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Feminist Majority Foundation Chat Series of 2003

Dr. ELLEN DORSEY, Rachel Carson Institute
Fri. March 7, 3-4pm EST

Dr. Dorsey is the executive director of the Rachel Carson Institute, at Chatham College. Prior to coming to Chatham, Dorsey was the founding director of the Just Earth! Program on human rights and the environment at Amnesty International USA; she also served as National Field Director for for three years. Dorsey was an adjunct associate professor of international politics at the School of International Service, and a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Global South, American University, where she created a summer institute on human rights. As a program officer at the Stanley Foundation, Dorsey conducted research and developed programs on U.N. policy and World Conferences, from the Earth Summit to Beijing. Dorsey also served as a faculty member at Georgia State University, in the department of Political Science, and the University of Iowa.

Moderator: Dr. Dorsey, thank you so much for joining us today. The topic of this chat is: "the Bush Administration's actions to undermine international cooperation that would protect women's reproductive health and the environment". Can you start off the discussion by giving some examples of this type of action?

Ellen Dorsey: Thank you. As you know tomorrow is international women's day, a day to celebrate women's lives, roles leadership as well as a day to strengthen our resolve to advocate for women's rights worldwide

Women in this country and around the world are using this day to push for recognition of their health and education rights, for access to decision making at all levels, for greater governmental corporate and international financial accountability to women's lives and rights as defined by international law.

It is an important day to assess the performance then of Bush Administrations global policies in relation to their impact on women worldwide, particularly In the areas of women's health and the environment. This is particularly true given the timing, as this country is moving toward war, where the US administration is attempting to 'browbeat' and international cooperation to launch a preemptive strike. After two years of fighting, gutting and renouncing international cooperation on all levels.

For a cleaner, healthier more sustainable environment, for protection of women's lives, health and freedoms, for arms control and global justice

This failure to support international agreements hits hardest women worldwide. And women have been mobilizing for the last twenty years to build a strong global voice to protect women's health, to alleviate the global suffering of women worldwide due to bad development policies that also produce tremendous global environmental harm. By rejecting international consensus, by renouncing hard fought and carefully crafted international agreements, the Bush Administration is at once at war with the global women's movement and with our own best interest

By renouncing international consensus on how to curb global warming, by cutting off funds to the United Nations Population Fund, by renouncing the 1995 Cairo agreement on population and women's development, by applying the global gag rule to funding for HIV AIDS, by fighting that women have a fundamental human rights to health care, the bush administration is making the world a harder place for women. And is fighting against commitments that the worlds women have built consensus around, have struggled to achieve.

Thus the Bush administration has no credibility, no legitimacy in the eyes of the worlds women when he calls for international cooperation to launch a war, as he simultaneously renounces the requests, the demands the please that women have made for responsive, women centered US policies. They have fallen on deaf ears.

Mary: What is "ecofeminism"? How are women's issues and environmental issues linked?

Ellen Dorsey: What is ecofeminism? There is a rich and diverse literature about ecofeminism. FM and RCI are establishing a new web site on women and the environment, and we will provide you resources on ecofeminism.

But the basic principle is that the blending of the feminist and environmental movements, because women and the environment have been subjugated, polluted and controlled by the patriarchal conviction that both nature and women were created for the use and profit of man. The right of man, as my student marie thormodsgard has said, have resulted in the mass destruction of the natural world and innumerable social ills that hard women from all walks of life, ethnicities, race, class, religion, sexual orientations and hemispheres.

Ecofeminism fights for the rights of women and the environment that are intertwined in a multitude of ways

Women in their family and community roles are often the first to feel the affects of environmental damage, in responding to toxic dumpings, pollution, environmental crises brought about by man made changes. They must find new sources of clean water, alleviate the suffering of the injured, provide food for their children. ON average, women in the developing world walk six kilometers each day to collect water, equivalent of carrying a suitcase. With a six fold increase e in global water use worldwide, with growing privatization of water, with reduction in fresh water, clean water.......women have to work harder and harder to simply provide enough water to feed their children and have their families survive.

Women make critical consumption decisions- choosing whether to pass along toxins in breast milk or choose inadequate formulas, women must choose between serving up mercury laden tuna or GMO tacos for dinner, to drink tap water or drink from plastic bottles whose production process is altering the sex of local amphibians. Plastic or wood toys for their children, pesticides on the lawns?.....women make decisions about what their families consume and how those decisions in turn affect the environment

And women's bodies are often the markers of environmental harms and women are experiencing rising health epidemics that are being linked to environmental contaminants. Toxic chemicals and pesticides in the air, water and earth enter women's body tissue, breast milk and can be passed on to infants

Worldwide Women represent 2/3 of all illnesses caused by pollution, and worldwide air pollution kills three million people annually., it is also associated with incidence of respiratory infections lung diseases and low birth weight babies.

in the west there is an epidemic of miscarriages and fetal development disorders caused by overexposure to chlorine fifty years ago women ran a 1 in 22 risk of contracting breast cancer, now it is 1 in 8. breast cancer has been linked to the phenomenon of hormone mimicry which has environmental sources. Endometriosis is spiraling, along with utearan and ovarian cancers.

