Why All-Female Scientific Expeditions?
Despite significant progress, women are still underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors. Globally, women occupy only 13% of the STEM workforce (including health professionals).
That’s not the only reason eXXpedition takes on an all-female crew. Historically, studies on the effects of chemicals on human health have largely focused on the specific effects on men. Reasons for this include men historically being the majority component of the workforce where occupational studies have typically been focused, or because effects on reproductive systems can often be more easily determined in men compared to those in women. As a result, research on female-specific diseases has held a relatively low profile. This imbalance in research is becoming increasingly important as the incidences of non-communicable diseases, such as cancers, are increasing.
This is not to say, of course, that men are less affected than women – this is a burden we all share. We are all exposed to chemicals on a daily basis, but women and men are often impacted through different exposure routes. For example, adult women have higher levels of urinary metabolites than men for phthalates (present in personal-care products, cleaning products, fragrances and cosmetics), which may be linked to birth defects, and bisphenol-A (BPA, the backbone of plastics and epoxy resins, and found in food containers) which has been found to affect hormone production and fertility in females. Women also have a tendency to have more fatty tissues, within which certain toxics – especially those originating from plastics – are more likely to accumulate. Of even greater concern is that the body burden of chemicals is passed on from mother to child, with levels of some hazardous chemicals increasing from generation to generation3.
One of the core aims of eXXpedition is to engage women in discussions on the issue of plastics, the health effects of chemicals (such as endocrine disruptors and carcinogens in our immediate and wider environment), and inspire individuals to make personal lifestyle and consumer choices that will reduce long-term health impacts and impacts on our environment.
eXXpedition founders Emily Penn and Lucy Gilliam are both avid and experienced sailors. eXXpedition was the brainchild of these women after they met at an event discussing the five gyres and plastic pollution. Emily and Lucy decided to combine their passion for sailing and launch an all-female crew to explore the extent of plastics in the oceans and the effects on the environment.
As well as being under-represented in STEM professions, women are also underrepresented in sailing and in the wider sporting community. All-female events receive significantly less coverage in the media compared to equivalent all-male events. During each eXXpedition, a crew of inspiring females is assembled to help redress the balance and encourage more women to move into sailing and science. Every crew is diverse in background, age and experience in the hope that women from equally diverse backgrounds will also be inspired to take action.
Plastic pollution is on the rise. As countries develop and populations are moving closer towards the coast, it is becoming far easier for plastics and toxics to end up in the marine environment. Unfortunately, advances in waste management (or lack of waste management in some areas) struggle to keep up with the volumes generated. The mass of plastic waste entering the oceans from terrestrial sources is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025 unless there are vast improvements to waste management practices and infrastructure.
The only way to reduce the potential impacts of toxics on human health and the environment is to reduce consumption. eXXpedition aims to highlight the local and global environmental and health implications of the use and disposal of plastics, allowing individuals to make more informed decisions regarding consumption and encourage improved waste management practices that will benefit everyone.