Words by Katerina Grypma
I realised I was a part of nature years before I realised I was a woman. Climbing and bleeding, discovering and collecting the insects and animals all over my backyard as a kid, I felt more in touch with non-human life than I have ever since. To me, ecofeminism — a philosophical theory combining feminist and ecological discourses — is a medium through which I can explore and cultivate the fusion of my identities as an environmentalist and a (now adult) woman. More broadly, I feel ecofeminism can deepen feminist thought by reaffirming the significance and strength entailed in womanhood. It can also guide us toward inventive, personally engaging ways of tackling the climate crisis. To demonstrate this, I wanted to focus here upon what ecofeminism can offer environmental conservation, and how it might be applied in a practical sense. There are a few ways, I think.
Firstly, ecofeminism can enhance the effectiveness of some boring but necessary stuff: management arrangements, decision-making procedures and other policy implementations with environmental conservation as their goal. Two concepts at the heart of ecofeminism are:
- that social and environmental issues are interconnected, and
- that the injustices women and the environment are subjected to worldwide both originate, at least in part, from the patriarchal undertones and history of current societies.
So, adoption of ecofeminist thinking creates a moral imperative to address discriminatory measures within our current socio-economic paradigm. Following this, human diversity — in terms of gender, environmental ethics and preferred lifestyle — can be expressed more strongly and hence, environmental degradation more successfully mitigated. Critically, this transformation must involve the shifting of dominant assumptions and attitudes before any productive institutional applications can take place. The case study mentioned below sheds some light on one form this may take.
Including women and considering their needs in the development of environmental management plans — as encouraged by ecofeminism — can help address specific issues that may arise in the realisation of those plans. A case study from the United Kingdom provides an insightful example of how this might work: it uncovered the different ways in which men and women experience waste. Researchers found that women are more likely to be committed to recycling, and more likely to be concerned about the health risks associated with waste incineration (Buckingham 2004). The latter concern was mostly expressed by mothers, who understandably have a heightened mindfulness of the kind of world they intend to leave behind for future generations. Unfortunately, it was also found that community meetings and organisations focused upon waste management were inaccessible to mothers (e.g. made no provision for childcare) and lacked female representation. So, instigating policies that ease the burden of imposed gender roles (which might prevent women from, as illustrated, being more involved in civic duties) would enable them to positively contribute to waste management. As a male-dominated profession, waste management was concluded to be improvable through the achievement of further gender equality. Better public participation procedures, consultations and internal training policies involving women were suggested pathways to accomplishing this (Buckingham 2004).
Outside of the UK, such equality-promoting environmental policies would benefit from recognising that in certain regions, women’s work is closely related to environmental management (e.g. the work of women farmers in Vietnam). Ecofeminism stresses that this wisdom should be taken advantage of in ways that benefit local communities and the environment.
This leads on to how ecofeminist ideas can address the limits of feminist practices which lack an ecological outlook. Humanity’s close relationship with nature is emphasised in cultural ecofeminism, a school of thought that embraces emotional and biological associations of women with the environment. This perspective developed as an alternative to radical ecofeminism, which sees the female-nature relationship as a social construct, fabricated to degrade women. As an aside; I personally see the merit of aspects of both approaches, although I have explored cultural ecofeminism a little more as its pagan roots intrigue me. One article involving cultural ecofeminist undertones asserts that any praxis aiming to emancipate women is futile if it does not recognise the intimate relationship between human beings, animals and ecological systems. As we become ever more informed about how conventional modes of development are increasingly affecting the welfare of ecosystems, defining freedom solely in terms of human welfare is rendered immoral and feeble. Our understanding of the ways in which we need nature; our acknowledgement of its intrinsic value, should lead us to recognise that an emancipation whose cost is the extinction and expropriation of nonhuman others is indefensible.
Epic challenges lie ahead if we want to make the progress on issues of climate justice needed for a safer, more beautiful future world. But hope can be found in the fact that, as women, we’ve faced countless overwhelming challenges before, and emerged triumphant. I find hope in our unique knowledge and experiences, and the tangible differences these can make when applied. I find hope when I remember that, going into the future, we’ll always have each other.
For further reading I’d recommend Womankind magazine’s Gyrfalcon edition as an introduction to ecofeminism.
Further reading on ecofeminism
- Schmonsky, J 2012, ‘The Growing Importance of Ecofeminism’, Voices for Biodiversity, 22 October, viewed 4 May 2018, <https://voicesforbiodiversity.org/articles/the-growing-importance-of-ecofeminism>
- Mies, M & Shiva, V 1993, Ecofeminism, Zed Books Ltd, London, quoted in Women and Life on Earth, What is ecofeminism?, Women and Life on Earth, viewed 4 May 2018, <http://www.wloe.org/what-is-ecofeminism.76.0.html>
- Buckingham, S 2004, ‘Ecofeminism in the twenty-first century’, The Geographical Journal, vol. 170, no. 2, pp. 146–154.
- Andutan, MS 2016, ‘Unleashing the potential of Vietnamese women farmers as change agents’, Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, 19 May, viewed 4 May 2018, <https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/unleashing-potential-vietnamese-women-farmers-change-agents#.WuwbeYiFPIU>
- Miles, K 2013, Ecofeminsim, Encyclopædia Britannica, viewed 4 May 2018, <https://www.britannica.com/topic/ecofeminism>
- Lee, L 2006, ‘On Ecology and Aesthetic Experience: A Feminist Theory of Value and Praxis’, Ethics & the Environment, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 21–41.