Pooja Sajanani is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
The Oxford dictionary defines ecofeminism as, “A philosophical and political movement that combines ecological concerns with feminist ones, regarding both as resulting from male domination of society.” However, this is just one of the many different perspectives of ecofeminism or feminist environmental philosophy. In this article, I will try my best to give you an overview of the main thoughts within ecofeminism, explain how environmentalism is a feminist concern and remember some of the very inspiring ecofeminists.
The term ecofeminism is believed to have been coined by Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book Le Féminisme ou la Mort in 1974. Since then, this concept has expanded greatly and many different perspectives of ecofeminism like linguistic, historical, socio-economic, political etc have been written about. Ecofeminism as a whole is a philosophy that attempts to explore the interconnectedness of women empowerment and environmental preservation. It is a critique of our modern society and economic system which regards, both nature and human beings as means of production and profitability. It also advocates for greater participation of women in environmental protection, given the close proximity (hence, better local knowledge) of women to nature and the disproportionate effects of environmental degradation on women, especially marginalised women in rural communities and the developing world.
One of the main schools of thought within ecofeminism is radical ecofeminism. It tries to shed some light on how exploitation of nature is parallel to exploitation of women and minorities. Radical ecofeminists argue that women and nature are commodified and projected to be inferior and weak. This they say is used to justify the patriarchal dominance that needs to be abolished to achieve peace and holistic development. A radical ecofeminist, Vandana Shiva, puts it this way, “We see the devastation of the earth and her beings by the corporate warriors, as feminist concerns. It is the same masculinist mentality which would deny us our right to our own bodies and our own sexuality, and which depends on multiple systems of dominance and state power to have its way.” This perspective is also reinforced by linguistic study.
The linguistic perspective of ecofeminism explores how the patriarchal society is sustained by using language that animalizes women and feminizes nature. As Gaard and Gruen, outline in their paper, common vocabulary including words like ‘pussy’, ‘bitch’, ‘old hen’ and ‘sow’ animalizes women and which in a twisted way is used as a justification for their commodification and subordination. On the other hand, nature is often regarded as ‘mother nature’ which legitimizes environmental harm in cultures where women are subordinated. These two lines of discourses then constantly reinforce each other and contribute to the domination of both women (and minorities) and nature.
Another school of ecofeminism is cultural ecofeminism. Cultural ecofeminism recognises that women, specifically femininity, and nature have an association at a deeper level. This is based on the notion that women and nature both have commonalities when it comes to being naturally caring and nurturing. While radical ecofeminists would frown upon this ‘stereotyping’, cultural ecofeminists assert that these qualities and the association between nature and women need to be highly valued rather than to be considered as a disadvantage and should be encouraged.
Now let’s consider a less philosophical perspective. Research shows that women, especially poor women in developing countries, are disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change. Women often carry out the role of taking care of the family by gathering firewood, collecting water and cooking food. This means that when these resources become scarcer due to deforestation, pollution or climate change, women who already spent a disproportionate amount of time doing technically ‘informal’ work have to spend even more time to provide for their family. For instance, in Central Africa, 90% of Lake Chad’s shoreline has disappeared and women now have to walk farther away to collect water meaning they have even less time to engage in skills development and paid work. In addition to that, research and common logic show that the poorest are the hardest hit by environmental damage and calamities. According to socio-economic indicators, poverty is higher amongst women which is possible as women, especially in developing countries, often don’t have property named after them, carry out informal unpaid work and find it harder to access credit etc. As a result, women are more at risk from environmental damage and calamities. Environmental degradation is an obstacle to women empowerment and to effectively create higher equality environmental preservation is important. From this perspective, regardless of the philosophical point of view on nature and existence of dominance of women and nature, it is important for us as feminists to integrate a more empathetic approach towards environmental conservation.
Lastly, I would like to remember Berta Caceres, a human rights activist and ecofeminist from Honduras who was shot and killed on 2nd March 2016. Berta campaigned for a number of causes like preventing illegal logging. At the time of her murder, she was protesting against building a dam on the land of indigenous people. Berta was amongst the around 120 environmental activists killed, since the US-supported government took control by a military coup in 2009. According to the human rights group Global Witness, Honduras is the deadliest place to be an environmental activist. It is plainly outrageous and while one may or may not consider oneself to be an ecofeminist, it is important to respect and do everything to ensure the free expression of activists who are.
Picture credit: Mystic Mamma (https://www.instagram.com/mysticmamma/?hl=en)