Going Green with a Feminist Edge

For the first time in approximately three years, the Women’s Studies program will host their 29th annual one-day conference on Saturday, April 30, titled “Green Feminisms: Women, Sustainability and Environmental Justice” in the Lecture Center and Humanities Building.

“[This event] will explain how the degradation of the environment affects women,” said Amy Kesselman, the organizer of this conference. “It’ll also examine women in leadership of the environmental movement that challenges environmental degradation.”

This conference will serve as a forum for students and faculty to discuss the particular dangers that environmental degradation had or will have on women,  while also celebrating the women who are struggling against it.

Suzanne Kelly, a Women’s Studies professor, said that their use of the word “green,” in the conference’s title is to evoke nature and to recognize the importance of the environment.

The Women’s Studies program decided to use this theme for the conference because it may appeal to students who are  engaged or interested in the environmental movement, said Kesselman.

Environmental activists, theorists, farmers, researchers, educators and artists will be brought together to discuss the issue of environmental destruction through a feminist lens.

Environmental degradation tends to affect women more than men because women do a large part of the agricultural work, especially in countries in Africa and Asia, said Kelly.

According to Latosha Brown, the director of the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health and one of the speakers at the conference, environmental degradation has a disproportional affect on women of color.

“[This is because] the majority of [women of color] are the burden of their households that have limited income,” said Brown. “There [are also] egregious environmental issues in poor communities.”

Women who live in poor communities  see high rates of asthma, other respiratory issues and have access to fewer less resources. They also have different social dynamics than men; they are paid less, exploited and a large number of them have children to take care of.

Brown said it is important to make an issue about the economic and social status of women because their economic status impacts their exposure to environmental issues.

The conference will explore the intersections between sexism, classism, racism and environmental degradation, Kelly said

“Environmental Degradation is social and political,” said Kelly. “These [social categories are not affected] independently of each other when we look at the impact of environmental degradation.”

Kelly also mentioned that, since women have a much lower social status around the world, environmental destruction tends to have a greater impact on women.

Also, the children and the elderly are the vulnerable populations that are impacted by the environmental issues and this put more of a burden on the women who cares for them, said Brown.

Students will get a better understanding of the power dynamics surrounding the destruction of nature’s resources. They will be able to analyze the strong correlation between power relations and environmental degradation.

“[This will] reveal that people in power have been despoiling the environment,” said Kesselman.

Joni Seager, the chair of Global Studies at Bentley College and one of the keynote speakers at the conference, will be speaking about climate change and its effect on the environments of under-developed nations.

Seager, a scholar and activist in global environmental policy, will make it clear that while developed nations have been saying that global warming will not have a huge effect on the environment, there have always been negative effects on underdeveloped nations, said Kesselman.

Another environmental issue that will be discussed at the conference is hydraulic fracturing, which is a process where water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas.

“It’s [a part of the] over extraction and use of energy and fossil fuel by chemical industries,” said Brown. “[They’re trying to] convert energy for the purpose of profit.

Sabrina Artel, one of the presenters at the conference, will be talking about hydraulic fracturing in an on-going workshop titled “Trailer Talk.” Artel will be interviewing the conference participants about this issue.

According to Kesselman, one of the reasons they are holding this conference is to examine the women who are leaders of the environmental movement and challenging environmental degradation. Women like Waangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Maathai was recognized for introducing the idea of community-based tree-planting and developing this idea into a “grassroots organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation.” She has helped plant over 40 million trees on community lands.

Environmental destruction is political, “Women do a large part of the agricultural work,” said Kesselman. “And they are challenging [destructive corporate and governmental policies].”

Brown wants students to self-examine themselves and see how they are a part of a consumer driven nation that impact the environment and become more involved in preserving it.

The conference is free for SUNY New Paltz students. For $10, high school, college and graduate students from other schools are also invited to the conference.

At the lobby of the lecture center, students will be presenting their posters about the research they have done on the environment.

For more information about the “Green Feminisms: Women, Sustainability And Environmental Justice” conference visit, www.newpaltz.edu/wmnstudies