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Humans, in our fast paced ‘buy it now' societies, have become increasingly self-centered or anthropocentric. We have created a competition when one didn’t need to exist, and have often forgotten that we share this planet and all its resources equally with each other, as well as all other creatures and plants. In order to create positive and sustainable change we need to rekindle the symbiotic relationship between humans and our habitat. Noticing the qualities that humans and nature share can teach us how to work with our environment, rather than make it work for us. A particularly unique alliance that has been politicised and theorised extensively is that of women’s connections to nature.
Throughout history women have been deemed as having a ‘special’ relationship with nature. This relationship has taken many forms; whether it’s women having to be in tune with their environments to collect resources for their families, the moon’s influence on women’s menstrual cycles or the proclaimed femininity of nature itself as the notorious “Mother Earth”. Women’s bodies and our traditional roles as mothers are thought to have innately connected us to the natural world, and there are pockets of evidence for this across the world.
To a 21st century woman these ideas of an ‘essentialist’ feminine connection to our environment may seem disconnected from the society that we are so familiar with. More recognisable to us would be the fight against the subjugation of women and feminine ideals. A patriarchal history has misused and misplaced women through its destructive powers, using femininity as cultural blackmail. Women are victims of oppression, with the patriarchy as their oppressors. Similarly, the environment is a victim of oppression- the oppressor being consumerism and capitalism- both of which are heavily influenced by the patriarchy. Whether or not you align more with the former or the latter, it is easy to recognise that there are distinct parallels between these seemingly disjointed experiences
The Birth of Ecofeminism
‘Ecofeminism’ is the sophisticated label that threads these theories together. Although some of the belief systems that build the foundation of Ecofeminism have been around for centuries, the term itself has been brought about through necessity in the last 50-60 years to try and simultaneously tackle female subjugation and environmental degradation by analysing their historical parallels. A simplified outline of the aims of Ecofeminism are: to identify and address the disproportionate effect that climate change is having on women, to create positive climate action through the emancipation of controlling social and economicstructures, and advocate for a co-operative and respectful relationship between humans and nature. I do not believe that you have to categorically agree with one or all of these ideas in order to support the ambitions of Ecofeminism. The movement gained my attention through its desire to link feminism to more than just human action. I was drawn to the humble simplicity of reconnecting humanitarian and environmental issues.
Gender and Climate Change
Climate change is gaining acceptance and action is beginning to take place, however, the impact that climate change has on women is less commonly acknowledged. It is important to note that the use of ‘women’ here does not aim to gloss over the intersectional differences that account for a huge range of diverse and unique experiences of oppression. Women will feel the effects of discriminating social structures in varying ways, these will be exacerbated or mitigated due to their race, class, and geographical location.
For those women that are already disadvantaged, for example living off a low income or without education, their risk to the effects of climate change will be exacerbated. Natural resources that women rely on for their livelihoods are under threat, around 400million women farm and produce the majority of the world's food supply, yet women own less than 20% of the world’s land. Women farmers are also less likely to have access to education around new sustainable technologies and research on climate resilience. Women’s response to sudden natural disasters are often restricted by social responsibilities leading to women and children being 14% more likely to die during natural disasters than men.
Unsurprisingly, one of the key factors affecting women’s status around the world is their role as mothers. When women have equal and safe access to education, they tend to have fewer, healthier children. Studies across the world show that increased literacy rates coincide with increased income levels, nutrition levels, and child mortality rates meaning that women gain more economic and political stability.
After the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh women’s death rates were almost five times higher than men’s, this was due to many women being at home with their children and not in public places where warning information was transmitted. Some women are also not allowed to leave the house without a male relative, so were put at more risk as they waited for men to return home and take them to safety. Many of these issues are deeply rooted in male power structures that prevent women from having political, economic and social stability.
Ecofeminism in Action
Ecofeminism believes that through the alleviation of oppression, women and their subsequent roles in an equal society will have a positive impact on the environment and humanity. For justice to be brought to women, their voices need to be projected. More women need to be represented politically and gender responsive approaches to environmental policy need to be implemented to address climate injustice. In a more positive vein, there are many examples of effective Ecofeminist action taking place across the world. The Green Belt Movement in Kenya amplified and addressed women’s voices when they raised issues of water drought in their communities. Women worked together with the support of the movement to plant trees that would bind the soil and better store rainwater. The Green Climate Fund is another example that forefronts social equality with their aims to tackle climate change and its effects. The fund runs projects to decrease emission in developing countries and help vulnerable people to adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change. Their governing board unifies speakers from developed and developing countries and acknowledges women’s significant contribution to climate mitigation and response initiatives
Helping Humans to Help our Habitat
Identifying where climate change and social inequalities meet can lead to the most impactful and beneficial responses. By uniting humanitarian and environmental issues Ecofeminism seeks to connect humans back to our natural world, and help us to deconstruct and unlearn oppression in order to stop the destruction of our only planet.
Ecofeminist actions that you can take:
-Learn more by reading some of the references from this article. (For more of a comprehensive analysis of gender and climate action read this
- Support women’s climate initiatives and Global women’s originations and charities such as: The Womens Environment & Development Organisation, Womens Environmental Network, Silent Spring Institute, Global Green Grants Fund and MADRE. (These are just a few examples, there’s plenty more out there)
- Listen to or watch Dr Vandana Shiva talk about Ecofeminism and decolonization of women, nature, and the future on YouTube.
- Take steps towards living a more environmentally conscious life, if possible, try to shop sustainably and know where your products are coming from including what and who they affect.