Women and children are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure. Because children are still developing, their immune system is weaker than in adults, and their ability to detoxify chemicals is limited. Their exposure to pesticides from all pathways, such as food, water, and air, are likely to be higher because they eat more food, drink more water, and breathe more air per pound of body weight. Exposures early in life can cause impaired growth and development, cancers, and lifelong disabilities.
In rural communities in Asia, children often play nearby their parents when pesticides are being mixed, as well as in the fields where toxic chemicals are sprayed. Even if children are not in the field, toxic pesticide fumes invade their homes, which in many cases are next to the agricultural fields. Also, highly hazardous household pesticides are routinely used in most homes, unaware of the dangers that they pose to their health, especially to women and children.
Women are vulnerable to pesticides during childhood, adolescence, childbearing age, and pregnancy. Girls who were exposed to DDT before they reach puberty are five times more likely to develop breast cancer in middle age.
Adolescent girls are still developing their reproductive organs and are more sensitive to hormonally active pesticides. Women of childbearing age exposed to pesticides tend to experience menstrual cycle disorders, time to pregnancy delay, and miscarriages. In-utero exposure to pesticides can cause developmental harm to the unborn fetus, which can result in serious birth defects, endocrine disruption, and learning disabilities. Risk is higher for women that live within a quarter mile of a cultivated field where pesticides are sprayed. In Asia most of the sprayers in the palm oil and rubber plantations are women and they suffer from skin problems, tremours, cancer, blurred vision, and even blindness. About 30,000 women pesticide sprayers in Malaysia handle highly hazardous pesticides without much protection. Women workers report their clothes being drenched with the chemicals as they experience skin itchiness, nausea, and dizziness.
Decisions on the introduction of highly hazardous pesticides that affect the poorest and most marginalised sectors of society are taken in urban offices of agrochemical corporations based in industrialized nations. These chemicals affect the reproductive health of women and the development of children. Yet, the voices of rural women in Asia, who make up the agricultural workforce that apply acutely toxic pesticides, don’t reach the board rooms of agrochemical corporations that profit on deadly chemicals.