The National Committee on Hazardous Substances’ recent decision not to ban the use of paraquat – a herbicide widely used in the sugarcane, tapioca, rubber, fruit and vegetable production – has sparked protests from farmers and civil society organisations.

Sofie Mortensen and Bernadette Resurreccion wrote this article on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8 to bring attention to the impacts of chemical-intensive farming on women farmers, gender equality and women’s rights.

Women are especially vulnerable to chemical exposure due to the disruption caused in hormone systems, especially during adolescence, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. A study further found a slight increase in the risk of breast cancer for women whose husbands apply paraquat.

This is especially true for rural women that are more at risk, not only through direct exposure when applying paraquat, but also indirectly by living in areas where the herbicide is used or with family members using the substance. In these areas, frequent health effects include eye injury, nosebleeds, and skin irritation, and long-term exposure to even low doses can have severe consequences for the lungs, hormones, nervous system, and the brain.