Greenpeace, the Netherlands-based environmental group, has surveyed 50 years of scientific studies indicating that tens of thousands of poorly-regulated chemicals used in household products may contribute to reproductive disorders in Europe, the Associated Press reported May 3. Timing its report to the European Union’s debate over a new law that will regulate the chemical industry, Greenpeace warned that the European Parliament had watered down the proposed law in discussions. A decision on the law will be made by the end of 2007.

“Right now the burden is on the governments to do the research. This law would help shift the burden to industry,” said Helen Perivier, who heads the Greenpeace campaign against toxic materials. Perivier also said that of the 70,000 to 100,000 human-made chemicals in use in Europe today, only 150 have been evaluated for health risks.

Chemicals believed to damage female hormones and alter their production are found in food wrappings, plastic goods and perfumes. Some can contaminate blood in the umbilical cord of a pregnant woman, and others, such as polycarbonate plastic–found in baby bottles and CDs–can decrease the amount of breast milk a woman produces. Insulation used in electronic devices can leak into household dust and has caused birth defects in rats in laboratory experiments.

More News to Cheer About

  • A newly formed coalition of 20 prominent Israeli and Palestinian female leaders–including the speaker of the Israeli Knesset–met with U.S. legislators and officials and held a conference at the United Nations this week to press for a greater role for women in resolving the Mideast conflict. The Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace demanded that, contrary to the official positions of Israel and the United States, the peace process must be resumed with Hamas and that women must sit at the negotiating table, as U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 requires. The group said that no Israeli women and only one Palestinian woman have been negotiators in peace talks.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation authored by Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., to address the disappearances and murders of more than 400 women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. In addition to a condemnation of the abductions and murders, the legislation also pledges U.S. assistance in the creation of a DNA database that would allow families to identify the victim’s remains and help prosecute accused murderers. An identical bill is being considered in the U.S. Senate.
  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., has awarded a $1.24 million grant to develop public policies and test projects to address the persistent lack of affordable child care and to reverse attitudes that undervalue caregivers’ work in the United States. Recipients include the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and Smart Start, a Raleigh, N.C., organization that develops early childhood education programs.
  • The Madison-based American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin announced it has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of female prisoners at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution who claim that grossly inadequate health care is endangering their lives. In February 2000, a 29-year-old asthmatic prisoner collapsed and died in Taycheedah’s cafeteria after repeated requests for medical help. The ACLU says the prison violated the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment as well as the equal protection clause because the women receive mental health care that is inferior to care provided to male prisoners.

For more information:

“Fragile: Our Reproductive Health and Chemical Exposure”

Guttmacher Institute:

Cornell University–
Linking Economic Development and Childcare:

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As increasing numbers of women make the journey across the Mexico-U.S. border, the United Nations Development Fund for Women is reporting that rape has become so prevalent that many women take birth-control pills or shots before setting out to ensure that they won’t get pregnant, the AP reported April 28.

Some consider rape “the price you pay for crossing the border,” said Teresa Rodriguez, regional director of the fund.

A joint U.S.-Mexican government study has found that that nearly half of all Mexican migrants living in the United States today are women.

Female migrants are also getting younger. Females under 18 comprised 2 percent of juvenile deportations in 1994; since 2002, that portion has risen to nearly one-third, said Blanca Villasenor, who recently published a book on Mexico’s female migrants.

More News to Jeer About

  • A May 4 report by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute has found that the use of contraception among sexually active women who are not trying to become pregnant has declined over the last decade and the decline has been most striking among poor women. Among women below the poverty line, 14 percent were not using contraception in 2001, compared with 8 percent in 1994. The rate of unintended births has risen by 44 percent among poor women during the same period. Among sexually active women on the whole, the number of women not using contraception rose from 7 to 11 percent in the same period. Researchers blamed the trend on cuts in federal and state government spending for family planning services. The institute said that the decrease in contraception use has made women more likely to have abortions, slowing a national trend of declining abortion rates since the 1980s.
  • A May 3 report released by the Washington-based nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that nearly 31 percent of young women ages 15 to 19 who have had sexual intercourse at least once become pregnant. According to the report, teen girls that used contraception were 16 percent less likely to become pregnant than teens that did not.
  • Despite the intense popularity of women’s tennis and the superstardom of Venus and Serena Williams, England’s Wimbledon tournament is the last tennis championship to award women less prize money than men. This year, the women’s champion will receive 625,000 pounds (about $1.16 million) compared to men’s 655,000 pounds (about $1.21 million), Reuters reported April 25. The U.S. Open has been awarding equal amounts of prize money to champions for 33 years.
  • Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has reported that the number of practicing obstetrician-gynecologists dropped by 40 percent from 1992 to 2004. Also, about 40 percent of the country’s 727 obstetricians are over age 60, the Washington Post reported on May 1. With the country’s fertility rate a record low–Japan’s population declined by 20,000 in 2005–many hospitals are finding it “financially untenable” to have a maternity ward on the premises. Instead, women in small towns fly to nearby hospitals when they go into labor.

–Theresa Braine contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Dwoskin is an editorial intern with Women’s eNews. She is a freelance writer and radio producer based in New York. Theresa Braine is Women’s eNews’ Mexico City correspondent.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.