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It's 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. The smell of Acetone fills the small, cramped salon. A dozen women, primarily Vietnamese immigrants, are hunched over women's feet and hands. They look up as a customer enters asking for a pedicure before her big night out.
Over the last 20 years, nail salon services have tripled and cosmetology is now the fastest growing profession in California. There are 115,000 nail salon technicians in the state, most are women of color and more than 50% are of childbearing age. The workers earn less than $18,200 a year and, on a daily basis, handle numerous solvents, glues and other products, many of which are known to cause or suspected of causing acute and chronic illnesses, including cancer and reproductive harm.
Nail salon workers are developing the skills to advocate for their health and economic well-being thanks to Oakland-based Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ). Its leader is Eveline Shen.
Before ACRJ began organizing nail salon workers, the concerns of this group were not on the radar of immigrant rights, labor or groups working for economic security. "Support from the Women's Foundation allows us to engage women from communities that don't have a lot of resources and provide opportunities for them to become leaders and innovators of change."
ACRJ sees the connection between environmental conditions and reproductive health and brings together diverse communities, creating a broader front in response to issues faced by women. Their efforts have resulted in safer conditions for 300,000 California nail salon workers and their customers, the closure of a polluting medical waste incinerator and the engagement of high school girls to assist cities in meeting preliminary greenhouse gas reduction targets. ACRJ's latest innovation is making the connection between green job industry and reproductive justice.
"When you're addressing root causes, it isn't just for one or two years. We're trying to address the issues of racism and poverty. The Women's Foundation understands that this is long term. If we didn't have partners that recognized this, then we wouldn't be able to do this work that we do."
Eveline Shen, MPH, has been with Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice for eight years, starting as an intern and working her way up to Executive Director. She has organized extensively, directed multiple countywide projects and written articles, manuals, and training curricula. She holds a Master of Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.
Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice
Creating safer conditions for 300,000 California nail salon workers and their customers, the closure of a polluting medical waste incinerator and the engagement of high school girls to assist cities in meeting preliminary greenhouse gas reduction targets.