FEMINIST ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARGUE that the domination of women by men reflects and reinforces the domination of the environment by society, and that the two are understood to be linked; patriarchal gender relations in society correspond to androcentric environmental ethics. Ecofeminism posits that the same masculinist habits of thinking and behavior that devalue, oppress, and exploit women also do so to nature; and are mutually reinforcing hegemonic processes pivoting around artificial Western binary oppositions interpreted by religion, science, government, and other androcentric agencies (superiority/inferiority and as domination/subordination that include human/nature, male/female, mind/body, reason/emotion, objective/subjective, and material/spiritual). Furthermore, classism, heterosexism, racism, and speciesism as well as sexism are all presumed to be interrelated. Thus, the liberation of women and of nature from male domination and abuse are causally interconnected. Accordingly, ecofeminism contains political as well as philosophical, theological, sociological, and ecological concerns. At the same time, there are several variants of ecofeminism that in general correspond to different foci for political thought and action within feminism, including liberal, cultural, social, and socialist feminists. However, these variants of ecofeminism have in common feminist challenges and alternatives to tyrannical patriarchal power structures that oppress, exploit, and abuse women and nature in different cultural, environmental, political, and historical contexts.
The French writer Francoise d’Eaubonne founded the Ecologie–Feminisme (Ecology–Feminism Center) in Paris in 1972, and coined the term ecofeminism in her 1974 book Le Feminisme ou la Mort (Feminism or Death). Since the mid-1970s, some of the more important pioneers in ecofeminism include Carol J. Adams, Chris J. Cuomo, Mary Daly, Greta Gaard, Susan Griffin, Wangari Maathai, Sallie McFague, Carolyn Merchant, Gloria Orenstein, Val Plumwood, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Ariel Salleh, Vandana Shiva, Charlene Spretnak, Mary Stange, Starhawk, Alice Walker, and Karen J. Warren. The United Nations Decade for Women (1975–1985) and other international initiatives by the UN and other organizations have contributed to the development of ecofeminism as well. Today there are numerous monographs, anthologies, book series, journals, websites, conferences and conference sessions on ecofeminism. However, ecofeminism has been criticized by many, including both feminists and ecofeminists, on various grounds, such as for essentializing the connection between women and nature, idealizing women in non-Western cultures, appropriating indigenous religious rituals, dividing academics and activists, and alienating ecofeminists from feminists and vice versa.
To take a particular example, the Chipko movement in the Himalayan foothills of northern India is one of the earliest political initiatives by women concerned about the environment. Many villages in India have long depended on local forests as a major source of food, fuel, fodder, materials, medicines, and spirituality. However, beginning in the 1970s, women who had been temporarily left behind in the village as men sought employment beyond had to defend their precious forests from outside loggers encouraged by government agencies. The women adopted Gandhian methods of nonviolent resistance by joining hands to encircle and thereby protect trees. The loggers were intimidated and withdrew. The Chipko movement led to the development of government policies on natural resources that were more sensitive to the concerns of local people. It has been recognized in India and internationally for preventing the deforestation of substantial areas of the country.
Another specific case is the national tree planting campaign in Kenya called the Green Belt Movement. It was created by Wangari Maathai in 1977. The National Council of Women of Kenya distributes seeds and seedlings, coordinates, monitors, and assesses local programs. Local women provide free labor in the daily management of the seed collection, quality control, planting, seedling care, and marketing. They plant and maintain small plots of trees adjacent to villages, farms, homes, and schools. In the process, they become skilled foresters, earn extra cash income, elevate their social status, participate in environmental education, and meet the needs of themselves and their families. This grass roots ecofeminist movement has mobilized more than 80,000 women to take charge of their own lives, needs, and habitat through planting more than seven million trees and related activities. Children and men have also become active partners in the programs. Furthermore, planting trees helps to control soil erosion, retain soil water, and prevent desertification. The Green Belt Movement reflects an ethics of caring for other humans and for nature that emulates mothering, partnerships, and friendships as well as a deep concern for future generations. Maathai won international recognition for her environmentalist and peace activism with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
An additional ingredient of some ecofeminism is the women’s spirituality movement that sees intimate and vital interconnections among women, nature, and the supernatural. Many consider the earth to be divine as Mother Nature or Gaia, and accordingly, she deserves reverence as well as respect, care, and love. For example, Starhawk has revitalized a variant of nature religion through her neopagan earth goddess worship. She asserts that nonhierarchy is the ethical path to perceive the interconnections and interdependencies of the living Earth. In this context, Starhawk has campaigned as an activist for many feminist, environmental, justice, and peace issues. These range from civil disobedience in anti-nuclear actions protesting the Diablo Canyon power plant and the Livermore Laboratory for research in California, to antiglobalization demonstrations at World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, Washington, and in Genova, Italy. She has been a major influence on many environmentalists including Earth First! Since 1977 various editions of her book, The Spirit Dance: A Rebirth of the Religion of the Great Goddess have collectively sold more than 300,000 copies.
Even though ecofeminism is still in an early stage of development with limited recognition and appreciation, it has focused more attention on gender aspects of human ecology and environmentalism and promises much more in the future, as followers believe the liberation of women will contribute to the liberation of nature as well. Ecofeminism focuses on caring and nurturing human and natural interrelationships. In the process, it integrates and promotes social and environmental justice.
Today, ecofeminism operates at the intersections of the women’s, environmental, and peace movements with considerable potential to integrate them and apply their concerns to improve both society and human–environment dynamics as demonstrated by the achievements of the Chipko and Greenbelt Movements. A better future for humanity and the biosphere depends on creating more cooperative, equitable, and healthy partnerships between men and women as well as between society and environment.
Chipko Andolan Movement; Gender; Shiva, Vandana.
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