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A Day That Stands Out

A Day That Stands OutFaculty from across disciplines come together to celebrate International Women's Day with a symposium on women's issues as they relate to climate change and health.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.09.09] Most U.S. calendars don't mark the date of Mar. 8, and many Americans don't know the significance of the day. According to Modhumita Roy, a native of India and current director of the women's studies program at Tufts, that is not the case in most other countries.

"Around the world, it is a very important day," Roy said. "In almost every country that I know anything about, anyone will tell you, 'Yes, the 8th of March, that's International Women's Day."

While the day that celebrates triumphs in women's rights-including many notable Boston area events, such as the Great Lawrence Strike of 1812-goes unmarked by most in America, Roy has made it her goal to make sure it maintains its status on the Tufts calendar.

Now in its fifth year of recognition at Tufts, this year's International Women's Day brought together faculty from across the university to discuss the impact of climate change on women as it relates to government policy, health care and human nature. The symposium, held Mar. 3, was held in partnership with Climate Change, Climate Justice Initiative and the Maurice S. Segal Lecture Series, which addresses topics at the intersection of medicine, environmental concerns and related public policy.



Panelists included Astier Almedom, professor of the practice in humanitarian policy and global public health at The Fletcher School; Elizabeth Ammons, Harriet H. Fay professor of literature; Christina Economos, assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy; and Honorine Ward, research associate professor at the School of Medicine. The discussion was moderated by Elena Naumova, professor of public health and family medicine at the School of Medicine.

Almedom opened the panel by discussing the impact of census bureau data in the developing world, which she says is often skewed and under-represents the numbers of females.

"Lousy data makes for lousy legislation," Almedom said. "A lot of these countries don't show a true view of how few men there are, which in turn poorly represents the amount of burden placed on these women."

Economos turned to the subject of health care, noting the detrimental effects of climate change on health and disease transmission. She cited the formation of "heat islands" caused by massive urbanization and global warming, and said that obesity and malnutrition numbers have skyrocketed as a result of rising temperatures that make exercise and field work impossible.

"People in my field of obesity prevention, physical activity and nutrition are now at the table with urban architects and engineers, thinking about building cooling cities where we have opportunities to boost greeneries and cooling functions," Economos said. "This will eventually create behavioral spillover, which will help people to be more physically active."

Ward said the effect of climate change on the transmission of waterborne diseases is borne out in her research.

"Any climate change that can affect water can affect waterborne diseases, for example floods or droughts, which alter the conditions of the water," according to Ward.

Though this effect is not part of her current research, Ward discussed it in relation to Hepatitis E, which was found in the Kashmir region of India in the late 1970s and affected mainly women.




Providing a balance to the scientific perspective, Ammons tried to tie the threads of discussion together with a humanist approach. She asked the audience to look at the topic of climate change, women and health in the context of environmental justice, which is "committed to providing equal environmental safety protection and access for all."

"Environmental justice is dedicated to fighting the targeting of poor people and people of color-the overwhelming majority of whom are women around the globe and their children-for disproportionate environmental impacts," Ammons said. "The question I want to pose is how we get privileged people, like most of us, to embrace the global struggle for environmental justice. How do we get us to change?

"The choice we make," she said, quoting world-renowned environmental leader Vandana Shiva, "will decide whether or not we survive as a species."

Story by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.
Photos by Nora Chovanec. Chovanec is a senior majoring in women's studies

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