Clean Water Access and Reproductive Health: The Importance of Intersectionality

Before starting this blogging project, I did not realize how intersectional the Reproductive Justice movement truly must be in order to encapsulate all experiences. Even though I choose this Reproductive Justice because of its intersectionality, there is so much below the surface that connects when a women is confronted with the realities of sexuality, sexual abuse, birth control, pregnancy, abortion, and the idea of raising children.

That is, reproductive health is something that affects us all. The conditions in which you were born, how you were nurtured, and how you were treated by society all comes back to the local and national climate around reproductive health. For my final blog, I want to deviate from the “normal” discussions of indicators of reproductive health (and lack of health), and connect the movement back to another prominent discussion: water.

Water surface

Given the events in Flint, Michigan, as well as around the world, this is an extremely timely discussion. Additionally, water has come to my attention.

This past weekend, I had the honor of attending the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference at Hampshire College, a weekend-long conference on the topic of reproductive justice. One of the sessions I attended addressed water shortages experienced by indigenous women in California, and their negative effects on pregnant and parenting women. After that experience, viewing the film Good Fortune in class made me realize the disastrous effects that water control have on people, both nationally and internationally.

In Good Fortune, we all learned about how the company Dominion built a dam in Western Kenya that flooded nearby villages and homes (Good Fortune). Despite the fact that the dam was supposed to allieviate poverty in the area, versus applying a “band-aid” (Good Fortune), one woman in the film discussed her miscarriage at 7 months as being a side effect of pesticides applied to the crops, which then got “into the floodwater” (Good Fortune). According to ONE, it seems that little has changed. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 68% of individuals have “access to an improved water source” (ONE). In 2012, three years after the airdate of Good Fortune, The Guardian came out with an article which documented slums near Nairobi, and populations of people that would make their livelihood off of waste located in a nearby “rubbish dump” (Chonghaile). This Western article reminded me of how developers approached Kibera in Good Fortune: as a health hazard, that must be destroyed. While the article sights “miscarriages” as one of the effects of spending days looting through the dump, the article fails to mention how displacement may not better these realities.

Examples of this can be found among indigenous women in the United States. In this concluding blog, I want to make sure that the United States is mentioned as not just the “cause” but as  the “effect” as well, as there are populations that are marginalized in this country, as well as outside of it. At the CLPP conference, speaker Beata Tsosie Peña discussed how water serves a spiritual purpose, as well as a purpose for survival. Enduring decades of marginalization and displacement, forced access to unclean water (and other basic needs) greatly impact reproductive health. Activists Kristen Zimmerman and Vera Miao speak further on some of the environmental implications that affect reproductive health of the Tewa people of the Southwest:

Founded secretly during World War II, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), is the well-known site of the development of the atomic bomb. Less well-known are the adverse impacts of the laboratory’s activities on the Native people living in the surrounding Pueblos. For more than 64 years, LANL has been dumping toxic and radioactive waste onto Tewa sacred and ancestral lands, including explosives, volatile organic compounds and PCBs. In 2008, the New Mexico Environment Department estimated that approximately 2,093 such dumpsites have been created since the laboratory began operating. LANL itself states that the PCB concentrations in a nearby watershed were 70 times higher than the New Mexico human health standard, and recent research found these toxins within the homes of Pueblo residents. The operation of the laboratory has led to the joint contamination and endangerment of human health and the local ecosystem. (Zimmerman)

In conclusion, reproductive health does not only apply to how a woman experiences sexuality and pregnancy. It applies to the type of life and livelihood that the child will experience. As seen throughout these blogs, actors of development consistently ignore and devalue the importance of reproductive health. That being said, alternatives to development must keep coming into play. As unhealthy as it is for people to be living on or near dumps, or areas with little or unclean water, the issue must be addressed in way that delivers surfaces to marginalized people, particularly women.

With that, here is a mission statement from Tewa Women United, a group dedicated to fighting for reproductive justice with intersectionality:

TWU’s holistic approach combines advocacy, litigation, research, and action with cultural revival. TWU’s Indigenous Women’s Health and Reproductive Justice (IWH) Program encourages Pueblo members and youth to become active participants in their healthcare through all stages of life and aims to revitalize traditional indigenous knowledge and practice in women’s health. This recuperation and sharing of cultural knowledge, values, and practice led by women, is also part of a practice of individual and collective healing from the loss, occupation, and colonization of Pueblo land and culture. … Through this intersectional approach, these leaders are finding innovative ways to connect, frame, communicate, and organize around the issues that matter most to their communities – the health of their children, families, communities, culture, and land. (Zimmerman)

How else do you think intersectionality applies to development?

Works Cited

Chonghaile, Clar Ni. “Kenyan Rubbish Dump Offers Little Money for Much Misery”. The Guardian. The Guardian, 18 Sep. 2012.Web. 16 Apr. 2016.

Good Fortune. Dir. Landon Van Soest. PBS, 2009. Film.

Tsosie Peña, Beata. “Don’t Drink the Water: Water Access is a Human Right and Reproductive Justice Issue”. Hampshire College. Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference, Amherst, MA. 10 Apr. 2016.

“Water and Sanitation”. ONE. ONE, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

Zimmerman, Kristen and Miao, Vera. Fertile Ground: Women Organizing at the Intersection of Environmental Justice and Reproductive Justice. Movement Strategy Center, 2009. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

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