Nonprofit produces Women and the Environment symposium
A local nonprofit is hosting a one-day symposium downtown on Wednesday that’s focused on women and the environment.
The Women and the Environment Symposium by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, or WMEAC, will explore the intersection between women and gender issues and environmental concerns.
Jacqueline Patterson, NAACP’s environmental and climate justice director, will give the keynote address.
There will also be two panels during the symposium: Diverse and Inclusive Leadership in the Environmental Movement and Climate Leadership in Communities of Faith.
Tickets for the event are $40 for WMEAC members, $45 for non-members and $25 for students.
The symposium will occur from 2-8 p.m. at the Grand Valley State University downtown campus in the Loosemore Auditorium, at 401 Fulton St. W.
“I will be talking about the intersection of environmental and climate issues and civil rights, human rights and social justice issues broadly, but then with a cross-cutting theme of gender justice in particular,” Patterson said.
Patterson will specifically speak about the impact of the Flint water crisis on the Flint community and how infrastructure issues plague communities across the country.
“In talking about the cross-cutting theme of gender, how in that situation, as well as all the others, women are differentially and disproportionately impacted,” she said. “For example, with the exposure of lead, it can cause pre-term birth and low birth weight and other challenges in pregnancy.”
She added, “Flint was a situation where there was one vulnerability on top of another that compounded to make it even worse than it could have been.”
“One of the mitigating factors of absorption of lead into the body is good nutrition — fresh fruits and vegetables — and Flint has been a food dessert for some time,” she said. “We really have to have integrated planning, so we do have truly resilient communities. That way if one thing happens, it’s not exacerbated by these other vulnerabilities.”
Patterson will also talk about global impacts of climate change, specifically in the global south.
“Women are often the folks delivering the bread basket for the family, and when they aren’t able to bring that home for the family, it triggers a number of impacts, whether it’s that women decide they are going to migrate to anther area — in their country or another country — to raise the livelihood for their family, the insecurity that happens with that and again the increase in violence against women that happens in those kinds of situations,” she explained. “Also, the violence against women that happens within households. When women aren’t able to bring home the food, you see a spike in violence across the world as it relates to not being able to carry out one of the duties of the household.”
Patterson said by building sustainable societies, through local food movements, generating clean energy or reducing energy use in general, all people could thrive.
“There are all these different ways we can continue to have what we want and need in terms of basic needs and even luxury, but we can do it in a way that is sustainable for the planet and ourselves,” she said.
Patterson first got involved in the issue of environmental justice through her work in the area of public health and HIV/AIDS.
“I was working on HIV and AIDS, and it became apparent quickly it was disproportionately affecting women in the United States and around the world,” she said. “It was doing that gender justice work that other intersections started to come into play, whether it was economic that led to higher rates of HIV or social issues and also the intersections with violence against women and HIV.
“(Through) doing that deeper work on violence against women and HIV in a gender justice context that work on environment and climate change started, because I was working on this internationally, and climate change really is having a significant impact on both of these issues in direct and indirect ways.”