Women flower workers in Colombia are exposed to 127 different toxic chemicals banned in the west and pass these chemicals onto their infants, where traces have been found in umbilical cords, water pollution in Russian rivers is cited as a factor in the doubling of bladder and kidney disorders in pregnant women.

So eco feminism is both a conceptual framework for understanding the intersection between environmental harm and inequity and discrimination and it is a very real and concrete acknowledgement of how environmental damage is uniquely impacting women

Beth: Does the environment disproportionately impact women’s health?

Ellen Dorsey: Environmental damage is harming ALL human health, children, men and women, and we continue our practices at our peril. But women are uniquely effected by environmental conatminants, as mentioned in the last response. Women are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, womens fertility is changing, womens breast, uteran, and ovarian cancers are spiralling. And women are passing along their chemical burden to their infants, as found in their umbilical cords and breast milk.

Mary Magdalena: I think that people in the environmental movement and the general public do not give enough props to women as leaders in this movement. Look at Rachel Carson, who launched the youth environmental and feminist movement in the 60s. I want to thank Dr. Ellen Dorsey for your continued work and leadership as well as ask you where one might find a resource for women leaders in the movement to save the earth! (Happy International Women's Day) THANKS!

Ellen Dorsey: women have often been at the forefont of the environemntal movement, leading their communities to fight environmental harms and to protect family health. As early as the first decade of industrialization, women were leading the smoke abatement movement, women led the fight against toxic dumping in their communities, women had called for clean up of oil spills in nigerias, and to protest the impact of deforestation in kenya. Yet women are cut out of critical decision making, have to fight to be heard in public policy debates, to have their perspectives heard. WE work twice as hard, but nonetheless are leading some of the most victorius of environmental battles. Rachel Carson forged the modern day environmental movement, writing silent spring while she was dying of breast cancer, and she was attacked widely by the chemical industry, questioning why she cared about the environment since she was a spinster, she was called hysterical. no man would be called hsyterical. we must study the women leaders of the environmental movement to inspire us to gear up for difficult battles. We have a link on our web page to 50 profiles of women leaders over time. www.chatham.edu/rci/well

Bloomies: I read your article in the last Ms. Magazine and was so surprised and excited that you co-wrote the piece with a Chatham undergraduate student, Marie Thormodsgard. I like to see the feminist leaders continue to work with young activists and that her thoughts as a student and young feminist were included in the work on ecofeminism! We "young people" notice when we're included and are grateful for our inclusion.

Ellen Dorsey: Marie is a wonderful bright leader here on our campus, I have learned a great deal from her. Sometimes we have to demand that women with more experience take the time and invest in mentoring. I am glad marie agreed!

Parisfemme: Do you feel that the issue of war on Iraq is also an environmental question?

Ellen Dorsey: War always causes environmental damage- have no doubt, and if oil wells are attacked in retaliation it could be calamitous. But the environemntal issues with this war are much more multilayered. why is Iraq so straategicalyl significant? Are we really concerned with the bad policies of the Iraqi regime? do they have resources that fuel our consumption which in turn is causing tremendous environmental damage.If we begin with the analysis that we consume 25% of the world energy used annually, our consumption is a major factor in this war. our consumption is causing increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Our consumption is causing global warming. And we need oil.

Duke Marine: So is the situation for environmental and womens' rights hopeless during the Bush Administration or is there something we can do to influence it to change in the DRASTIC way that it obviously must?

Ellen Dorsey: Well, it is hard NOT to think it is hopeless, given that our voices about this war are being rejected as 'irrelevant', so it is hard to have faith in traditional democratic processes. Nonetheless, if we mobilize with clear, consistent and loud voices, demanding more globally responsible environmental policies, if we demand proteciton of womens rights here and abroad, and if we challenge the patriarchal analysis that underpins the policies, we can make an impact. But it will require sophisticated movement building and support for organizations like feminist majority. We must also put pressure on our members of congress to take principled stands on behalf of women and the environment.

Wanda: A lot of women and men are fundraising for a cure for breast cancer, and yet, I feel like a lot of people don't look at the root of cancer through an environmental lens. How can we educate the masses who are affected by breast cancer and get them "talking" now that they've been "walking" for a cure? -Wanda

Ellen Dorsey: Somehow we have think that detection of breast cancer is our only option, but when one in 8 of us will develop breast cancer, it is time to talk about prevention. We must get to the root cuases of this epidemic and increasingly scientific research is showing the links to environmental contaminants, chemical use on our lawns, in our homes, in products we consume. I believe that a nascent womens environmental health movement is already building. Here in pittsburgh, we have held programs on the enviro links to breast cancer and had HUGE audiences. WE must being to demand that more money go into this research on environemntal links to the disease and we must demand a national chronic disease tracking system is created to find cancer clusters and compare them to environmental exposure. Watch for information on the feminst campus site about this health track initiative, should be up later this month. we must stop this epidemic, we must demand health care comparable to what men receive.

Debboez: What do you think about the "population" perspective/argument that supports abortion by accusing "third world" women of overpopulating and over-consuming the world's resources. Please tell me it's outdated and that there are other environmental perspectives which are pro-all women, doesn't blame the global south, and that connect the environment with a pro-choice perspective.

Ellen Dorsey: Coercive population programs are failed programs and they attemp to reduce population by limiting womens rights. At the United Nations World COnference on Population and Development, the global womens movement called for a new paradigm palcing womens education, empowerment and access to health care at the center, arguing for investment in rights over restriction of rights. Governments endorsed this approach. The Bush Administration has just renounced US support for the Cairo consensus. Coercive population programs do attack women in poverty in the south and further erode their rights. Perhaps we should control our consumption, it is more pressing than population growth.

Beth: During the State of the Union address, Bush announced that $15 Billion in funding will be allocated to combat the global Aids crises. What are your thoughts on this policy and how will it be implemented and monitored?

Ellen Dorsey: Up until now, the Bush administration was reluctant to commit or free up funds for the fight on global AIDS, which in most societies disproportionately affects women. NGOs have been pushing Bush to "pay our fair share" to the UN Global Fund on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, calculated by our share of the global economy - that would be 3.5 billion annually. Before the State of the Union, Bush promised $500M, yet only $200M was delivered. Now Bush has promised $15B over $5 years, which is close ot the $3B annually. That's great, we should congratulate the recognition of our responsibilities, but we need to encourage that the money be given to the UN Global Fund and that it's unrestricted - i.e. not tied to other policies that discriminate against women. There are 2 warning flares that we should be paying attention to about the policy. As proposed, no money will be freed up in 2003. Only $700M in 2004 and Bush will only give $1B of the $15B to the UN. So, 1, will the money ever materialize given the cost of the war? And, 2, if it is controlled by the US, will our AIDS initiative be abstinence education? The second warning flare is that the Bush administration will apply the "global gag rule" to the AIDS financing.

Pontius: Have you ever met Rachel Carson?

Ellen Dorsey: Carson died the year, the same month I was born. 40 years ago. But you would be astounded by how wide her impact has been, I receive so many calls, letters, inquiries from people all around the world who tell of how Silent Spring changed their lives and committed them to environmental activism. Today many young women still see her as a role model.

Laa Laa: Dear Ellen, Do you think that individual acts of environmentalism, like recycling and purchasing "non-bleached tampons," for example, is a corporate consipiracy to make people think that they need not question environmentally damaging corporate practices and to redirect our efforts and blame to the individual consumption patterns?

Ellen Dorsey: Well if we spend our money buying bottled water we can create whole industries that have a vested interest in our fear, while we shower and brush our teeth with the same water we dont want to drink. WE have to make solid consumption choices, buy more environmentally friendly products, so that we create a demand and market for them. It still is a market driven economy. BUT individual consumption choices are no substitute for collective action. We dont have time to let the market mechanism work, we are in a race for our very survival and we must organize to demand changes in government polic and corporate practices.

Anjali Bhasin, Campus Organizer, Feminist Majority Foundation: In my experience, people often miss the connection between human rights and the enviroment. What can activists do to make this link and better coalition build?

Ellen Dorsey: The link is undeniable and the human rights and environmental movement is flourishing worldwide. What is the link, when people are denied access to decision making, when people are denied access to resources, when people are denied access to information about the environmental harms that they are exposed to, their fundamental human rights are being violated. When in turn they demand that their rights are repsected and the earth is protected, they often confront the power of the state, ofen bolstered by the power of corporations. It can created explosive social conflict, that in many parts of the world has resulted in violence, the killing of environmental activists, the soencing of protest, the imprisonment of whistle blowers. At so many levels the environemnt is linked to human rights- right to health, right to participate in decision making, etc. There is a wonderful campaign underway called the International Right to Know Campaign, developed by a wide coalition of organizations. Check it out. www.IRTK.org

Latina Lady: Ms. Dorsey, I feel like it is a fine line to talk about environmental pollution at Maquiladoras in Mexico (sweatshops, in essence) and to not consider the financial gains that these jobs offer for impoverished women in rural Mexico. What are your thoughts on sweatshops, the environment, and women's labour?

Ellen Dorsey: It IS indeed a complex issue and when people are put in the position that they desperately need jobs, they are not in the position to challenge the labor or environmental abuses that occur in the workplace. That is why we need international pressure and solidarity to demand better working conditions for women who may not have the power to do so.

Moderator: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today, Dr. Dorsey. Do you have any closing thoughts you'd like to leave our listeners with?

Ellen Dorsey: Thank you for having me here today. My final thought is about courage, this international womens day. We have to have courage to challenge dominant culture and consumption patterns, to speak in solidarity with the worlds women even if it challenges our governments policies, to call for a new more moderate lifestyle and place for the US in the world. So how can we have courage, by working together and supporting each other as sisters in struggle! Carry on in the knowledge that you are working in solidarity with women from around the world. Best wishes.

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