Since the early 1980s, Chinese farm workers have relied heavily on pesticides in order to increase food production. Excessive and negligent pesticide use contaminates water supplies, destroys natural habitats and causes health problems for farmers and their families. In 1993 alone, rampant use of pesticides caused the deaths of over 10,000 Chinese farm workers.
Due to the migration of rural men to cities in search of work, Chinese women have become the majority of the agricultural work force. Increasingly, Chinese women farmers face the risk of accumulated exposure to pesticides and the accompanying health hazards, such as increased breast cancer, toxins in breast milk, miscarriages and stillbirths. EcoWomen, formerly known as Green Mountain Women, is the first grassroots group in China specifically organizing women to combat pesticide abuse and advocate for women's health and rights.
Located in Yunnan province, one of the most agriculturally productive regions of western China, EcoWomen describes itself as "greening up" Chinese women. Through environmental educational training and programs, the group teaches rural women about the effects of pesticide use on women's health.
When EcoWomen conducted a pesticide pollution survey in Yunnan province, the group found that most farmers knew little about the effects of pesticides, or about their proper mixing, use and storage. In response, the group launched a program to raise public awareness, in which people exchange used pesticide bottles for gloves, masks, and other gear that protects them against toxic chemicals.
EcoWomen transcends traditional modes of women's and environmental activism in China, bridging two critical social justice movements with a more holistic approach to social change.