Sunday, December 31, 2017

Breast milk contamination

Harmful chemicals can be transmitted to the baby not only during pregnancy, but also via breastfeeding after birth. Contamination can occur due to exposure to e.g. pesticides or toxic chemicals in food and indoor air as many human biomonitoring programmes and projects have found out by testing breast milk on various substances. 

As POPs are the most hazardous ingredients of polluted breast milk, breast milk has been tested by WHO for POPs within the process of the Stockholm Convention for several years. The last testing round spanned the period from 2010 to 2012.73 The results from the third, fourth and fifth rounds of the survey spanning the period from 2000 to 2012, are presented in a report based on the findings by Malisch et al.

Following the results the survey shows a mixed picture: POPs like PCDD and PCFD have fallen steadily from their earlier high level indicating the effectiveness of intervention measures. PCB decreased over time, but is still considered a human health concern. Chemicals newly listed in the Stockholm Convention in 2009 and 2011 like PFOS could be detected at values above LOQ for a majority of samples in more or less all participating countries. This shows that contamination and human exposure to PFOS in these regions is very concerning.75 Unfortunately many countries do not take part in the monitoring on a regular base of the WHO/UNEP human milk survey, even if they have the means like e. g. Germany. 
Also other harmful chemicals can be found in breast milk. Knowing to have toxins in your breast milk is usually very scary for mothers. Therefore public communication about this topic should be done in a very sensitive way. However, breastfeeding should be maintained because it brings many health benefits for the children and the mothers. IPEN and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) state together that “The contamination of breast milk is one symptom of the environmental contamination in our communities. Responsibility for this problem belongs to the industrial sources of contamination, not to breastfeeding women.”

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Women as mothers

One of the most significant roles of women is the one of being a mother. Women are the first environment for their children, and therefore they have a risk of exposing their unborns, who are highly susceptible to chemicals. Therefore their exposure is very critical and should be avoided. Women also often change their behaviour and values with becoming a mother, which translates into a higher consumer awareness and openness to environmental topics, such as chemicals in products. 

Pregnant women
Research shows that the placenta does not provide a defense against harmful chemicals, as previously thought.67 Persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals remain in the human body long after exposure and can be passed from mother to baby, in utero and via breast milk. It can also cross the blood brain barrier to affect a child’s central nervous system and its development. Children exposed to chemicals like EDCs, even at very low levels are more likely to develop health problems later in life such as cancer, infertility, or diabetes, particularly with exposure during certain windows of prenatal development.68 EDCs can also cause multigenerational harm. A prominent example for this is diethylstilbestrol (DES), a drug given to pregnant women from the 1940s to 1970s. Studies show that many DES-victim daughters (grandchildren of the DES users) experience infertility and cancer in their reproductive organs and breasts. Animal studies show that the granddaughters of women who took DES are also at risk for ovarian 

Biomonitoring results from many ASGM countries show alarming concentrations of mercury in hair, urine and blood of children, women and men. There is a rapidly growing body of knowledge in this area, which has also revealed some symptoms similar to Minamata disease and its adverse effects. Damage to the developing brain is of particular concern. ASGM is most often considered a result of local socio-economic and development problems but over the years it has become a global challenge. The global demand for gold continues to be a driving force for more investment into ASGM, typically in isolated regions and impoverished communities. Mercury used in ASGM translates into increases in mercury exposure to women and children. In addition, global emissions of mercury will increase as more mercury is used in the ASGM sector, impacting the environment and food chain. The immediate economic investment in ASGM should take into account the health and environmental impacts in ASGM communities. and uterine cancers. Infact, prenatal development is one of the most susceptible stages to health risks caused by chemical exposure.

 The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) gives a very good overview on studies showing the negative effects of certain chemicals during critical windows of development during pregnancy.70 

In 2010 a study by the University of California at San Francisco confirmed that pregnant women carry multiple chemicals in their bodies that can be passed onto their foetus. Data collected by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2003-2004 showed that 43 banned as well as currently used chemicals in the US, including PCB, which is banned in the US for over 30 years, organochlorine pesticides, PFCs, phenols, PBDE flame retardants, phthalates, BPA, were detected in 99-100 per cent of over 250 pregnant women.71 Many of the 163 chemicals studied are known to be transferred to the foetus and have been linked to poor health outcomes. It places the foetus at risk for birth defects or chronic illnesses later in life. Furthermore, because the women in the study were tested for exposure to only a fraction of chemicals on the market, it also suggests that pregnant women are likely carrying and passing onto their foetus many more chemicals than have been reported in the study. 

