What do you do in your job that helps to link people to the environment?
Our organisation, Women's Environmental Network, encourages women to take action for a healthier planet. We do this by offering positive and practical alternatives to the status quo, such as encouraging the use of washable nappies and menstrual products instead of disposables, and encouraging women to create their own skincare products. Much of the time we are working to raise awareness. For example, many people are unaware of the the potentially harmful chemicals in their household products or make-up, and maybe don't think about how their clothes were made and by whom. Then there's the pressure from advertisers who are constantly promoting the lastest 'must have' products. WEN questions the necessity of many of the products that women are sold, and we have a DIY ethos at our heart. You don't need to have lots of money to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
We believe that healthy people and a healthy planet go hand-in-hand. Over the last few years we've spent a lot of time working in Tower Hamlets, East London, to create community food growing spaces. Food is such a wonderful way of bringing people together, and for connecting to our immediate environment. Food growing has a magical quality! We've always believed that it's important to look after our neighbourhood and to create the world we want to see on our doorstep. We hope to inspire other women to take action, and to be leaders in whatever way they can.
Why do you feel it’s important for people to be in sync/ in touch to nature?
Our relationship to nature is multi-layered. On the most basic level, we depend on natural resources for our survival. It's easy to feel insulated from that reality, embedded as we are in the West in a deeply consumerist society. But everything around us can be traced back to a natural resource, from the blue flame in our boiler, the leather in our shoes, the water that flows from our taps, to the plastic cup that we drink from. Our current model of capitalist consumerism is based on infinite economic growth, but we live on a finite planet, so it's clear that the way we are living is not sustainable. Becoming conscious of the threads that connect us back to nature, is one of the first steps in our journey towards sustainability.
On another level, I believe that nature is fundamental to human well-being. The positive impact of green spaces on our mental health is increasingly well documented. Even the NHS have been commissioning green care interventions. There's a reason why houses on tree-lined streets are more expensive. Being in natural spaces makes us feel good; whether that's a walk through a forest or an urban park. At WEN we are launching a new programme called Soil Sisters, which will allow us to work with women in refuges to create gardens. We have seen through our work that gardening can be incredibly therapeutic. But we can all benefit by spending more time in natural settings. Standing in front of a 200-year old oak tree can make our human problems seem very insignificant! Even tending a row of lettuce seedlings and watching them grow can be very humbling. I think we all need that perspective sometimes. In that sense nature can offer us a kind of wisdom that's hard to find anywhere else. From there we begin to see the importance of protecting our natural spaces, and of creating new ones.
Thirdly, the deep ecologists would argue that nature has an intrinsic value! That means it's important in and of itself, and not simply because it benefits human beings. In reality, it's hard to make this argument as you get into all kinds of philosophical knots. But anyone that's observed a community of birds, insects or plants for long enough has experienced a sense of wonder at the way nature goes about her business, regardless of us know-it-all humans!
Is the community of getting women together just as important as educating them on menstrual health to you?
One of the things I've enjoyed most during my time at WEN has been meeting such a wide and varied bunch of women! It's really taught me that everyone - absolutely everyone - has something to offer. Society tends towards conformity in most instances, and it can be hard to break out of that enough to be ourselves. But I think it's imperative that we do! It's very special when you find a group of people who accept you for who you are and want to see you thrive. WEN is very good at encouraging people to follow their passion for the environment, and to become leaders in their own right. It's lovely to see how people express that passion. For some women it's about environmental education. For others it's about Green Care, or community gardening, or ethical underwear. Others care deeply about chemicals and EU legislation. A sustainable future depends on women following their passion for environmental issues, in whichever direction they feel most deeply drawn. Academics, activists, cooks, full-time mothers, students... we need everyone!
Why is it good for people to use environmentally friendly products, such as reusable menstrual pads?
As an individual it's very easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problems we're facing, particularly when it comes to issues like climate change and plastic waste. That feeling can quickly turn to inertia, or even apathy, as we shrug our shoulders and think 'Well, what difference does it make?'.
At WEN we've seen that there are many reasons why a woman might choose to change her habits. It may be a concern for her health, or the health of her family. For others it might be the desire to cut costs, or to live a more simple life.
Best of all, I think there's a certain delight and satisfaction in taking back control from the big companies that dominate our lives. Growing a little of our own food, making our own menstrual pads, ditching the chemical cleaners, rejecting disposable fashion - all of these things are small acts of rebellion against the current system which is hungry for our money and attention, and cares little for our health and the environment!
Are there any parts of nature that need protecting that you think needs to be highlighted more?
There's a tension in environmentalism between seeing nature as something external to us, and seeing humans as part of nature. It's a useful tension in many ways as it provides a unique challenge. At WEN we've always taken a very holistic approach to the environment. We've raised awareness of issues like indoor air pollution, which has been relatively ignored by the big environmental organisations. Through WEN we learn that environmental problems are not something very far away and abstract, but instead they're deeply personal and everyday. I believe the next big step towards a sustainable society is in recognising the fundamental link between human health and the environment.
Do you do any other environment related jobs outside of WEN?
I also run London Environmental Educators' Forum (LEEF) - we're a group of environmental educators that meet to share knowledge and skills. My job is to co-ordinate training and networking events, from group trips to a local sewage works, to exploring how we can develop more effective education programmes! My LEEF job has given me a new appreciation for London's nature and the importance of treasuring our precious green space. I'm inspired by the environmental educators that I work with - all of whom are passionate about sharing their love of nature with the next generation. By 2050 it's expected that 70 per cent of the world population will be living in urban centres. The importance of urban environmental education is huge. Learning how to connect people with nature in cities is one of the biggest tasks facing the environmental movement!