In some developing countries, girls spend more than 7 times as many hours in wood and water collection as compared to men. And a WHO estimate says that the energy used to carry water may consume one-third of a woman's daily calorie intake. In a study in Pura, a village in Karnataka, women were found to contribute 46 per cent of all the human-hours spent in the village on agriculture, industry and domestic work, men 37 per cent and children 17 per cent. Basic activities like fetching fuel and water and cooking food took as much as 10 hours in poor households. A study from the plains of western UP, an agriculturally prosperous area, shows that even pregnant women there had a 14-16 hour working day.
Their next Herculean labour is cooking on inefficient chulhas, which consume too much fuel and belch dangerous smoke affecting women and children in particular. Indoor air pollution kills more people in developing countries than polluted outdoors.
Women are more exposed to the hazards of polluted water than men. They are not only the primary carriers of water, but they wash clothes and utensils too, the poor mostly with polluted water. Moreover, since childcare is primarily the woman's responsibility, when children get infected, women are more likely to catch the infection than men.
As food becomes scarce during extreme conditions like drought, men migrate to search for work in the towns, but the women are left behind to fend for the children and the old. Households where women are the sole bread earners tend to be poorer.
Foresters are keen to ban grazing in forests because they see it as a threat to their afforestation efforts. Even where it is not banned, women are regularly harassed by foresters and have to pay heavy bribes or face sexual harassment. In the Bankura district of West Bengal, tribal santhal women got the basic means of livelihood from the forest, collecting free of cost the fruit, flowers and leaves of the Mahua, Peasal, Kendu and other trees. Over the last three decades, their customary rights were gradually taken away, leaving no alternative but migration.
Toxic chemicals and pesticides in air, water and earth are responsible for a variety of women's health risks. They enter body tissues and breast milk, through which they are passed on to infants. In a village in China's Gansu province, discharges from a state-run fertiliser factory have been linked to a high number of stillbirths and miscarriages.
Water pollution in three Russian rivers is a factor in the doubling of bladder and kidney disorders in pregnant women, and in Sudan a link has been established between exposure to pesticides and perinatal mortality-with the risk higher among women farmers.