Even though there is enough convincing evidence that many chemicals can harm the foetus, not many governments and companies take precautionary measures or even inform pregnant women about simple measures to avoid hazardous chemicals in their lives. The following measure are to be taken to protect pregnant women and the developing child: awareness raising campaigns, information materials for pregnant women, and labeling of products

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Women in services

Besides agriculture, services are one of the main working sectors for women. The ILO estimates that 47 per cent of employed women worldwide work in services47 such as health care, retail and education. Women in typical female professions, like hairdressers, nurses and cleaners, are among the most exposed in this sector. The material they use such as medical devices, shampoo, etc. are mainly chosen and purchased by the companies they work for. Often the employers and the employees have little to no knowledge about the substances in the products they use, since they are rarely labelled, ingredients are not disclosed or specific trainings are not in place.

Women in the health sector
 Nurses are exposed constantly to toxins in disinfectants and stylizing agents, additionally they can be in contact with hazardous chemicals in medical devices, chemotherapy, pesticides, and other tools and materials. This exposure can lead to serious health problems. Common chemicals to which women in the health sector are exposed to are: BPA, PVC, triclosan, PBDE, phthalates, perfluorinated compounds and mercury. All of those chemicals can be found in blood, urine and hair samples of female nurses and doctors.48 Nurses report that the four common exposures are hand and skin disinfectants, medications, housekeeping chemicals and latex.49 Studies show that among nursing professionals, workplace exposures to cleaning products and disinfectants increase the risk of new-onset asthma.50 A two-fold increased risk of late spontaneous abortion (12-20 weeks) among nurses was associated with exposure to sterilizing agents.51 In the US, nurses teamed up to demand better chemicals regulation protecting them from harmful chemicals.52 Several projects and activities from civil society and trade unions try to achieve the same goal. The NGO Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) runs several campaigns and projects to make health care greener and healthier for professionals and patients.53

Women as hairdressers 
Hairdressers are exposed to harmful substances in a number of products like hair dyes, bleaching agents, permanent waves solutions, hair shampoos and conditioners, hair spray and perfumes. Common substances found in those products are: ammonia and ammonia derivatives, formaldehyde releasers, allergens, acrylate copolymers in aerosol-form products, and EDCs such as parabens and UV-filters. Hair dyes typically contain the highest number of harmful substances. Studies show that respiratory and dermatological diseases are particularly common for hairdressers.54 A UK study investigated 60 hairdressing salons and noted that over a third of the respondents had hand dermatitis.55 Exposure to chemicals in indoor air is increased because usually more than one hairdresser operates in the same room, and sufficient ventilation systems are rarely in place. Therefore hairdressers have a higher risk of chronic bronchitis, asthma-like symptoms, rhinitis combined with irritative eye symptoms than control groups.56 A study of pregnant women in France found that on-the-job exposure to chemical solvents during pregnancy increased the risk of certain types of birth defects. Mothers with more exposure were 4 to 12 times more likely to have babies with oral clefts than mothers with less exposure. Metabolites of two large classes of organic solvents, glycol ethers and chlorinated solvents, were linked to occupational use of cleaners and cosmetics in jobs such as hairdressing, pharmacy and nursing.57 To decrease the exposure of hairdressers, urgent action is required such as procurement of non-harmful products, sufficient labelling of products, training of employees, better ventilation systems, and stricter laws.

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Women in the informal sector

According to WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) “60 per cent or more of female nonagricultural workers in the developing world are informally employed. Among non-agricultural workers, in sub-Saharan Africa, 84 per cent of women workers are informally employed compared to 63 per cent of men workers; in Latin America, 58 per cent of women workers compared to 48 per cent of men; and in Asia, 73 per cent of women workers compared to 70 per cent of men workers.”58 These numbers include a wide range of occupations: inside and outside informal enterprises, self-employed, waste pickers, cleaners, domestic workers, street vendors etc. The chemical exposure to the different groups, which are summed up under this definition, varies accordingly. Highly exposed are women working in industry and mining related facilities as well as waste pickers and recyclers.

Waste pickers 
There are millions of waste pickers in the world. Very little is known about their exact numbers, as statistical data is difficult to collect. An Indian study estimated local waste pickers at 1.5 million, primarily women and those from socially marginalized groups.59 A study60 about solid waste management in Nigeria found that women and children play a very dominant role in collection and sale of recyclable materials to itinerant waste collectors. The results show that 55 per cent of recyclable materials are being sold by women and 40 per cent by children while only 5 per cent were men. A distinct gender division of labour was observed as women are almost conspicuously absent at the higher levels of solid waste recycling processes.

This is largely due to cultural constructs, poor coordination and lack of capital. Waste pickers are at health risk due to their proximity to pre-separated discards, which often include infectious and toxic materials and due to the hazardous conditions under which valuable recyclables and their components are physically retrieved. A three country study in India, Cambodia and the Philippines showed that the health costs of waste picking are very high. The waste pickers are exposed to a cocktail of toxic fumes and other chemicals in the dump and from open burning. “Waste pickers burn PVC coated wires in order to extract copper, which sells at a high price. They find that cutting it can result in sharp cuts on their fingers and hands. However, burning copper wires results in the production of dioxins, which are known to have some negative effects on reproduction, the immune system and may cause birth defects as well as cancers.”61 The National Solid Waste Management Commission on the Philippines noted that “risks come from direct contact with waste such as broken glass, human/faecal matters, materials with toxic substances, containers with residues from chemicals, pesticides, needles and bandages from hospitals/clinics and smoke and toxic fumes from open burning of waste”.62

Typical chemicals that waste pickers are exposed to are dioxins, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, nitrogen oxide from waste burning, and chemicals contained in waste like PVCs, brominated flame retardants, lead and other endocrine disrupting chemicals. This may lead to asphyxiation, respiratory diseases including asthma, chronic liver and kidney diseases, brain injuries, cardiovascular and cancer related diseases. The health problems of waste pickers are severe and often lead to premature death. Waste pickers are among the poorest population. They have no money for health care and medical treatment. They also suffer from poor general health, since a high proportion work and live on the dumpsite all their lives. Therefore even easily treatable diseases can have severe effects.

Female waste pickers are often the sole earners in the family, so they are dependent on their work. To avoid exposure of waste pickers, a holistic approach is needed: implementation of cradle to cradle and zero-waste policies, mandatory labelling and phase out of toxic substances, development of a social protection floor for women and other measures including better employment options for those that currently make their living this way. Organisations like GAIA, WIEGO and Global Alliance of Waste Pickers63 developed policy recommendations like e.g. the inclusion of waste pickers in participatory planning of solid waste management, and organize implementation projects, also in collaboration with UN agencies and national governments

Artisanal Small Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) 
The lessons from the Minamata tragedy and the Minamata disease show the negative impact of mercury exposure to people and the environment. Especially for women and children, they  are irreversible and last for generations. UNEP has identified ASGM sector as the single largest source of mercury emissions from intentional use, which has no global target reduction (emissions and use) under the treaty. The target for mercury elimination will depend on a country‘s policy and implementation plans. Women in Africa represent approximately 40-50 per cent of the ASGM workforce and children under the age of 18 may constitute up to 30-50 per cent of the entire ASGM workforce.65 While women represent lower fractions of the workforce in Latin America (10-20 per cent) and Asia (about 10 per cent), it is clear that mercury exposure from ASGM has a profound global impact on women. In many ASGM areas, women perform the most toxic jobs since they do not require strength. These jobs include pouring the mercury into the ball-mills or mixing the mercury in panning, and burning the amalgam – usually while their children or babies are nearby. In some countries, women also carry the rocks from the mining sites to the processing plants.66

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Women in industry

In their Global Employment Trends publication, ILO estimates that around 16 per cent of employed women worldwide work in the industry sector in 2012. In East Asia women’s employment in industry rose to a quarter, as in most of the developing countries women moved out of the agricultural sector directly into services.37 Less information is available about certain branches and the related chemical exposure of women. One typical industry branch with a high female employment is the textile industry, where some information is available.

Textile industry: impacts on female worker’s health 
The textile industry is often criticized for its high chemical use, low wages and environmental pollution. The majority of workers at various stages of the textile chain, from manufacturing to packing and retailing of the final products, are women. They are significantly exposed to the variety of chemicals present in clothing products. 

Zhang summarizes the impacts on workers in dyeing/ printing and finishing processes: inevitably workers will be in daily and routine contact with a large number of chemical substances, many of which are known to be hazardous to human health. For example, advice from the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicates that some reactive dyes are respiratory sensitizers, which can cause occupational asthma by inhalation. Some of the dyestuffs can cause skin allergies and furthermore, a number of dyes, based on their chemical characteristics, are potentially carcinogenic. HSE also points out that health problems are most commonly caused by the use of textile chemicals which act as irritants; for example formaldehyde-based resins, ammonia, acetic acid and soda ash can cause skin irritation, stuffy noses, sneezing and sore eyes. 

The concentration of chemicals in clothing can be reduced by washing it; for example, levels of formaldehyde were shown to fall distinctively after one stage of washing at a low temperature. This indicates that the greatest exposure to this carcinogen is likely to be to industry employees including retail staff.39 In general, although levels of formaldehyde in textile processing facilities have been reduced significantly since the 1980s,40 high levels can still be found in some garments. Formaldehyde is still the most commonly found substance in laboratories among tested substances. 

Studies show ill health effects linked to textiles processing. A study by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found a link between length of exposure to formaldehyde and leukaemia deaths for textile workers.41 Women who work in textile factories and are exposed to synthetic fibres and petroleum products at work before their mid-30s, seem to be most at risk of developing breast cancer later in life. For example, women working with acrylic and nylon fibres have increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to the normal population.42 A study of textile workers in Shanghai found an elevated risk of a spontaneously aborted first pregnancy associated with exposure to synthetic fibres and mixed synthetic and natural fibres.43 

Women working in the plastics industry
In the plastics industry, women are highly exposed to a large variety of toxic chemicals, including styrene, crylonitrile, vinyl chloride, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), brominated flame retardants, heavy metals, a host of solvents, and complex chemical mixtures. 

These substances are used for the whole plastic production process and are linked to various diseases. Some of the substances are known to have a mutagenic effect and can lead to cancer. Some are suspected of being mutagenic. Others have endocrine disrupting effects that can promote cancer and other illnesses linked to the endocrine system like reproductive health impacts. A study shows that the exposure in the plastic industry poses women at disproportionate risk. It also shows the need for regulatory action.44 Women in the plastics industry have a significantly higher body burden than unexposed workers and the general population. A Canadian study shows that women working in automotive plastics and food canning industries have fivefold increase in pre-menopausal breast cancer.45 The study also claims that “Despite concern about the harmful effects of substances contained in various plastic consumer products, little attention has focused on the more heavily exposed women working in the plastics industry.“These substances are used for the whole plastic production process and are linked to various diseases. Some of the substances are known to have a mutagenic effect and can lead to cancer. Some are suspected of being mutagenic. Others have endocrine disrupting effects that can promote cancer and other illnesses linked to the endocrine system like reproductive health impacts. A study shows that the exposure in the plastic industry poses women at disproportionate risk. It also shows the need for regulatory action.44 Women in the plastics industry have a significantly higher body burden than unexposed workers and the general population. A Canadian study shows that women working in automotive plastics and food canning industries have fivefold increase in pre-menopausal breast cancer.45 The study also claims that “Despite concern about the harmful effects of substances contained in various plastic consumer products, little attention has focused on the more heavily exposed women working in the plastics industry.“46 

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Women in agriculture

Chemical pollution from agro-chemical residues expose agricultural workforce, neighbours and other people living close to water, soil and air polluted by pesticides as well as consumers eating this contaminated fruits, vegetables, and livestock. While this pollution may be seen as gender-neutral, the fact is that women are affected disproportionately. Women in agriculture have a higher level of informal and vulnerable employment24 and therefore less access to benefits and social protection, low representation and more occupational hazards. 

Women outnumber men in agricultural workplaces like intensive agricultural production, market gardening, floriculture and agro processing industries, where the use of toxic chemicals, and especially pesticides, is most common. The brochure “Breast cancer, pesticides and you” by Meriel Watts25 gives an overview of women’s exposure to pesticides: “In some countries women make up 85 per cent or more of the pesticide applicators on commercial farms and plantations, often working whilst pregnant or breastfeeding. 

There are an estimated 30,000 women pesticide sprayers in Malaysia alone that spray pesticides, and frequently highly toxic ones like paraquat, on an average of 262 days per year. Eighty per cent of the spraying is carried out with leaky hand-held equipment. An incentive of extra 50 cents per day is enough to encourage these impoverished women to spray. Even if they do not directly apply the pesticides, women work and raise their children in a toxic environment. They mix pesticides, weed while pesticides are being applied, wash out pesticide containers, or harvest pesticidedoused crops. They wash pesticide-soaked clothing and store pesticides in their homes.”

Female farmers and workers in agriculture very often do not know what kind of pesticides and chemicals they deal with and how dangerous they are for their own and their children’s health. Often they are less educated and less informed than men, so they have greater difficulties in understanding warning instructions and labels. Since many of the health problems occur later in life many women are unlikely to connect them to their chemical exposure. As a result, many diseases caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals stay undetected. Rural women’s access to information is very much needed, as well as stricter laws protecting rural workers from hazardous chemicals.

A survey of female rice farmers in Thailand found that women lack basic training in handling pesticides. Their husbands, who were skilled using pesticides had left the country in search for work, and their wives had to take over in the fields. Despite the negative consequences for their health, they were not willing to participate in training courses because of conflicting caring and housework commitments. A USAID training programme in Papua New Guinea failed for the same reasons. They did not consider women’s family responsibilities, because the programmes were arranged as three full-day trainings away from the villages. Women found it difficult to travel and find arrangements for child care. Surveys have shown that highly hazardous pesticides are in widespread use, in unsafe conditions exposing and poisoning the environment and the people. As stated in UNEP’s Global Chemicals Outlook, the estimated costs of poisonings from pesticides in sub-Saharan Africa now exceed the total annual overseas development aid given to the region for basic health services, excluding HIV/AIDS. 

Between 2005 and 2020, the accumulated cost of illness and injury linked to pesticides in small-scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa could reach USD $90 billion. The International Code on Pesticide Management states that “pesticides whose handling and application require the use of personal protective equipment that is uncomfortable, expensive or not readily available should be avoided, especially in the case of small-scale users and farm workers in hot climates.” In such countries, the responsible regulatory approach should be to prohibit the import and use of HHPs and to help farmers identify effective, less hazardous alternatives. 
However, countries are often unaware of safer alternatives. There is even a lack of initiative on which HHPs should be prioritized for prohibition and substitution. 

Acute exposure to pesticides can lead to death or serious illness.30 Long-term exposure to pesticides can increase the risk of developmental and reproductive disorders, immune system disruption, endocrine disruption, impaired nervous system function, and development of certain cancers. Women are more susceptible to pesticides than men. They absorb pesticides through their skin more easily than men. For example, dermal absorption of the organochlorine lindane is three times greater for women than for men. Pesticides also reside longer in female bodies than in males. Women are more vulnerable to endocrine disrupting active pesticides, especially in critical windows such as during pregnancy, lactation or puberty. Many pesticides are associated with breast cancer: hexachlorocyclohexane, endosulfan, chlorpyriphos, malathion, aldicarb, and more. Meriel Watts presents a comprehensive list of pesticides associated with breast cancer in her book “Pesticides & Breast Cancer: A Wake Up Call”.


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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Typical exposure source at home – cleaning detergents

Typical chemicals in detergents

All-purpose cleaners There is a wide range of all-purpose cleaners. They may contain strong irritants like ammonia, which can also cause kidney and liver damage; chlorine, also known as bleach, and carcinogens like formaldehyde. Very often they contain preservatives, perfumes and colourants including hormon disrupting chemicals and chemicals, which can provoke skin sensitization and respiratory distress.

They may contain bleaches, synthetic whiteners, and sensitizing fragrances and surfactants. Detergent residues on clothes and bed linens can be a source of skin irritation, and lingering scents from scented products can cause respiratory reactions.

A dishwasher usually gives better results with significantly lower water consumption and time. Machine dishwasher detergents often contain environmentally harmful phosphates and sensitizing substances. Detergents for doing the dishes by hand are in general less harmful for the skin.

Bath and toilet 
Many toilet bowl cleaners, toilet blocks and deodorants are often highly caustic and form toxic gases when mixed with water. They can contain 1,4-dichlorobenzene, a carcinogenic chemical which can cause liver and kidney damage, hydrochloric acid, whose vapors can cause coughing and breathing difficulties, and chemicals which are severe eye, skin and respiratory irritant, and can form carcinogenic chlorine gas.

Floor, carpet, furniture 
Floor, carpet and furniture cleaning agents may contain carcinogenic and neurotoxic solvents and preservatives and hormone disrupting phthalates as well as sensitizing fragrances.

Air Freshener 
A lavender potpourri in the bathroom, a scented candle in the living room, a “sea breeze“ spray or an odor remover for cigarette smoke and cooking smells: instead of a positive impact on our well-being, air fresheners may contain chemicals that are carcinogenic and cause allergies and respiratory reactions.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Where are women exposed to chemicals

Typical chemicals in cosmetics

Shampoos & bath additives

Daily showers or long foam baths can dry out and irritate sensitive skin. This effect is mostly caused by surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate. Also certain preserving agents and fragrances are potentially allergenic, hormonally active or carcinogenic.

Toothpaste & mouthwash

Toothpaste contains mechanical abrasives and surfactants, fragrances, flavors, sweeteners, and preserving agents, as well as fluoride which supposedly prevents cavities. Preservatives are used to prevent dental plaque. The potentially harmful substances are triclosan or chlorhexidine. Also mouthwash can contain preservatives and alcohol.


Sunscreen provides protection from UV radiation that can cause skin cancer. In sun lotions, chemical filters and mineral pigments are responsible for that protection. Some chemical filters like benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone) disrupt the endocrine system and accumulate in the body. Mineral UV protection can contain nano titanium dioxide or nano zinc oxide.

Lotions, creams & oils

Skincare products often contain synthetic mineral oils that can accumulate in the body and be damaging to one’s health. Allergenic fragrances are problematic as well. Preservatives like parabens can disrupt the hormone system. Many vanishing creams are supposed to protect the skin from UV damage. Some of those UV filters can accumulate in the body and also disrupt the hormone system.

Deodorants & perfumes

Deodorants act against the bacteria responsible for odour development using preservatives like formaldehyde or formaldehyde releasers and alcohol. Alcohol can irritate and dry out sensitive skin and some odour covering fragrances are allergenic. Musk compounds are persistent, so they can accumulate in the environment and in the body. Deodorants and perfumes can contain endocrine disrupting phthalates which are used as denaturants.

Skin lightening creams

Mercury is still found in a number of consumer products, including bleaching skin creams. In India, 61 per cent of the dermatological market consists of skin lightening products. The main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage. Mercury in skin lightening products may also cause rash, discolouration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infection.


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Saturday, December 16, 2017


A Tribute to brave activist we have lost

 A Tribute  to Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs)  no longer with us

We bring into our collective memory and carry their legacy of struggle as our torch in feminist and women’s rights movements.
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Friday, December 15, 2017


Impaired fertility or infertility includes the difficulty or inability to get pregnant and/or carry a pregnancy to full term. It is difficult to determine exactly how many people experience impaired fertility. Overall there are more studies about male than female infertility due to the difficulty in finding the right endpoints and measurement techniques. The percentage of women in the US who have difficulty in achieving and maintaining pregnancy has increased between 1982 to 2002. 
The main increase over the last two decades is among women under the age of . There are various causes of impaired fertility. “A woman´s fertility depends on several body parts working together to produce and transport a healthy egg and nurture the developing foetus. Conception and foetal health also depend on the quality of the father´s sperm.” Disorders, which can impair fertility, include abnormal numbers of chromosomes in the eggs, menstrual irregularities, polycystic ovarian failure, and disorders associated with pregnancy, of which the three most common are miscarriage, preeclampsia, and intrauterine growth restriction. Studies have linked fertility problems to exposure to chemicals like DDT, DES, BPA, cigarette smoke and PCBs, and chlorinated hydrocarbons (includes PCBs, some pesticides, dioxins and furans), disinfection by-products, ethylene oxide, glycol ethers, heavy metals, pesticides, phthalates, solvents, PFOS and PFOA, octylphenol and nonylphenol. These chemicals are linked to infertility directly or to various diseases which can lead to infertility among women. One example is endometriosis, a chronic disease where tissue, which lines the uterus, grows abnormally in other locations. This can cause infertility, inflammation and pain. Estimates for the incidence of endometriosis vary. Most of them find that between 10 and 15 per cent of reproductive-age women have endometriosis. Animal studies show a clear link between endometriosis and exposure to organochlorine compounds. A few studies link endometriosis in humans with dioxin, phthalates and PCBs.

 Male infertility is also influenced by chemical exposure. More information can be found in the WHO and UNEP “State of the Science Report on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals”, and in the ChemTrust report “Male reproductive health disorders and the potential role of exposure to environmental chemicals”.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lala Rukh artist, minimalist, activist and feminist

This is Lahore, 1982, and a group of fifteen jovial women pose for the camera – 1982: General Zia ul-Haq’s regime, i.e., the time when the anti-women laws were established. There’s laughter, there are smiles, there’s liberation; of like-mindedness but the salient feature of this photograph as I read is undying, maddening – power. The photograph was taken at the Women’s Action Forum, WAF’s national convention. The WAF which was in direct response to the inequity of the prevalent system went on relentlessly for its cause of justice for all the years to come – it nurtured women of substance from entrepreneurs and educationists to more…
Lala Rukh (center space/on the ground) with the short haircut that she has maintained till now and her pair of glasses, seems like the fulcrum of this group of confident ladies. She covers (almost) the entire foreground of the photograph, she chooses to be at the forefront. ..
The scope is endless and although the sense of horizon prevails because of the larger foreground I cannot differentiate between the sky and the sea, the clouds or the waves. They stand together and alone. Artist, minimalist, activist and feminist, Rukh has been infinitely true to her ideology. Her drawings and photographic works are simplistic in form yet the magnanimity is such that rivers within oceans stream on paper… “Rukh is the pioneer of photographic, minimalist tradition” Blackness is the environment of the work but lightness steps forward. Earlier director and founder of the National College of Arts MA Visual Arts department, cofounder All Pakistan Music Conference (1960), Women’s action forum 1981 and Vasl artists trust (2000), Rukh has been looking at horizons and impossibilities throughout her practice. She has done it with poise, like the ocean – there was noise only where it mattered. The visuals stretch beyond (I may say) even the mind’s eye. It’s a travelogue of ‘nothingness’, fulfilment and resurrection… Rukh’s surface is her medium, from acrylic and carbon paper, to photographic paper and serigraph print – there is no separation of form and content, structure and substance.
The artist’s observations as true to her imagery don’t hold tangible parameters. Her serigraph prints depict the ancient city’s water gardens at different times of the day. It is environment in its wholeness, through the gradient/shift of time. What is borrowed and what is left behind and how invisibility and visibility play games with each other – all is seen in the dawn and dusk Sigiria 11 prints where the ancient city’s water gardens are a constant through a day’s images.
Defying inequality has been her purpose – and so drawing a balance comes in. The visual titled mirror image is a 1997 work where two newsprints, equal images are pasted on graph paper. There’s parallel confrontation. Babri Mosque (destroyed in 1992 by Indian fundamentalists) and a Hindu temple (violently demolished in Pakistan as a response) are somewhere camouflaged in a permanent blackness. This is activism on paper.
The artist is a devotee of nature and has found meaning in particles, points and shapes….to oblivion and transcendence. Through her life, ‘less’ has been the supreme answer to more. Water knows which lines can take it to the sky…
Sound is the sublime of free space. From our ECG’s; the systematic ‘rhythm of the heart’ to waves of waves, from overlapping of shrieks to echoes in distance – Rukh has touched all in her visuals. Hieroglyphics IV and V take the square angled qat (one unit of measure) that is the beginning and cord of calligraphic writing, its form and size and compose it with the fixed rhythmic patterns of south Asian Raga on carbon paper. So in retrospect Lala Rukh’s deep-rooted affiliation with calligraphy and music is unified and hence taken to the point – where a visual begins to play its own music.

I was at this aftaar-meeting (in a local restaurant) yesterday with a group of artists/activists from a collective I’m a part of. I opened the menu and we laughed a bit at this section of drinks(normal juices) titled ‘Detox drinks’ and the tagline with it that promised a cleansed/detoxified body. ‘Detoxification’ is the latest and ‘in’ thing nowadays and strangely while sitting there I thought about this person/artist and the piece I was writing on her… I smirked in my mind. If we have to search for the antithesis of excess baggage and actual detoxification of character, Lala Rukh maybe the definition. A life that stands for what it stands – does what it does and carves, paints, draws the lines that make the real mark; where light becomes visible in-between all that is around it.
by Sehr Jalil Raja
All work images courtesy of Grey Noise Gallery.

Sehr Jalil Raja is a visual artist and writer based in Lahore (BFA, NCA 2006) and (MA HonsVisual Arts, NCA 2015), She is currently teaching at NCA and The City School.
“New Art from Pakistan Press « Thomas Erben Gallery – New York, NY.” Thomas Erben Gallery New York NY. 2010. Accessed June 20, 2015.
“Women’s Action Forum National Convention, Lahore 1982.” Connecting the Dots. November 17, 2006. Accessed June 20, 2015.
“The Painter and the Sea.” The Painter and the Sea. Accessed June 20, 2015.
“Pakistan.” The Stunning World of ‘s Minimalist Art. Accessed June 15, 2015.
“Nazreen Sansoni.” Nazreen Sansoni. Accessed June 27, 2015.
“Artist Gallery | GreyNoise.” Artist Gallery | GreyNoise. Accessed June 16, 2015.
“Lala Rukh, Sharjah Art Museum. Sharjah Biennial 12.” Lala Rukh, Sharjah Art Museum. Sharjah Biennial 12. Accessed June 27, 2015.
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Monday, December 11, 2017

Demands for achieving rural women’s RTFN.

1. Guarantee rural women producers’ access, control, management and ownership of all natural and productive resources on which they depend. 
2. Recognize and support rural women’s knowledge, culture, traditions and practices (in relation to agriculture, fisheries, forestry, livestock rearing and other food producing sectors) and their ecological understanding and sustainable practices should inform the management and conservation of resources. 
3. Guarantee and implement decent work for rural women workers based on existing international instruments in a non-discriminatory manner. 
4. Guarantee that systems are put in place to ensure that rural women who engage in domestic work are seen as significantly contributing to the economy and receive social security benefits. 
5. Recognize the “intertwined subjectivities” of woman and child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding framed through the lens of women’s rights throughout their lifespan – especially women’s and girls’ rights to SRHR. 
6. Introduce policies and laws that enable States to regulate and avoid any undue interference of for-profit or commercially-motivated non-state actors in rural women’s RTFN. 
7. Guarantee the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 
8. Guarantee an adequate legal framework for the realization of rural women’s fundamental rights and freedoms based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination.
 9. Ensure the independence and transparency of monitoring mechanisms in the context of the 2030 Agenda: these must be based on human rights, be free of any commercial or corporate undue influence and conflicts of interest, and ensure the full participation of the most affected by hunger and malnutrition, especially rural women. 
10. Ensure the full realization of the RTFN of rural women within the framework of food sovereignty.

The present document is based, inter alia, on the joint FIAN International submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for its General Discussion on Rural Women during its 56th Session in October 2013 and highlights the structural causes for violations of rural women’s right to food and nutrition and related human rights.
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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Women’s rights have been historically isolated from the human RTFN within legally-binding language of key international human rights treaties

This structural isolation within human rights treaties has further aggravated the realities of rural women. Women are invisible in the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the women’s RTFN – beyond its limited link to the right to health – was omitted in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and both CEDAW and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) only gave mention to pregnant and lactating women’s nutritional status. This poor reflection of women’s RTFN in international treaties has contributed to the marginalization and exclusion of women from decision-making processes that affect their local food systems, with a particular impact on the social groups most affected by hunger and malnutrition, especially rural women and girls. This neglect and exclusion combined with a wide-spread lack of knowledge of international human rights frameworks that could support rural women’s claims result in women and girls being unaware of and unable to access the powerful tool that is human rights to hold those in power to account. As a result, governments fail to implement effective measures to protect and advance the RTFN of rural women and instead implement country-level economic and development plans that directly respond to the demands and orientation of the neoliberal global economy and governments and that violate the RTFN by enabling the grabbing of affected groups’ natural resources, discriminating against women small-scale food producers and their food systems.

The present document is based, inter alia, on the joint FIAN International submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for its General Discussion on Rural Women during its 56th Session in October 2013 and highlights the structural causes for violations of rural women’s right to food and nutrition and related human rights.
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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Indigenous women and girls are most vulnerable and marginalized in many countries of the world, where they make up an important part of the rural population.

Progress on the rights of indigenous women and girls is central to the reduction of poverty, food security and nutrition, access to land and natural resources, and the protection of traditional knowledge, among others. While the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2017, its implementation is lagging behind and today, indigenous communities continue to suffer higher rates of poverty, discriminatory support policies and health services. For example, breastfeeding rates are the lowest in First Nations communities in Canada, in aborigines’ communities in Australia or Maori communities in New Zealand. In isolated communities and on reserves, reproductive health services, prenatal, birthing, post-natal and breastfeeding supports are often not available, or not culturally adapted, let alone in local languages, requiring women to travel to urban centers, isolating pregnant women and new mothers from their families and communities at very vulnerable times in their lives.

 The present document is based, inter alia, on the joint FIAN International submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for its General Discussion on Rural Women during its 56th Session in October 2013 and highlights the structural causes for violations of rural women’s right to food and nutrition and related human rights.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are central in women’s RTFN.

Rural women’s right to food and nutrition (RTFN)

 The gender dimension of poverty – 60% of chronically hungry people are women and girls13 – and its interlinkages with food and nutrition security and SRHR cannot be dismissed.14 Discrimination against women results in all rural women facing difficulties in their ability to make informed decisions related to their SRHR and in their own nutrition and that of their children and families, with intergenerational and community-wide repercussions for the RTFN. These difficulties are particularly serious among rural girls and are exacerbated by interference from commercially-motivated non-state actors who introduce industrial/corporate diets that lead to non-communicable diseases, and push the corporate-driven narrative that emphasizes medicalized technical solutions to structural problems of a political, economic, and social nature.

 The present document is based, inter alia, on the joint FIAN International submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for its General Discussion on Rural Women during its 56th Session in October 2013 and highlights the structural causes for violations of rural women’s right to food and nutrition and related human rights.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

The livelihoods of rural women producers are particularly under threat

Access to resources by rural women producers who depend on farming, fisheries, livestock rearing, gardening and the gathering of forest food often lack recognition and support by the State,7 the natural resources8 on which they depend are threatened by climate change, and land grabbing9 and other forms of natural resource grabbing severely undermine rural women’s food and nutrition security and food sovereignty. To make things worse, efforts that aim to respond to the degradation and over-exploitation of natural resources often ignore rural women’s roles and dependence on these resources for their livelihood.

 The present document is based, inter alia, on the joint FIAN International submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for its General Discussion on Rural Women during its 56th Session in October 2013 and highlights the structural causes for violations of rural women’s right to food and nutrition and related human rights.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Rural women workers are employed in all sector of the rural economy, yet lack access to decent work

While rural workers are often denied access to even the most basic of rights covered in the ILO’s core conventions10, in particular to freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, the situation of rural women workers  is even more detrimental as rural women’s jobs are usually seasonal, part-time and low-wage.11 While the unequal division of care work12 is a result of the patriarchal norms and practices that discriminate against women, it continues to serve as the backbone of the formal economy without any of the needed social and legal protection systems in place that would enable rural women to adequately care and provide for their children, families and communities.
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