FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Environmental Degradation’s Heavy Toll on Women and Children

In 1975, at the Mexico City First World Conference on Women, Vandana Shiva, the Indian scholar and environmental activist, introduced the issue of women’s relationship to the environment. At the time, concern was raised about the depletion of forestry resources and women’s role in agriculture, and a connection was made between the impact environmental development had on women.

Over the past several decades, demand for resources and industrial processes have been responsible for increasing levels of pollution and for the degradation of air, water, and land. In addition to unrestricted exploitation of natural resources, unsound agricultural practices have had devastating effects on the environment and on people’s health and quality of life. Women and children have been primarily affected.

Women, especially those who are pregnant and/or living in rural or marginal suburban areas in developing countries, are particularly susceptible to environmental threats. Until recently, women had few choices regarding their lifestyle and fewer opportunities to change unsatisfactory domestic or work conditions and improve their families’ and their own health.

Women are susceptible to health problems and hazards because of their roles as home-managers, economic providers, and their role in reproduction. The reproductive system of pregnant women is especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants. Every step in the reproductive process can be altered by toxic substances in the environment. These toxic substances may increase the risk of abortion, birth defects, fetal growth retardation, and peri-natal death.

The developing fetus is susceptible to environmental factors when the mother is exposed to toxic substances in the workplace. Furthermore, because fetal nutrition is entirely dependent on the mother, the factors that affect maternal nutrition and maternal health also affect the fetus. For example, nutritional deficiencies in the mothers (such as lack of vitamins or minerals) can increase the proportion of low-birth babies, who are at greater risk of dying during infancy.

The exposure of pregnant women to physical and chemical contaminants can affect intrauterine development. Although the placenta is an effective barrier against many substances, some toxic chemicals can pass through the placenta and enter the blood of the fetus, sometimes reaching higher concentrations than in the mother. Some of these substances can even affect the fetus but not the mother.

Fetal sensitivity to different substances varies with the gestational age. In the first two weeks after conception the embryo can be fatally damaged by toxic substances such as benzene, lead or methyl mercury. Exposure to toxic substances between the third and ninth week of pregnancy can lead to severe malformations of the fetal organs, which at this stage have begun to develop. At least three percent of babies are born with birth defects, 10 to 15 percent of which are caused by exposure to environmental factors such as chemicals, radiation, viruses, and drugs.

The exposure of pregnant women to high doses of radiation can also have serious consequences for the fetus, particularly when the exposure occurs between the eighth and fifteenth week of pregnancy. During this period, the cerebral cortex is developing and it is particularly vulnerable to factors of this kind, which can cause severe mental retardation.

Children are even more susceptible than adults to environmental contamination because they are in the process of development, and their immune systems and detoxification mechanisms have not reached their full potential. As a result, toxic agents in food, air, and water have a more serious effect. Children absorb more pesticides, and reach a higher concentration of some toxic agents than adults. Children also lack the experience and knowledge needed to recognize some situations as potentially harmful.

The quality of the environment will determine to a great extent whether a child will survive its first year of life and how well he will develop. To show the importance of the quality of the environment during the child’s first months of life it has been shown that in populations that live in a clean environment, free of toxic environmental influences, only one in 100 children dies before its first birthday. However, in poor communities lacking basic health services and where the community is easily exposed to harmful environmental factors, as many as one in every two children may die before the age of one.

Women in local organizations have first-hand knowledge of the effect of environmental degradation in their communities. Through their work in their communities and with the media, women can provide practical examples of environmental abuse, and help raise awareness that can lead to more effective political action.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
Matt Smith
Amazon Retaliation: Workers Striking Back
Kenneth Surin
What The President Said (About The Plague)
Patrick Cockburn
The Chaotic Government Response to COVID-19 Resembles the Failures of 1914
Marshall Auerback
The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Opened the Curtains on the World’s Next Economic Model
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Trump Sends Gun Boats to Venezuela While the World Partners to Fight a Deadly Pandemic
Jeremy Lent
Coronavirus Spells the End of the Neoliberal Era. What’s Next?
Dean Baker
The Big Hit: Covid-19 and the Economy
Nino Pagliccia
A Simple Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela: End All “Sanctions”
Colin Todhunter
Locked Down and Locking in the New Global Order
Robert Fisk
Biden Says He ‘Doesn’t Have Enough Information’ on Iran to Have a Vew. How Odd, He Negotiated the Nuclear Deal
Wim Laven
GOP’s Achievement is Now on Display
Binoy Kampmark
Boastful Pay Cuts: the Coronavirus Incentive
Dave Lindorff
It’s Spring and I’ve Turned 71 in a Pandemic-Induced Recession
Steve Brown
FLASH! Trump Just Endorsed Bernie’s Medicare-For-All Health Plan
Marc Haggerty
Class and COVID-19: Those Who Can and Those Who Can’t
Manuel García, Jr.
A Reply to Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”
George Wuerthner
How Fuel Breaks Fuel Fires
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
Nomi Prins 
Wall Street Wins, Again: Bailouts in the Time of Coronavirus
Dean Baker
Getting to Medicare-for-All, Eventually
Dave Lindorff
Neither Pandemic Nor Economic Collapse is Going to Be a Short-Lived Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 7 Pro-Contagion Reversals Increase the Coronavirus Toll
David Swanson
A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus
Ellen Brown
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Jeff Birkenstein
Postcards From Trump
Nick Licata
Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image
Kathy Kelly
“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”
Graham Peebles
Change Love and the Need for Unity
Kim C. Domenico
Can We Transform Fear to Strength In A Time of Pandemic?
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Files Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Burning Project in Rocky Mountain Front Inventoried Roadless Area
Stephen Cooper
“The Soul Syndicate members dem, dem are all icons”: an Interview with Tony Chin
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail