Feminism and Ecology: The World of Ecofeminism

A branch of feminism; Ecofeminism builds on the relationship between women and the earth. It sees environmentalism and the relationship between the two, foundational to its analysis and practice. Ecofeminism was coined in 1974 by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne. During the 1970s, women's movements which spontaneously grew globally unveiled the link between the health and the lives of women and the destruction of nature. Awareness of women’s vulnerability in the face of environmental degradation and a strong desire to have a voice in decision-making processes were indifferent to all these campaigns. The annihilation of the planet by destructive technology was among the main concerns in the protests happening then. The subject of the relationship between science, women and nature was among the first towards which ecofeminist attention was drawn. The tenets of feminism that rest upon equality between genders, reevaluation of the patriarchal and linear structures of our society are used by Ecofeminism as well. Ecofeminism envisions a world where the organic processes of the environment are respected. This way, Ecofeminism adds both a commitment to the environment and an awareness of the associations made between women and nature. The contemporary ecofeminist movement was born out of a series of conferences and workshops held in the United States by a coalition of academic and professional women during the late 1970s. However, ecofeminism is not just restricted to scholarly discourse. From Russia to India, women have taken up the task of transforming the unsustainable practices of contemporary society. Modernization has led to people ignoring the ecology. Looking at an example closer to home, The Chipko Movement and the personal experiences of one Dr Vandana Shiva. She recollects how before departing for Canada for her PhD, she travelled back to the forests she went to as a little girl. To her surprise, the once beautiful forest full of oak trees and a stream so deep that one could swim in was now full of apple orchards and the stream was barely ankle-deep. That’s when she learned about the Chipko Movement which started in 1972 as a non-violent response by women against the large-scale deforestation in the Himalayan region where they clung to trees to protect them from getting struck down. Dr Shiva discusses an instance in an interview with Feminism in India where, in 1977, a forest in Haldwani was going to be logged for timber and because the government had already faced some defeat, they decided to hire local contractors. The village headman was given the contract for logging and yet his wife led the protest to halt the logging. After finally getting the logging banned after the 1978 flood, authorities ultimately realised what women were saying-forests regulate water. While people treated the forest as separate from the river, women knew it was connected. Dr Shiva asserts that it took experts half a century to catch up with these uneducated women. What is also a concern is, how numerous voices have been unheard or suppressed. She further argues about how the voices of the Garhwal women leading the Chipko Movement did not have sufficient weightage because they were speaking in their dialect. However, when Dr Shiva stepped in and translated their arguments and pleas into English and depicted the loss of biodiversity using graphs - everyone heard. Which makes us think, is the environmentalism of the poor, not environmentalism? Not straying away from the subject, how about we look at some other women who have come together to protect the ecology and prevent the degradation of the environment. Russian environmental activist Aleksandra Koroleva devoted much of her life to protecting the environment in the Kaliningrad region. After the Soviet Union fell apart, the sudden ability to freely express opinions gave rise to many new movements and organizations. One such was Ecodefense! (Ekozaschita! in Russian). It was founded by young people determined to effectively address environmental concerns by following the Western environmental activist model. Aleksandra soon joined Ecodefense! They used dramatic methods to attract media attention, so journalists would write about them and the public would read up and be familiarised. When trees were cut down in the city of Kaliningrad, activists under Aleksandra's leadership would carry logs in coffins to the doors of city hall and stand around it with votive candles to depict the death of trees. She recalls another instance when they brought a large mock-up of a nuclear power plant to the district government building. It emitted acrid orange smoke. Moreover, activists handcuffed themselves to the entrance of the building dressed in costumes of oil spattered pigs in order to show the danger of extraction of petroleum from the reserves on the Curonian Spit. So, we see how examples of Ecofeminism are not only closer to home but almost everywhere. Maria Mie and Vandana Shiva's book talk about the construction of women as the 'second sex' is linked to the same inability to cope with a difference as is the paradigm that leads to the displacement and extinction of diversity in the biological world. Dr Shiva talks about how nature's value is conferred only through economic exploitation for commercial gain. The destruction of diversity and the creation of monoculture becomes imperative for capitalist patriarchy. Further, she talks about how the marginalization of women and the destruction of biodiversity go hand in hand. The patriarchal model of progress pushes towards monocultures, uniformity, and homogeneity, and loss of diversity, therefore occurs. Carolyn Merchant believes that feminist history must be looked through egalitarian eyes, we must see it not only from the point of women but also of social and racial groups and the natural environment which was previously ignored as the underlying resources on which the Western Culture and its progress have been built. One cannot read Ecofeminism without reading Bina Agarwal. She does not differentiate between women of different classes, castes, races, and ecological zones. There is a form of essentialism in her work, in that all Third World Women, she sees them as “embedded in nature” for women to have a special relationship with the natural environment. She emphasises on the feminine principle as the guiding notion in Indian philosophical discourse when in fact it relates to the Hindu discourse alone and is not applicable for Indians of all religious persuasions. The ideas of Prakirti and Purusha by Sankhya School of Philosophy espouse that Prakirti has been made for the Purusha and to satisfy his needs of shelter, food and water. The difference between women and men must be looked at through the prism of language. Hindi is a gendered language and the implication of Purusha having his needs satisfied by Prakirti suggests that women are the natural caregivers of men. Nancy Unger points out that environmental histories are now outpouring by and about women from around the world. Women and gender are increasingly being recognized as useful categories of analysis within environmental history. One of the most prolific and influential scholars is Bina Agarwal, whose investigations into the gendered ways in which women in poor rural households suffer uniquely from environmental degradation resulting from deceased resource access and control are centred primarily in India. To conclude, we must quit treating the opposition between male and female as problematic rather than known. The domination of women and nature have occurred synchronically and women have a stake in ending the domination of nature - “in healing the alienated human and non-human nature”. The feminist movement and the environmental movement both stand for egalitarian, non-hierarchal systems, they thus have a good deal in common to serve together and evolve a common perspective, theory or practice.

37 views7 comments