Social Justice at the Crossroads of Environmental Justice and Reproductive Justice
by Meschelle Linjean
Editor’s Note: This is an extended version of the #MacroSW blog post for a 9-19-19 Twitter Chat www.macrosw.com
Our profession has called for inclusion of reproductive justice issues in social work education to promote self-determination in accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics (West, 2013). NASW included environmental justice as a 2018-2019 social justice priority (NASW, 2019). The focus of this chat will consider how environmental justice and reproductive justice are connected, and how this is expressed in our social work practice to advance social justice.
As the U.S. rolls back environmental policies aimed at curbing climate change and limiting air and water contamination, it is simultaneously opening more areas to environmental degradation (Gibbens, 2019). Women, racial/ethnic minorities, low-income workers, and other vulnerable populations remain disproportionately exposed to hazardous chemicals that adversely affect reproductive health and children’s development. Additionally, as Indigenous communities lose their traditional cultural practices tied to the natural world, their capacity to pass on cultural knowledge to future generations declines.
Reproductive justice in the U.S. is rapidly regressing as lawmakers pass legislation that severely restricts access to and funding for sex education, family planning, women’s health services, birth control, and abortion services. Serious inadequacies in maternity and family leave, childcare support, and access to women’s and children’s healthcare continue unabated.This disproportionately affects those with low-income; undocumented immigrants; migrants; and racial/ethnic minority women and families. African Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives experience the highest maternal and infant mortality rates. Also affected are LGBTQ2S+ individuals, who face high rates of family planning discrimination. Individuals with disabilities experience high rates of rape and other sexual violence.
Intersectionality, ecology, and policy must be considered to address these conditions and arrive at social justice. The Ethical Principles section of the NASW Code of Ethics (2017) states that social workers challenge social injustice by pursuing social change with and on behalf of the vulnerable and oppressed, to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and diversity and ensure access to information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.
It is important for social workers to consider how environmental justice and reproductive justice are connected, and how this is expressed in our social work practice to advance social justice.
National Women’s Law Center. (n.d.). If you really care about environmental justice, you should care about reproductive justice! Retrieved from https://nwlc.org/wp-content/…/FactSheetEnvironmentalJusticeandReproJustice.pdf
Energy Justice Network (n.d.). Principles of environmental justice. Retrieved from
Gaard, G. (2010). Reproductive technology, or reproductive justice? An ecofeminist, environmental justice perspective on the rhetoric of choice. Ethics & the Environment, 15(2), 103–130. https://doi.org/10.2979/ETE.2010.15.2.103
Gibbens, S. (2019, February 1). 15 ways the Trump administration has changed environmental policies. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/02/15-ways-trump-administration-impacted-environment/
Grand Challenges for Social Work. (2019). Create social responses to a changing environment. Retrieved from
http://grandchallengesforsocialwork.org/grand-challenges-initiative/12-challenges/create-social-responses-to-a-changing-environment/ (see: Table 1. pp 16-17)
Gute, D. M., Siqueira, E., Goldberg, J. S., Galvão, H., Chianelli, M., & Pirie, A. (2009). The Vida Verde Women’s Co-Op: Brazilian immigrants organizing to promote environmental and social justice. American Journal of Public Health, 99(S3), S495–S498. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.148528
Hoover, E., Cook, K., Plain, R., Sanchez, K., Waghiyi, V., Miller, P., Carpenter, D. O.(2012). Indigenous peoples of North America: Environmental exposures and reproductive justice. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(12), 1645–1649. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1205422
Mosley, E. A., Bouse, C. K., & Stidham Hall, K. (2015). Water, human rights, and reproductive justice: Implications for women in Detroit and Monrovia. Environmental Justice (19394071), 8(3), 78–85.
Murphy, V., Zajicek, A. Norris, A. and Hamilton, L. (Eds.) (2009). Introduction. In Incorporating intersectionality in social work: Practice, research, policy and education (pp 1-3). Washington DC: NASW Press. Retrieved from https://www.naswpress.org/publications/practice/inside/intersectionality-in-social-work-intro.html
National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of ethics. Retrieved from
National Association of Social Workers. (2019). Social justice priorities, 2018-2019. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Social-Justice/Social-Justice-Priorities
National Association of Social Workers New Jersey Chapter. (n.d.). Environmental justice is social justice. Retrieved from https://naswnj.site-ym.com/page/envjustice/Environmental-Justice.htm
Sister Song. (n.d.). Reproductive justice. Retrieved from https://www.sistersong.net/reproductive-justice
Wehrmann, K. C. (n.d.). Environmental justice challenge awaits. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/News/NASW-News/ID/1604/Environmental-justice-challenge-awaits
West, R. L. (2013, March 21). Interview with Social Workers for Reproductive Justice Maggie Rosenbloom. Social Work Helper. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkhelper.com/2013/03/21/interview-with-social-workers-for-reproductive-justice/
Zimmerman, K. & Miao, V. (2009). Fertile ground: Women organizing at the intersection of environmental justice and reproductive justice. Retrieved from www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/zimmerman.pdf (especially pp. 26-27; 29-33).
An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and originally from northeastern Oklahoma, Meschelle Linjean currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and is in her third year of the University at Buffalo’s part-time, online MSW program. She is scheduled to graduate in August 2020. Meschelle’s recent work includes collecting data on social determinants of health among patients at a federally qualified health center and coordinating efforts with community social service organizations to link patients with non-medical services aimed at improving their health and wellbeing. She completed her first field placement in the foster care division of the Department of Family Services in Fairfax County, Virginia, and will complete her advanced field placement at Native American Lifelines, a non-profit, Indian Health Service-contracted, program that provides trauma informed and culturally centered care to promote health and social resiliency among Urban Natives living in and around Baltimore, Maryland. Meschelle is particularly interested in culturally centered paradigms for understanding and addressing individual, family, and community distress. She hopes to continue working to improve health outcomes for those who have endured historical trauma, intergenerational trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). She also has an interest in ecological/environmental social work and the connections between health, well being, and disruptions to implementing traditional ecological knowledge.
How to cite this blog post:
Linjean, M. (2019, September 13). Promoting Social Justice At the Crossroads: Environmental and Reproductive Justice. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from: