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The Dual Role of Women in Climate Activism

Coined by French feminist Francois d’Eaubonne, the word ‘ecofeminism’ flourished, seeking attention towards the concept of gender to draw a direct link between nature and humans in 1974. In the same year, cultural anthropologist Sherry Ortner published “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?” arguing that women’s subordination to men is rooted in their symbolic connection to nature. This brings to light the interconnection of women and nature. Ecofeminism has been empowered by women of diverse cultures, races, and religions, articulated initially by Euro-feminists. Ecofeminists’ focus benefited from the intersectional theories of black feminists. The movement puts forth the idea that life with nature can be maintained through corporation, love, and harmony, eliminating all forms of domination while recognizing the need to embrace mutual dependence.

Gender plays a pivotal role in climate change discussions and its direct impact on its ever-changing natural domains. Today, ecofeminism is once again in the discussion, leaving behind the period when relatively abstruse knowledge was known about the topic. In an attempt to provide a more inclusive approach towards environmental depletion, ecofeminism demands sustainability and social justice. Strengthening and invigorating each other, feminists and environmentalists found a common link to make the collaboration more effective. Ecofeminists do not seek equality with men as such but aim for the liberation of women as women.

Thirty years since the term 'sustainable development’ promulgated, environmentalists have been finding ways to maximize the efficiency of its idea and goal. Seeking justice in all spheres of society and environment — coinciding goals was a mere way to bring in people to fight against them. People were drawn towards the idea of ecofeminism, using the concept of gender to draw a relationship between humans and nature. Ecofeminism does not mean that women are better advocates or defendants of nature. Men too are advent social workers of climate change and in no way does ecofeminism trivialize their efforts. Nurturing and protecting human life in harmony with nature is what women have been performing since the starting, which is often valued as a trifle, unacknowledged, and invisible task. In a nutshell, the primary claim of ecofeminism is that women’s liberation is intertwined with the liberation of the environment from human destruction. For example, the female tendency to be a giver is echoed in nature's ability to provide everything necessary even after its constant depletion.

There are many parallels between women and nature, and the same mechanisms suppress and exploit both.

The effects of climate change affect the poor, marginalized, and often a weaker section of society. According to a UN report, women are not only one of the first victims but also are the prime advocates for the defence of the deteriorating environment. Apart from 'natural' disasters, people tend to downplay the consequences women worldwide have to suffer. They have a unique vulnerability to these issues. Travelling long distances to fetch food and water, thus reduces their time to perform various tasks. Water scarcity further degrades the hygienic conditions for women. Environmental toxins and pollutants impact both men and women equitably; however, certain sections such as pregnant women are more susceptible to this contamination. Environmental issues directly impact the living and hygienic conditions of women, perforce, involving them to offer alternatives and solutions to alleviate them. Thus, issues like environmental toxins, water depletion, and deforestation become feminist issues. Drawing critical observations and claims, women sought to achieve a unified voice and autonomy of nature. These connections, ecofeminists argue, are part of a broader ideological framework under which both women and nature are unjustly exploited by patriarchy.

Over the years, ecofeminism's context and meaning have evolved, bringing in revised policies and beliefs. There are three distinct types of policies within ecofeminism. Environmental issues have appeared in ancient Greece texts, highlighting the awareness of mistreatment against nature and its constituents. From human mistreatment against farm animals to an exploitative acquisitive relation with nature, canonical philosophy laid out the foundation upon which Western philosophy was based. Although evolved and partially diverging, Western philosophy focused on humans' moral responsibilities towards nature and non-human things, but with wavering opinions based on their responsibilities. The 'revised' philosophy not only uses the principal concepts and theories of canonical philosophy but also extends the moral community to non-human animals. Making visible the interconnection and sentient suffering of women, the revised philosophy related the injustices against women and nature, giving rise to a new form of environmentalism. Viewing the ethical perspectives of ecofeminism, ecofeminist ethics is a sub-ordinate of feminist ethics.

Radical and cultural ecofeminism examines and analyses the assumptions, values, and fears to meaningfully and systematically understand the patriarchal culture. There is no one definition of feminist ethics, as people seek to approach it differently and reprimand the interconnection. Ecofeminism is based upon moral grounds, emerging from a diversity of women’s voices against oppression and crime. The changing policy landscape involves dynamics to assess gender inequalities and mistreatment of the environment. Proclaiming exploitation and misuse of authority, both women and nature have perished under unjustified systems of domination.

But has ecofeminism lost its relevance in recent years? Some critics have cited that while ecofeminism successfully associates itself with women, it forgets to address intertwined social problems like discrimination, colour, racism, classism, and much more. While some suggest targeting and empowering the target groups that are closely associated with nature, others disagree with its selective methodology. Critics argue that women tend to advocate for the movement, focusing only on associating the two terms rather than exponentiating a common link between the ambush both nature and women have to suffer. With rising climate change, people require a movement to become and make others aware with one available option as ecofeminism; but it is important to understand its motive, target group, and impact before it can be widely used. Some critics suggested the dichotomy between men and women created stringent views against men. Inviting backlash, ecofeminism has faced harsh criticism for regressive views and theories, losing its momentum during its initial rise. Stressing upon an insoluble connection or a mere coincidence, ecofeminism faced comments pulling apart the newfound relation.

‘Ecofeminism is an essentialist, biologist, and it lacks political efficacy’, is one of the widely used definitions. Debates proclaiming that all ecofeminists must oppose the logic of domination, and fight against the patriarchal framework created an upheaval. One critic provided an example of animal habitation in nature. A species can be said to dominate an ecosystem just like an eagle dominates a mountain top. However, it would be unjustifiable and preposterous to categorize it under domination. A proliferation of a species and its pivotal role in the ecosystem does not indicate an act of domination. They also argued that domination solely detracts from the purpose of environmentalists. Ecofeminism views the devastation of nature and oppression of women through the same logic, however, others argue that the logic of domination can be viewed from various facets, not giving a clear articulation of unjust.

Are women closer to nature than men? Women are identified with nature and as the realm of the physical and innate; men are identified with humans and as the realm of mind. The former is considered below the latter, creating a system of insoluble domination and oppression. Many ecofeminists believe that patriarchy has alienated men from nature.

On the other hand, deep ecologists feel traditional practices like hunting play a crucial role in the connection. Some identify the movement as a human identity to be accidentally and minimally connected to nature through a puzzling truism factor i.e. naturalizing domination in both human and non-human spheres. Ecofeminists like Masa and Shiva rejected the notion at once, stating that when they encounter ecological destruction and the threat of obliteration, they instantly recognize the germane connection between 'patriarchal violence and women' and 'people and nature'. Some questioned the female essence in ecofeminism, as some theorists rely on the notion that women are, by nature, more caring, nurturing, and life-affirming than men. In response, several critics argued the continual domination, as ecofeminists say, 'destruction of the plant, natural habitat, and animals' as a way to make sufficient room for civilization.

Another objection to ecofeminism is the lack of breadth and depth to its theory. Some suggest the foundational framework is too broad to make any clear points. Some call the framework utopia. While ecofeminism presents an imaginative alternative, the objectives cannot be achieved without a compact blueprint of principles. Another objection is unequal focus on all standpoints, diluting the accentuation of ecological issues. Many argue that ecofeminism itself is so broad that several vicissitudes and efforts would be required to obtain the required altruistic result. Others addressed the concern of needlessly highlighting some issues that don't seem directly related to the ecofeminist project that is worth pursuing.

What are the prime differences between deep ecology and ecofeminism? Comparing ecofeminism to deep ecology, both promote similar views sharing a common ground for some of the principles. Both focus on the intrinsic relationship between nature and humans, asserting critical yet pragmatic claims. For deep ecology, the genesis of the problem is the rapacity of mankind to rake profits at the cost of nature. They promote values to reduce this instrumental usage of nature and highlight the morality of humans to save the future. However, deep ecologists charge that ecofeminism minimally draws a connection of domination, which merely detracts from the sole purpose of recognizing the worth of nature. In response, ecofeminists claimed that deep ecology justified one general voice whereas ecofeminism advocated for several voices. One other difference is the dissimilar implication of roots of problems which eventually resulted in a snowball effect. Deep ecologists identify anthropocentrism( considering humans and the existence of humans as the most important and central fact of the universe). 'Self-realization' is crucial to deep ecology, asserting a deepening and broadening sense beyond narrow ego to identify with all living beings. On the other hand, ecofeminists charge androcentrism and domination as the substructure( the tendency to place the male or masculine viewpoint and experience at the centre of a society or culture). Both are similar in their culmination but different in their approaches.

Deep ecology is inclusive of both women’s and men’s values, unlike ecofeminism, which aims to examine and take action against misuse of power through a patriarchal outlook. One other important aspect of ecofeminism is spirituality, forming an ethereal relationship. Debates about spirituality are very disputed, causing conflicts between liberal, social and cultural ecofeminism. Cultural ecofeminism or ‘earth-based spiritualities’ stresses spirituality from canonical, ethical, epistemological, ideational, and theoretical reasons. Spiritual ecofeminism rejects the Christian anthropocentrism with the white masculine construct of One god. Instead of this belief, ecofeminism renews the ancient matriarchal beliefs as fertility symbols, incorporating some essential elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. It suggests an ecocentric image of the world as a circle, highlighting the symbol of eternal return and an integrated strength to overcome all the impediments. Beyond theoretical reasoning, women work towards real interactions with nature and take action against the brutal degradation of nature. Ecofeminists suggest that women are most hurt by the ceaseless exploitation of natural resources because they are the most vulnerable in society. While women are invested in preventing this damage, they are the most unprotected. Ecofeminism has an ecological perspective. Ecology emphasizes the mutual dependence of elements of the ecosystem, which should reflect a balance, organism, and integration.

Being in its development stage, ecofeminism still has a lot to achieve and impact. However, there have been significant contributions on behalf of ecofeminist thinkers and writers who have paved the way for significant growth in the future. Together, ecofeminists are seeking a plausible solution for the future and include a scope to improve. While ecofeminism provides a unique feminist lens to the intuitive relationship of women and nature, the foundational theories and aspects are too broad to be coherent. