WOMEN CAN HEAL the Earth. Women can mother this planet the way men and their governments and their armies never have. Stop poisoning the world long enough to listen to us. Just let us have a say.
This is the message of 1,500 women who gathered in Miami in November for the World Women's Congress for a Healthy Planet. They came from Ethiopia, Brazil, New Zealand - from 83 countries. They were Cabinet ministers, economists, judges, scientists - and ordinary women, too - women from indigenous tribes who live in the Latin American rain forests, Californians who started a grass-roots effort to save the dolphins, Africans who formed a co-op to manufacture simple water pumps.And one woman came from Bountiful, Utah.
- CELESTIA BRUNSDALE is clean. She wears a starched white blouse and her red beads match her jacket and she has a pretty scarf wrapped at her waist. She seems oblivious to the grime and the stench of the plastic milk bottles she is gathering and clutching to her chest.
She was just on her way through the parking lot of the Bountiful city offices, on her way to talk to the city manager about her latest civic plans. She was the one who got recycling bins placed in this parking lot; she cleaned and sorted at the bins every day for two years. The city has taken over maintenance now. But if Brunsdale notices litter at the bins, she automatically stops to scoop it up.
As a representative of the League of Women Voters, Brunsdale paid her own way to the World Women's Congress. Many at the conference were like herself, women who'd made a difference in one little part of the world and who now realize how much more needs to be done.
She went to the conference hoping to learn how to take the next step in recycling. "In Utah, we need to work on the demand side," Brunsdale says. "We obviously have a supply of collected materials." But it's not economical to ship plastics and glass to manufacturing companies out of state. So Bountiful had to stop collecting plastic. And Brunsdale has no place to put the milk jugs, except in the landfill.
"We can't be discouraged," she says.
Brunsdale went to the Legislature and the state Department of Business and Economic Development to talk about the need to bring new companies to Utah, companies that manufacture products out of recyclables.
"We are perfectly situated here to draw materials from all over the Intermountain West," she says. "Companies are making plastic lumber - we could do that here in Utah."
She was born in Chicago, but she's wantedto protect Utah's environment since the first time she came here, as a freshman at Brigham Young University.
"I never knew the sky was so blue. Or that water could taste good. I used to look up at Mount Timpanogos on my way to class and I'd just feel like singing."
Brunsdale's enthusiasm never droops. She didn't meet anyone at the Miami conference who could help her with her quest for new businesses. But she corresponds with women from Kenya, now, helping them to start their own recycling stations.
The first year of the recycling effort, Bountiful residents put 5 percent less material in their landfill. Brunsdale says she knows they can save 10 percent. She knows her new plan to gather compost at the curbside will save 50 percent during the summer months. And she knows the state can attract the right kind of new industries.
"I can see it all so clearly," Brunsdale says.
For Kathryn Lindquist of Salt Lake City, the vision is less clear. She too paid her own way from Utah to the World Women's Congress. She too works tirelessly to make a difference.
But unlike Brunsdale, Lindquist loses sleep over the magnitude of the problems that face this planet.
Lindquist teaches cultural studies at the University of Utah and is on the executive committee of the Ouelessebougou Alliance. The alliance uses funds donated by Utahns to help Mali (the world's third-poorest country) by building wells and training health workers.
The last time she visited Africa, Lindquist took her teenage children. "I want the next generation to feel the same connection. We are all brothers and sisters, and we have responsibility to each other."
In Miami, she felt that responsibility as she heard women from around the world testify about the forces that are ravaging the environment and their lives. Lindquist listened to their stories with growing sadness. "I get bogged down in the whole picture and begin to think change is impossible."
In another sense, though, Lindquist found the experience exhilarating, the coming together with women from around the world, women who seek a new order.
The women held a tribunal, listened to each others' pleas for help, then drew up a plan of action they presented to the chairman of the June 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to be held in Brazil.
They are demanding equal representation at that U.N. conference - and want nothing short of global equity, ethical use of resources and empowerment of women.
Lindquist helped draft a portion of the plan. Writing it was a struggle, she said. "Most of what we want is so idealistic. We tried to compromise between Utopia and what is possible, tried to find the language to express women's needs without trivializing men."
The final action plan includes hundreds of specific proposals such as:
We demand a total ban on the export of goods rejected for local consumption in or by the country of origin.
We demand that armies be used as environmental protection corps to monitor and repair damage to natural systems, including cleanup of war zones.
We will campaign for the rights of urban populations not to be forcibly evicted from their homes and for their right to use urban land for subsistence production of crops and livestock as well as small-scale trade and production without harassment. . ..
"Do you think this agenda will change anything?" Brunsdale asks Lindquist, when they happen to run into each other after the congress. "I hope so," Lindquist replies. "I've been writing letters since I got back. We have to demand some answers. I've joined citizens' action committees. . . .
"I don't know," says Lindquist. "I'm a real cynic. But I have to do something. It's impossible for my own peace of mind not to try."
Why should women participate in local planning?
- Women make up half the world's population.
- Women constitute one-third of the world's paid labor force.
- Women provide two-thirds of the world's total working hours.
- Women receive one-tenth of the world's total wages.
- From the Norwegian Project, a strategy to involve women in public planning decisions