Eco-feminism – women and conservation of nature

Eco-feminismRitu Dhingra

Today is women’s day and I am writing this article to salute all those women who have been conserving nature by nature. I mean to say that by birth women are great conservators of nature and environment. Throughout many cultures, women have historically held the role of primary food, fuel and water gatherer for their families and communities. Because of this, they have also had a major interest in trying to prevent or undo the effects of deforestation, desertification and water pollution. Women give life. They have the capacity to give life and light. They can take their brooms and sweep the earth like cleaners; they can clean up the atmosphere with their brooms. They can seal up the hole in the ozone layer. The environment is life and women must struggle for life with their feet on the ground and their eyes toward the heavens. They must do the impossible.”

Eco-feminism, or ecological feminism, is a term coined in 1974 by Françoise d’Eaubonne. It is a philosophy and movement born from the union of feminist and ecological thinking and the belief that the social mentality that leads to the domination and oppression of women is directly connected to the social mentality that leads to the abuse of the natural environment.

Eco-feminism is a joining of environmental, feminist, and women’s spirituality concerns. As the environmental movement along with environmental crises raised the consciousness of women to the decay of the earth, they began to see a parallel between the devaluation earth and the devaluation of women. Women began to see the link as not a false construction of weakness, but as a strong unifying force that clarified the violation of women and the earth as part of the same drama of male control

In 1974, a group of about thirty women in the Himalayas of Northern India united to save more than 10,000 square miles of forest watershed. Deforestation in the Himalayan forests had caused landslides, flooding and major soil erosion and had forced women villagers to hike further up the mountains to gather fuel. Now known as the Chipko Movement, Hindi for “to cling,” the name reflected the protesters’ practice of throwing their arms around the trunks of trees marked for chopping and refusing to move. This practice and term later became popular in other areas of the world and was popularly called “tree-hugging.”

India’s Chipko, or tree-hugging, movement attempts to maintain sustainability. It has its historical roots in ancient Indian cultures that worshipped tree goddesses, sacred trees as images of the cosmos, and in sacred forests and groves. The earliest woman-led tree-embracing movements are three-hundred years old. In the 1970s women revived these chipko actions in order to save their forests for fuel wood and their valleys from erosion in the face of cash cropping for the market. Out of a women’s organizational base and with support by males, protests to save the trees took place over a wide area 1972 through 1978, including actions to embrace trees, marches, and direct confrontations with slum bearers and The Chipko movement’s feminine forestry-paradigm is based on similar to those of the emerging science of agro forestry, now being taught in western universities. Agro forestry is one of several sciences based on maintaining ecologically viable relations be-As opposed to modern agriculture and forestry, which separate tree crops from food crops, agro forestry view trees as an integral part of agricultural ecology.

Complementary relationships exist between the protective and productive aspects of trees Land the use of space, soil, water, and light in conjunction with crops and animals. Agro forestry is especially significant for small farm families, such as many in the Third World, and makes efficient use of both human labour and natural resources.

The basis of the movement lay in a traditional ecological use of forests for food (as fruits, roots, tubers, seeds, leaves, petals and sepals), fuel, fodder, fertilizer, water, and medicine. Cash cropping by contrast severed forest products from water, agriculture, and animal husbandry

Only a few years later, an ecofeminist movement in Kenya also embraced the importance of trees. The Green Belt Movement started as a local community tree planting effort. The group of women addressed the lack of local water, the effects of soil erosion and the rising challenges caused by their area’s deforestation. As with the women in India, the women of the Green Belt Movement recognized that by protecting and replenishing their natural environment, they were also laying the groundwork toward equitable economic development. There are many more examples in many other countries where women have started environmental conservation movements.

It is a philosophy and movement born from the union of feminist and ecological thinking and the belief that the social mentality that leads to the domination and oppression of women which is directly connected to the social mentality that leads to the abuse of the natural environment. It combines eco-anarchism or bioregional democracy with a strong ideal of feminism. Its advocates often emphasize a deep reverence for all life, and the importance of interrelationships between humans, non-human other (flora and fauna) and the earth.

Eco-feminism is a movement that applies feminist principles and ideas to ecological issues. It is a term used to address an integrated relationship between feminist and environmental perspectives. The eco-feminism form is an intellectual foundation of ecology and feminism, which focuses on issues such as women’s rights, peace, labour, ecological, and environmental justice.

Eco-feminist believes the oppression of women is a form of social domination and they identify this practice in relationship with the oppression of nature; since the two have been systematically oppressed. Resultant of these practices, the goals of the eco-feminist movement is to develop alternative, non-dominating solutions that will value, celebrate, and defend women and nature.

Deep ecology offers a philosophical basis for environmental advocacy which may, in turn, guide human activity against perceived self-destruction. Deep ecology and environmentalism hold that the science of ecology shows that ecosystems can absorb only limited change by humans or other dissonant influences. Further, both hold that the actions of modern civilization threaten global ecological well-being. Ecologists have described change and stability in ecological systems in various ways, including homeostasis, dynamic equilibrium, and “flux of nature”.

Both eco-feminism and deep ecology put forward a new conceptualization of the self. Some eco -feminists argue that self-realization and identification with all nature places too much emphasis on the whole, at the expense of the independent being. Eco-feminists contend that their concept of the self (as a dynamic process consisting of relations) is superior. A central tenet in eco-feminism states that male ownership of land has led to a dominator culture (patriarchy), manifesting itself in food export, over-grazing, the tragedy of the commons, exploitation of people, and an abusive land ethic, in which animals and land are valued only as economic resources. Other eco-feminists claim that the degradation of nature contributes to the degradation of women.

The capitalist driven export economy in many countries has caused most of the agriculturally productive land to be used for monoculture cash crops. This led to intensification of pesticide use, resource depletion and relocation of subsistence farmers, especially women, to the hillsides and less productive land, where their deforestation and cultivation led to soil erosion, furthering the environmental degradation that hurts their own productivity.

Vandana Shiva makes it clear that one of the missions of eco-feminism is to redefine how societies look at productivity and activity of both women and nature who (“Mother Nature”) and women as “wild” and “untamed” (like nature). Eco-feminists also criticize Western lifestyle choices, such as consuming food that has travelled thousands of miles and playing sports (such as golf and downhill skiing) which inherently require ecological destruction.

Vandana Shiva claims that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions with it that has been ignored. “Women in subsistence economies, producing and reproducing wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes, the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth.

Social feminists focus on the role of gender in political economy by analyzing the impact of production and reproduction of men and women’s relation to economic systems. Feminist poststructuralists explain gender’s relation to the environment as a reflection of beliefs of identity and difference such as race, class, gender, age, and ethnicity. In this way they try to explain the relation of gender and development. Liberal feminist environmentalists treat women as having an active role in environmental protection and conservation programs. This role can become problematic. There is a common symbolism in the idea of ‘man’ pitted against nature while nature is feminized and “woman” is assumed to have profound connections with her environment.

These views of gender and environment constitute feminist political ecology, which links feminist cultural ecology, political ecology, geographical ecology and feminist political ecology into one concept. It argues that gender is a relevant factor in determining access and control of natural resources as it relates to class, race, culture and ethnicity to transform the environment and to achieve the community’s opportunities of sustainable development.

Eco-feminist actions address the contradiction between production and reproduction. Women attempt to reverse the assaults of production on both biological and social reproduction by making problems visible and proposing solutions. When radioactivity from nuclear power-plant accidents, toxic chemicals, and hazardous wastes threatens the biological reproduction of the human species, women experience this contradiction as assaults on their own bodies and on those of their children and act to halt them. Household products, industrial pollutants, plastics, and packaging wastes invade the homes of First World women threatening the reproduction of daily life, while direct access to food, fuel, and clean water for many Third World women is imperilled by cash the cropping on traditional homelands and by pesticides used in agribusiness. First World women combat these assaults by altering consumption habits, recycling wastes, and protesting production and disposal methods, while Third World women act to protect traditional ways of life and reverse ecological damage from multinational corporations and extractive industries. Women challenge the ways in which mainstream society reproduces itself through socialization and politics by envisioning and enacting alternative gender roles, employment options, and political practices.

