Women, Cancer and Climate Change

By conference convener, Stephanie Mines.

Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change then men, according to UN Women Watch. When biodiversity decreases along with food supplies women deteriorate faster than men. They tend to give up their food opportunities to others, particularly children. Deforestation burdens women in poor countries because they’re the ones who have to find fuel. As this become more difficult, the wear and tear on their bodies increases and they become targets for sexual assault and attack.

In developed countries, I have noticed this vulnerability manifesting in other ways. In the more than 35  years that I have served survivors of trauma and shock such as those who triumph over domestic violence and sexual abuse, I have noticed recurring patterns amongst such women. They fall under the rubric of women muting their strength, being compulsive caretakers and rescuers and readily transmuting their intelligence into service to others. Without stereotyping or making assumptions I have identified dominant themes for women – erasing their own needs and absorbing the emotions in the fields they inhabit, whether these be in groups, offices, one-on-one friendships or intimate relationships. This has sometimes been referred to as “kinesthetic empathy.” As the anxiety about climate change escalates, for instance, women are likely to absorb it more comprehensively than men.

This boundary-less availability that is enculturated in women and endorsed through generations is also associated with vulnerabilities in the immune system and susceptibility to cancer in particular, as well as other autoimmune disorders. The American Cancer Society identifies repressing feelings and helplessness as the topmost characteristics of a ‘cancer prone personality.’  Women are diagnosed with cancer more frequently than men according to the Centers for Disease Control in the US. Research published by the Journal of Behavioral Health (Argaman, et. al.; Augustine, et. al.) further links powerlessness and hopelessness with higher rates of cancer.

As I explore concepts of sustainable healthcare and cultivating the resilience we need to thrive in a climate changing world, my attention is drawn to strengthening women who are also change makers, wisdom keepers, and potentially natural leaders for communities. Particularly in more rural and impoverished areas but virtually everywhere, women have unequal access to decision making processes. If we can support women in communities to build their capacity to focus and set boundaries, we will be making an enormous contribution to sustainability on several levels simultaneously.

The energy medicine interventions I have cultivated for healing from trauma are of great value here. Simple hands-on, self-care applications can begin immediately to change deeply entrenched, epigenetically transmitted patterns of repression and limitation. In the TARA Approach to the Resolution of Shock and Trauma a system of meridian based and trauma informed touch includes a map of the body with purposeful sites that enhance wellbeing. One of them is Sacred Site #19 and High 19 that release the back, widen the shoulders, open the chest and give one the courage to set boundaries, to say NO when it is appropriate and to put a boundary around one’s commitments so that they manifest. By holding these sites gently and frequently one’s essential purpose is empowered. Of course this practice works as well for men as it does for women!

19Holding High 19 Sites where the fingers wrap around the biceps on both sides

A more thorough investigation of these applications is available in the Essence and Empowerment series that is offered at the Findhorn Foundation every year.  This year it will begin on September 1. Men as well as women are invited to register.


1.  The research by Miriam Argaman on women and helplessness was published in the Journal of Behavioral Health in 2006, Vol 12, #3.
2.  The World Health Organization published Augustine’s research and it was referenced in the Journal of Behavioral Health but the original source is Gender, Climate Change and Health (WHO), 2008.
3.  Another great source is R. Yavinsky, Women’s Vulnerability to Climate Change, Population Reference Bureau, 2012.
4.  Other references, including these, are compiled in the UN Women’s Watch publication fact sheet on Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change, published on the UN Women’s Watch website.

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