Environmental group BAN Toxics held a webinar as the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Speakers from the academe, science, and development work shared their insights on the intersectionality of environment, women, and gender rights.

“We seem to have come a long way in terms of gender mainstreaming as the Philippines ranked 16th place in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2021, claiming the highest in Asia,” according to UP Professor Nancy Parreño from the Department of Social Work at UP Diliman. The Gender Gap Index measures gender equality based on the relative gaps between women and men across areas of health, education, economy, and politics.

“Yet, a lot needs to be done to achieve substantive equality or equality in outcomes, which recognizes that the situation of women and men differs according to country, age, class, ethnic or social origin, and other factors that should be accounted for. Filipino women have higher educational attainment than men but have lower labor force participation rates, are in elementary occupations as Overseas Filipino Workers, have less access to resources, are in unpaid productive work, and are less represented in public leadership positions,” Parreño elaborated.

BAN Toxics emphasizes policy and community engagement for its chemical and waste management advocacy, including initiatives on mercury-added skin-lightening products, and women in small-scale gold mining, with a focus on marginalized sectors including women and children.

The webinar addressed the proliferation of cosmetic products laced with harmful chemicals, which is one of the current focuses of BAN Toxics.

“We have identified the intentional use of harmful fluorinated ingredients in cosmetics in South Korea. Our study showed that harmful fluorinated chemicals have significantly varied concentrations in cosmetics, with sunscreens having the highest concentration,” Dr. Inja Choi from the Wonjin Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health in South Korea discussed.

Dr. Inja Choi explained that fluorinated ingredients, such as per/polyfluorinated acrylate polymers or PFAS, which are known to be harmful, are used in lipstick, sunscreen, and other cosmetic products as emulsifiers, stabilizers, and surfactants, among others.

“Women’s exposure to these harmful chemicals is heightened due to the direct application of cosmetics products to the skin and the use of multiple products at the same time,” Dr. Inja Choi warned.

BAN Toxics, for its part, has been championing gender mainstreaming in its work. “Gender mainstreaming means integrating a gender equality perspective at all stages and levels of programs and projects. The group’s pioneering work in artisanal small-scale gold mining to reduce the use of mercury among women and men miners has been consistent with this thrust. The current campaign to reduce the prolific use of mercury-added skin-lightening products is another important advocacy that exemplifies how gender mainstreaming takes into account the differences in the situation of women and men,” Edel Garingan from BAN Toxics said in the webinar.

Responding to a question from participants, Parreño added that “Environmental issues often disproportionately impact women and it is important to undertake gender analysis and gender impact assessments as crucial tools for gender mainstreaming.”

The webinar was attended by representatives from government agencies, schools, and the public. BAN Toxics’ board members, including Prof. Donna Paz Reyes from Miriam College Department of Environment, graced the activity with her insights as well. #