Feminism and ecology are two very complex concepts on their own, so why put them together in an even more confusing word: ecofeminism? Well, as it turns out, there are many important overlaps of environmental and gender equality issues that can be better tackled in the framework of ecofeminism. For instance, women are more vulnerable to climate change because of their role as child-bearers, food and water providers, and their comparatively higher risk of being faced with poverty.
In 1974, French feminist and social activist Françoise D’Eaubonne used the term in her book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort” in reference to the shared oppression that women and nature experience as a result of the patriarchal society. She namely discusses how men have taken control over nature’s and women’s fertility, which has led to environmental degradation and overpopulation. Improving gender equality can therefore lead to better population control, hence giving the Earth a chance to replenish itself. In the same way as a mother, the Earth is expected to be nurturing and resilient without receiving care in return, but this is a very damaging way to treat any living person or ecosystem. This is why a more holistic and intuitive approach to resource management is favoured by ecofeminists.
In the late 1970s, American feminist Ynestra King played an important role in popularizing the movement. In her essay Healing the Wounds: Feminism, Ecology, and Nature/Culture Dualism, she said “the ecological crisis is related to the systems of hatred of all that is natural and female by the white, male, western formulators of philosophy, technology, and death inventions”. In her opinion, it is patriarchal humanity’s relationship with life itself that causes not only the denigration of women and nature, but of people of color and indigenous peoples as well. The increasing physical separation of humans and nature is making our place within it and responsibility towards it less obvious. As a radical ecofeminist, King argues that the association between women and nature is used against the liberation of both as opposed to cultural ecofeminists who believe the close relationship between the two should earn women more power. She also makes the distinction between “ecologists” and “environmentalists” who view the environment as just that: a habitat for humans, rather than a complex ecosystem.
Around the same time in Kenya, a group of rural women sought Wangari Maathai’s help when they noticed the rivers were drying up and disrupting the balance of the ecosystem they depended on. Doctorate in the field of biology, she quickly identified the cause of the problem: the men were cutting down too many trees, which led to erosion of the soil and drove away the water. Not only did the ecosystem suffer from this exploitation, but so did the women, since they had the role of collecting water and growing food. This is a perfect example of how women are more in touch with nature and their opinion should be highly valued in environmental issues. In 1977, Wangari Maathai created the Green Belt Movement to support sustainable livelihoods through community empowerment which earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
Although the movement exploded during second-wave feminism, present-day ecofeminism is still very relevant and acknowledges that race, class, and sexuality also affect a woman’s social position. The international community has widely accepted the intersection of feminism and ecology and used it to accomplish its goals. For instance, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals created in 2013 include gender equality as fifth on their list. In 2017, the UNFCCC launched a Gender Action Plan acknowledging the importance of women as decision-makers and the need to strengthen gender-responsive climate policies.
Indian philosopher and scientist Vandana Shiva released “Ecofeminism” in 2014, a book she co-authored with Maria Mies. In an interview with Podacademy, she described Ecofeminism as “a celebration of the creativity of nature and the creativity of women”. For more insight on the subject, consider reading her book or listening to the podcast at podacademy.org/bookpods/ecofeminism/.