Ecofeminism, also known as ecological feminism, is a branch of feminist philosophy which explores the relationship of degradation of nature to the oppression of women. This definition which connects the degradation of nature, the exploitation of natural resources and the oppression of women is provided by Mary Mellor in her book Feminism and Ecology. The term was first used by Francoise D’Eaubonne, and became popular when numerous protests were sparked as a result of ecological disasters which were led by indigenous women.
One of the key agendas of the ecofeminism movement was to bring to the forefront that the exploitation of natural resources impacts men and women differently. This distinction becomes heightened due to the onset of capitalism where the masculine idea of exploitation of resources hamper women and their access to resources. The patriarchal control that is exerted by men through control of natural resources allows for the perpetuation of capitalism. Early ecofeminist movements had their roots in resisting patriarchal and capitalistic control over natural resources and were led by women groups.
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Quick Glance at Ecofeminist Movements in India
One of the first ecofeminist movements in India occurred in the 1970s. Known as the Chipko Movement, the movement aimed to be a non-violent protest against deforestation in the region of Uttarakhand. The term chipko means to embrace. It was one of the first movements where the majority of the leaders were women, who were protesting against the loss of natural resources in Uttarakhand. In the 1960s and 70s there was mass felling of trees in the Himalayan region due to a rise in demand for commercial logging. Many deciduous forests in the region were felled and this led to waterlogging and loss of natural soil cover. It impacted the women in the region since they remain the primary resource managers. As a response to the rising commercialisation and reduction of forest cover the women in the region of Reni in Uttarakhand silently protested by embracing two thousand trees that were scheduled for felling.
The echos of this movement reached the corridor of the (then) Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who banned commercial felling in the region of Uttarakhand for a decade. This movement came to be known as one of the first ecofeminist movement in the country and playing a crucial role in shaping the discourse of ecofeminism across the globe.
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Types of Ecofeminism
Within the ecofeminist paradigm, there are broadly two kinds of frameworks.
- Radical Ecofeminism: This branch of ecofeminism states that patriarchy shares the same exploitative relationship with nature which is used to subjugate women. Hence, the intersection of environmental movement with the feminist movement is to counter the same force, patriarchy. Traditionally, men had control over resources and controlled women’s access and usage. Hence, the degradation of environment is also linked to the subjugation of women.
- Cultural Ecofeminism: This branch of ecofeminism contests that reduction of natural resources impact and affect the various genders differently because of structural inequalities. Traditionally, women have always been natural resource managers. Hence, as a cultural phenomenon, women are much closer to nature and natural resources. Hence, the exploitation of natural resources disproportionately impacts women.
These have been the two frameworks within which ecofeminists have tried to understand the intersection of environmental degradation and subjugation of women. Two prominent ecofeminists, Vandana Shiva and Bina Agarwal have been at the forefront of ecofeminist movement in India. Shiva tells to Yes Magazine, “When nature is a teacher, we cocreate with her—we recognize her agency and her rights.” Bina Agarwal has been studying for decades the relationship between women and land, specifically how gender-based power dynamics are linked to subjugation of women.
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The Intersectional Nature of Ecofeminist Movement
Ecofeminism as a movement is intersectional in nature. The first intersection is that of environmental and feminist movements. Within the feminist category, it is feminism that emerges at the grassroots. Hence, primary participants in this movement have been women from marginalised and agrarian classes who are directly impacted by environmental degradation.
Ecofeminism is often missing from narratives of feminism because within the paradigm of feminism, there is a privileging of certain issues such as civil, political rights. Issues concerning agrarian and grassroots feminism are often missing from such dialogues. The ecofeminist movement is one of the beacons of successful movement which continues to be a grassroots movement led by women in their non-violent fight to maintain their cordial relations with nature and natural resources.
Picture Credit : Jake Lyell from USAID
Priyanka Chakrabarty is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.