOLSOPPLE: Mayes says when a pregnant woman's body becomes a toxic environment for her child because of her own toxic environment, that's an environmental injustice. With national support, her group will be working in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Philadelphia to push for environmental justice as part of their campaign for reproductive rights for women of color.

For the Allegheny Front, I'm Kara Holsopple.