The Stateswoman Archive

Women and the Environment

by Lisa Rainwater van Suntum

In response to Earth Day (April 22, 2002), Madison NOW members drafted a petition calling for an equal distribution and sale of chlorine-free feminine hygiene products in all areas of Madison as well as an environmental proposal, P.O.W.E.R (Preservation of Wisconsin’s Environmental Resources), for the UW-Madison campus. To sign and circulate the petitions, go to

Why should women be concerned with environmental issues? In an attempt to negate male-constructed and contradictory earth-related stereotypes of women as gentle, passive, and destructive, feminists are reestablishing their relationship to the environment: we are recognizing the correlation between environmental hazards/toxins and women’s health. Statistics suggest that women have a buying power of 90% in the U.S.A.; if we refuse to purchase and use products that are dangerous to the environment, and ourselves, male-centered corporate America will have to change its policies.

Take, for example, toxins created and released into the environment by industries: organochlorines (bleach), PCB’s, dioxins, and CFC’s infect water, soil, and the ozone, often contaminating our drinking water and food (vegetables, fruits, legumes, meat, etc). Health problems associated with exposure to these toxins include, but are not limited to, breast/uterine/skin cancer, endometriosis, fertility problems (in women and men), PID, and developmental problems in fetuses and children. Perhaps the greatest problem is that organochlorines are nearly indestructible: in most cases, hundreds of years after initial contamination the toxins will be at the same level of toxicity.

We should be concerned, for high levels of dioxins have been found in the Great Lakes. Recent studies have shown that babies born to mothers who eat two meals comprised of Great Lakes fish per month were born sooner, weighed less and had smaller heads than infants whose mothers did not eat the fish.

Not only should women be aware of dioxins in water and soil but also in products placed inside their bodies. A report published by the FDA in July 1999 stated, “some tampons do contain trace amounts of dioxin.” Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) sponsored Bill HR 2900, The Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1997, which would have provided for research into the effects of dioxins and synthetic fibers used in the manufacturing of chlorine-bleached tampons. But the bill received little attention in Congress.

What can you do to make a difference? Small, simple, steps can be made daily to take the country down the right environmentally-sound path:

  • buy earth-friendly (i.e., natural) cleaning products;
  • keep the crabgrass - refuse to put pesticides on your lawns;
  • refuse to use chlorine-bleached products when possible (office supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, tampons, etc);
  • carry a travel mug with you, if you tend to purchase to-go drinks;
  • don’t purchase disposable plastic soda and water bottles, as the recycling of these plastics is done in underdeveloped nations, bringing toxins to the people who are already suffering from poverty, homelessness, and food shortages;
  • and finally, inform others!

In the past, women have bonded together and demanded changes in the way our country is run, and have succeeded! Now is the time for us to come together once again - to demand that our nation’s soils, streams, rivers, lakes, and air remain clean and non-toxic. For further reading on this topic, check out Winona LaDuke’s enlightening book, The Winona LaDuke Reader: A Collection of Essential Writings (2002); LaDuke is a Native American and environmental activist and co-chair of the Indigenous Women’s Network.

Our Future, Our Responsibility, the statement of Winona LaDuke at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Bejing, China in August, 1995, can be found at

Lisa Rainwater van Suntum is a past coordinator of Madison NOW. Madison NOW can be reached at 608-255-3911.

This article first appeared in the September 2002 issue of the Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newsletter, The Stateswoman.