Ecofeminism: Why We Need It
By Marian Avila-Breach
What is ecofeminism?
Throughout the history of feminism, feminist theory has always been shaped by women’s lives around the world. Feminism and all theories that purport equality, look at the world and its governments and institutions and attempt to look further and look at how the world should be. Recently, with the women’s march in March and the scourge of sexual harassers in media and politics, the fight for women’s rights has risen another notch. Women are demanding an equal world. However, as women’s rights achieve progress, new legislation in the US breaks down environmental protection laws and deregulates environmentally harmful practices. What use are equal rights if there is no longer a healthy Earth in which to practice them? French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne coined the term Ecofeminism in the 1970’s as a way to bring attention to the ways women and feminist theory could bring about an ecological revolution. Like feminist theory itself, ecofeminism is comprised of a rich diversity of sub-theories, many linked to other philosophies of government or economy. A broad definition of ecofeminism, however, would be the overarching idea of there being diverse interconnections between women, the fight for women’s rights, and environmental protection.
Why should women care about Ecofeminism?
In the United Nations (UN) Environment page, the subsection on gender specifies that ecological devastation, pollution, and climate change are human-made disasters that disproportionately affect women. The majority of this world’s poor are women, who because of their overwhelming lack of rights and access to power, are not only affected by climate change disasters and pollution but are also unable to adequately address the issues. In women’s overall position as second-class citizens with limited rights, women result as among the most vulnerable to the aforementioned problems. In subsistence economies, women rely on the raw materials of their environments such as firewood and water to feed their families and maintain their homes. As deforestation expands and water pollution continues to be unaddressed in disadvantaged societies, women suffer the consequences. Women becoming more disadvantaged and more vulnerable hurt women everywhere as these vulnerable women become victims of exploitation. Ecofeminism recognizes that protecting the environment is closely linked to protecting and empowering women. By ensuring that women have access to their means of subsistence, women are less likely to fall victim to exploitation and extreme poverty.
Why should men care about ecofeminism?
Although ecofeminism focuses on women’s role in the environment, men stand to benefit from ecofeminist results. In a world where men dominate the majority of political parties, academic institutions, media, and corporate settings, the responsibility for the fight against climate change and the protection of the environment falls largely to men. However, as Rachel Kyte CEO of SEforALL (Sustainable Energy for All) explained, “There is no way that we can solve this problem if we only do it with 50% of the talent and energy on this planet.” By fighting the fight alone men are engaging in a losing battle. In addition, ecological devastation and climate change will affect all living beings on this planet, regardless of gender. Protecting the environment should not be a gendered issue, but men supporting women’s rights ensures that the fight against climate change isn’t gendered either. With everyone able to take action against environmental crises, we may yet leave a better future for all people.
Women are uniquely positioned to fight climate change
Beyond calling for the advancement of women’s rights as a way to fight global warming and environmental degradation, ecofeminism understands that bringing women to the fight helps further ecological goals in a way a “men-only” approach would not. Since we live in a gendered world, the majority of men and women engage in gendered occupations. Although the duties differ from society to society, women are still overwhelmingly the primary caretakers and homemakers. Usually these occupations will include gathering basic natural resources for the home, supplying food and water, and doing household chores such as bathing children and washing clothing. Although these skills are often undervalued in many societies, they are skills that tie into a vast amount of knowledge of their surroundings. In a small village in India, researchers asked the local men to describe the uses of a local tree; the men provided on average 12 different uses. Later, the researchers went into homes and asked women; women on average recited 32. Because of their unique position, women become well-versed in the importance of their ecosystem and are more likely to perceive disastrous effects resulting from the decimation of ecosystems. Through their knowledge, women can help preserve environments around the world. Conversely, disadvantaged women have also been known to further the pollution of their environment. In the mountainous region of northern Mexico, women pour noxious chemicals into their local river when washing clothes. By not knowing better, the women are contributing to the pollution of their only source of water. Ecofeminism focuses on educating and empowering the women discussed so as to ensure that they can protect their environments and become active participants in ensuring the planet’s health.
Both environmentalists and feminists are often vilified and attacked by traditional opinion outlets and groups of people that do not want to see the global status quo change. However, the world is changing regardless of who wants it or not. Climate change is a current phenomena that is already affecting diverse global societies and will keep affecting them in the future. Separately, feminist and ecological movements address and garner support for issues that can positively impact humanity as a whole. Nonetheless, the cross section of both issues, ecofeminism, stands to accomplish more on both fronts if these marginalized fights join forces. We all live on the same planet and all of our lives and decisions are interconnected through our bionetwork. Sustaining a clean environment and ensuring women’s rights and equal opportunity become one and the same in Ecofeminism. Possibly the most significant aspect of ecofeminist theory is what it represents, the joining to two powerfully human and important issues and exposing the reality that humans are not objective causal observers on Earth but rather deeply involved participants. We, women and men alike, need to fight for women’s rights to help save our home, because it’s truly the only one we’ve got.
Feminist Environmental Philosophy
First published Fri Aug 29, 2014; substantive revision Mon Apr 27, 2015