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From Suffrage to Sufferance

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History has shown that women have a more nurturing nature than men, and thus tend to be more sensitive to environmental concerns if educated enough to comprehend the threats.

But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Women are all too often subject to physical punishment if they step out of line in male-dominated societies.

That certainly is true where the "weaker sex" is routinely relegated to a subservient role and "audaciously" breaks the mold by engaging in aggressive environmental activism.

Unpleasant pushbacks against activist women are not limited to the more primitive societies in developing countries. Katherine Hayhoe is dean of the Texas Tech Climate Science Center. She happens to be a practicing Evangelical Christian, and as a scientist, also happens to be outspoken in taking action against global warming. Within the ranks of her own religion, the unpopularity of her public stance has triggered written and telephoned threats of bodily harm to her and her family. Thankfully, that is as far as it has gone. Indeed, with rare exceptions, female environmental activists have not encountered direct violence here (persistent harassment is another matter).

In societies where females are blatantly second-class citizens, a woman educated and motivated enough to lead an environmental protest is likely to stand out for her "impertinence" and become a potential target for direct violence.

The Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights reports that hundreds of women are physically harmed each year for trying to protect natural resources and address climate change. In Latin American alone, the organization says, 12 female environmental leaders have been slain in the past three years.

Numerous incidents of physical violence and/or blood curdling harassment were recounted at a "Summit on Women and Climate" held by female activist organizations in Bali in early August.

Typical was Mardiana Deren, an Indonesian nurse leading a protest against powerful corporate interests involved in environmentally destructive mining and palm oil farming. For her "brazen" intervention, she was run over by some motor bikes and barely escaped being stabbed.

In another Indonesian confrontation, environmental activist Aleta Baun was beaten and hacked with a machete for leading a successful campaign to block marble mining in an ecologically sensitive area.

Environmental activist Sumaira Abdulah was nearly run off a bridge in India for helping to launch a successful lawsuit banning destructive mining of sand in a local river.

Despite the vulnerability of females in male-dominated societies, the United States remains one of a handful of nations that have failed to ratify a United Nations Treaty Protecting the Rights of Women.

It is way past the time to purge our irrational fears of runaway abortion. We need to join the rest of the world in approving a pact that provides the foundation for guaranteeing fair, safe, and humane treatment of women wherever they might reside.