35 Years of Women and Environments International

Article excerpt

Since 2007, the year that WEI returned to the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University (FES), we have had the opportunity to receive the assistance of a graduate student. Graduate students at FES join a vibrant intellectual community and each student's participation with WEI allows us to engage in the many conversations that define WEI's work as collaborative.

For the 2011-2012 year, WEI is happy to have the assistance of Anne Wordsworth. Anne is a researcher and writer specializing in environmental health issues. She has worked as a television producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as a political advisor to former Ontario Ministers of the Environment, and as an environmental advocate. She is currently working on her Masters in Environmental Studies at York University.

During 2011, WEI has been celebrating its 35 year anniversary and since WEI's roots are based at FES, Anne explored the birth of WEI and its connection to FES in the following piece. Enjoy.

It was 35 years ago, and history was being made. In 1976, Piene Trudeau was our dashingly intellectual Prime Minister. The world's tallest freestanding structure in the world - the CN Tower - was just finished in Toronto. Montreal played host to a brilliant Summer Olympics. And in Vancouver, the UN was having their groundbreaking conference on Human Settlements - Habitat.

Against this exciting backdrop, three professors from the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University travelled across the country to Vancouver to be part of this wave. At the UN Habitat Conference, Gerda Wekerle, Rebecca Peterson and David Morley organized a workshop on a new topic of special concern to them - 'women and environments'. The three of them had already been teaching a course in this area prior to the conference, and looked forward to sharing their ideas.

To their delight, almost 100 enthusiastic people from around the world came to talk about it and exchange ideas. This workshop inspired a lively discussion from an authence of dedicated researchers studying the relationship between women and their environments and community activists trying to match the environment to women's needs. The participants talked about the segregation of environments by sex, the extent to which women were involved in the conscious design and modification of environments, and the priorities for women in human settlements in terms of environmental needs. To keep the discussion going beyond the initial workshop and to link the people who were pioneering this new field, Wekerle, Peterson and Morley decided that a newsletter was needed to keep the conversation going.

This small informal newsletter became the first issue of Women and Environments. Their original objectives were: to increase the level of awareness that women are a separate group of users of any given environment with specific needs; to demonstrate the inequality and inefficiency associated with many human environments in relation to the needs of women; to increase the extent to which women intervene directly in the planning, design and management of environments of particular concern to them; and, to increase women's access to those environments in which they are commonly discouraged or excluded - all of which are still relevant today.

As Gerda Wekerle has pointed out, Women and Environments was unusual "in that it anticipated and indeed helped create the development of a new field of study" (WEI, Fall 1986). It bridged two disciplines - the study of women and the study of urban planning and the environment, which up until that time had been regarded as separate disciplines and studied in isolation from one another. Following on the birth of Women and Environments in 1976, conference sessions began to feature discussions that linked women and environments, new courses were created in university curricula and new spaces opened up dedicated to allowing women to control their own environments. …