Many eco-feminists advocate some form of an environmental ethic that deals with the twin oppressions of the domination of women and nature through an ethic of care and nurture that arises out of women’s culturally constructed experiences. An eco-feminist ethic is both a critique of male domination of both women and nature and an attempt to frame an ethic free of male-gender bias about women and nature. It not only recognizes the multiple voices of women, located differently by race, class, age and ethnic considerations, it centralizes those voices. Eco-feminism builds on the multiple perspectives of those whose perspectives are typically omitted or undervalued in dominant discourses, for example Chipko women, in developing a global perspective on the role of male domination in the exploitation of women and nature. An eco-feminist perspective is thereby. . . structurally pluralistic, inclusive, and is context based, emphasizing through concrete example the crucial role context plays in understanding sexist and naturist practice.’ An eco-feminist ethic, would constrain traditional ethics based on rights, rules, and utilities, with considerations based on care, love, and trust. Yet an ethic of care, as elaborated by some feminists, falls prey to an essentialist critique that women’s nature is to nurture.

The majority of activists in the grassroots movement against toxics, are women . Many became involved when they experienced miscarriages or their children suffered birth defects or contracted leukaemia or other forms of cancer. Through networking with neighbourhood women, they began to link their problems to nearby hazardous waste sites. From initial Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) concerns, the movement has changed to Not in Anybody’s Backyard (NIABY) to Not On Planet Earth (NOPE). Thus Cathy Hinds, whose well water in East Gray, Maine was contaminated by chemicals from a nearby industrial clean-up corporation became “fighting mad” when she lost a child and her daughter began to suffer from dizzy spells. She eventually founded the Maine Citizens’ Coalition on Toxics and became active in the National Toxics Campaign. Her motive was to protect her children. Women, she says, “are mothers of the earth,” who want to take care of it.”

Each of us should do everything possible to promote actions for survival on local, national, and international levels. . . . We must work to end food irradiation, to ban all known chemicals destroying the ozone layer, to reduce transport emissions, to recycle all reusable waste, to plant arboreta and botanical gardens, to create seed banks, etc. A Committee of Soviet Women pleads for environmental improvement in the face of her country’s accelerating industrial production. A national ecological program subsidized by the government is needed to reverse ecological damage. Children are being born with birth defects; air and water quality have deteriorated.

Women and biodiversity are not terms often considered to be associated with one another. However, women in many developing countries are often the protectors of biodiversity and have a very developed understanding of the medicinal and nutritional uses of a plethora of rare wild and cultivated plants. Biodiversity is fundamental for the continued growth, sustainability, and vitality of individuals and communities across the globe. Women, especially in developing nations, are most vulnerable to changes in biodiversity and at the same time most capable of protecting and retaining biodiversity because they often work the hardest and are the family care-takers. In many countries as per their tradition, women always eat last and are the first to sacrifice their food portion for their children in scarce times. According The Hunger Project, “women bear the brunt of domestic tasks: processing food crops, providing water and firewood, picking fruit, preparing and cooking food, caring for children, the elderly and the sick”. Women have the know-how and the potential to protect biodiversity, whose disappearance has and will increasingly contribute to and exacerbate global climate change

There are different relevant schools of feminist thought and activism that relate to the analysis of the environment. Eco-feminism argues that there is a connection between women and nature that comes from their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal society; this connection also comes from the positive identification of women with nature. This relationship can be argued from an essentialist position, attributing it to biological factors, or from a position that explains it as a social construct.

On this women’s day I want pay my homage to all those who have sacrificed their lives for the conservation of environment, my salutations to all those who are working for the said cause and my regards to all those who respects woman and their efforts for the conservation of environment.