The Women's Tent. (Women's Health)

Article excerpt

All people suffer from exposure to unsafe levels of pollution, but men and women may experience substantially different effects. Female sensitivity to pollutants can be heightened by both physiological and socioeconomic factors. For example, hormonal changes in puberty and menopause increase women's risk of autoimmune diseases linked to pollution. And more than 70% of the world's poorest 1.3 billion people are women, according to the World Health Organization. Experts acknowledge that poverty and environmental health problems are closely related.

Women from around the world gathered recently in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held 26 August-4 September 2002. This conference was attended by 22,000 people concerned with issues related to the environment, poverty, and health. Much of the gender-specific dialogue occurred at the "Women's Tent," a week-long series of meetings that took place outside the official United Nations-sponsored delegations. Organized by the Women's Environment and Development Organization, an advocacy group based in New York City, and Ilitha Labantu, a South African women's advocacy group based in Cape Town, the Women's Tent featured day-long sessions based on five themes: peace and human rights, globalization, environmental security and health, access to and control of resources, and governance.

The environmental security and health session was organized by Sascha Gabizon, international director of Women in Europe for a Common Future, an advocacy group based in Munich, Germany. Following a morning agenda dominated by the problems of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa, speakers addressed several key pollution-related health problems that affect women, including breast cancer (potentially linked to a number of environmental compounds, including DDT) and endometriosis (from dioxin exposure), among others.

According to Gabizon, environmental health discussions at the Women's Tent had little bearing on official negotiations in Johannesburg. This is because the WSSD's environmental health provisions had already been drafted during preconference preparatory meetings convened in Bali, Indonesia, earlier in the year. …