Grand Valley State University Women's Center

Women and the Environment

Women have long been associated with the environment. Through the dialogue used to discuss nature to the individuals working the land. The language of “Mother Earth” and its weather are often feminized. Although some would discourage the use of these ideas due to personal standpoint, one cannot help but notice the connections society has made. In our ideas of a nurturing nature, and the similarities made between the role of women in society, as mother. Women are also more likely to be working in agriculture or environmental movements around the globe. Although there are environmental issues which directly affect the lives of every human, animal, plant, etc., the relationship between women and the environment remains unique and worth addressing. The information about environmental issues, specifically with respect to gender can be discouraging and, to some, scary. However, in no way is fear meant to be the end result. Instead, being informed is a way to call for action, a way to begin to make a difference in the environment, and in one’s self.

Women & Environment Symposium

The GVSU Women's Center annually collaborates with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) to host a Women & Environment Symposium to educate, inspire, and provide tangible action step for attendees on the intersections of women and environmental issues. This Symposium is open to students, faculty, staff, and community members. Visit the Women's Center Events Calendar or the WMEAC website for more details about this annual event.


According to the Environmental Protection Agency sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This can be done in various ways, through agricultural practices, trade policies, as well as simple day-to-day living, and many other ways. Grand Valley State has its own Sustainable Community Development Initiative.. The key concepts of sustainability directly affect the lives of women. Trade policy, as well as agricultural policies is direct ways, which the lives of women are changed because of sustainable practices. Everyday choices concerning energy use, and general consumption will not change your personal life, but can aid workers and farmers from around the world. Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are prohibited instead sustainability promotes the health of the farmer and works to preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations. These policies and practices not only affect those producing the crops, but those who consume it in a positive way. Learn more about all the sustainability includes as well as ways even college students can promote sustainability at GVSU’s Sustainability Website.

Interested in Green Parenting? Check out this list of Green Parenting Book Recommendations.

Fair Trade

One key concept of Sustainability is Fair Trade, which includes several principles. These include principles that positively effect women and children such as: Fair Wages, Cooperative Workplaces, Consumer Education, Environmental Sustainability, Financial and Technical Support, Respect for Cultural Identity, and Public Accountability. The environmental benefits of fair trade include farms which produce crops with are safe and chemically free. They are typically organic, bio-diversity, as well as in ways, which keep contamination from entering near by waterways. Fair Trade not only positively influences the environment; it transforms women and children’s lives. 

According to the Fair Trade Federation, 70% of the worlds 1.3 billion poor people surviving on less than $1 a day are women. Fair Trade policies could rapidly reduce this fact. Fair trade allows women to earn an income and increasing their control over their families spending. Women are more likely to spend their income on better schooling for their children, better healthcare, and overall healthier food. 70% of the artisans participating in Fair Trade practices are women. Supporting Fair Trade is directly linked to the support of women.

Learn more about Fair Trade, as well as its connection to women’s lives at fairtradefederation.com, hopeforwomen.com, and Oxfam.org

Climate Change

One of the major areas of research in the environmental movement is tied to climate change and global warming. Science links the number of natural disasters throughout the years, and world to the heating of our earth. No matter the cause, or type of these disasters they generally affect women and children in very specific ways. Cultural roles of women place them at greater risk during natural disasters, women are often placed in charge of maintaining their own household, helping to organize the community and find work in the newly informal economy created after disasters. Environmental crisis means that women have to spend more time finding food, and shelter as well as walk further to find safe water and firewood. Women are more likely to suffer illness, and even death as they stay behind during evacuations to help the elderly and young. Education is key, when it comes to reversing the effects of global warming, such as preventing even more natural disasters. GVSU’s Sustainability discusses easy steps to living more conscientiously with respect to the earth. The website www.whatsmycarbonfootprint.com offers a test where you can see your global impact on the environment and then provides do-able, helpful tips in reducing it your carbon footprint. Becoming aware and changing your negative impact on the earths atmosphere can help save the lives around the world.

Also check out articles on women and climate change at ecoworld.com

The Environment and Women’s Health

The FDA standards of acceptable exposure to environmental contaminants are often based on how men are affected. However, women’s bodies are different- they have different organs, hormones, and the higher potential to store contaminants in their bodies due to how women carry their natural body fat. The ability for chemicals and contaminants to stay in the body is known as body burden. This is tested though urine, blood, body fat, and breast milk. Women carry these chemicals in higher dosage and in more ways than men. One of the greatest potentials of harm is to do the fact that women’s bodies are humans first natural environment. In-vitro harm can be done to children as it enters the mothers body passes through the umbilical card and then later through breast milk. The effects of pesticides, and other contaminants found in products so widely used such as plastic are linked to the health of women, and than passed on to their children.

There is growing evidence that many of the diseases effecting women’s lives, such as cancers, heart disease (which is the number one cause of death for women), endometriosis and fertility challenges are all connected to the conditions of the environment. Contaminants found in the environment make their way into women’s bodies, causing all sorts of reproductive, and general health issues. Cleaning up the environment, what we grow food in, as well as the products we produce and how we make them can change the evidence to point in a new direction of healthiness for all no matter their gender.

These facts can seem scary and at times frightening. However there is hope. One of the best things to do is stay informed, as well as getting involved personally, and in your community. Check out the reference page for books, articles and websites to stay educated, as well as simple ways to make a difference in your own life, women’s lives and the world.

Learn more about what you can do to take action!

Page last modified July 31, 2014