Women and the Green Economy (WAGE) is the Earth Day Network’s initiative to bring more women into the decision-making process about our environment. While the focus of WAGE is to increase leadership roles at the top of the green economy, let’s not forget the other end of the economic chain–the women who create “green” products.
Nowhere are women more in the forefront of the green economy than the fair trade jewelry sector. From taking trash to treasure, preserving rainforests, to using the earth’s natural and renewable bounty, women who make fair trade jewelry have been quietly protecting the earth for decades. Here are just a few examples:
Even though the sun is barely up, a young woman treads on the dirt path of a Philippine town. Dirt sticks to her feet as she scans the village for discarded milk cartons and cereal boxes to add to her bag. This is the daily routine for her and 9 other women in the village co-op. They recycle the town’s trash into creative and colorful bracelets.
In Colombia, women collect discarded orange peels from juice vendors. After thoroughly cleaning them, they lay them in the sun to dry, then dye them with natural ingredients. Finally, these everyday but talented artisans form the peels into the rose and spiral shapes they use to create stunning necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
We’ve all heard about how destroying rainforests affects the environment.* The work of women from Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia helps to preserve these lush forests by using seeds from the trees’ fallen fruit as raw material for fashion-forward jewelry. One of the most common seeds used is tagua, often called vegetable ivory because its look, feel, and carvability are similar to elephant ivory. Using tagua seed for jewelry not only aids in keeping forests intact, it also saves the magnificent elephants from indiscriminate killing for their tusks.
Kenyan and Ugandan women collect empty bottles and waste paper and skillfully craft them into eco-friendly necklaces and bangles. They clean the bottles, melt them in a furnace, and spin beads from the liquid glass. The discarded magazines and newspapers are torn into strips, rolled into various-shaped beads, then coated with a non-toxic lacquer to harden them. The results are truly unique and earth-friendly fashion accessories.
These women contribute in small but significant ways to a healthier environment. Because they work under fair trade conditions, their wages are 2-5 times higher than the average in their communities. Fair trade–champion of the earth and its most impoverished inhabitants.
* Rainforests absorb carbon dioxide from the air, store the carbon and give us oxygen to breathe. The clear-cutting of these lush environments for cattle ranching and plantations is the second largest source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, contributing 12%-15% of all greenhouse gas emissions annually. (Source: Rainforest Alliance)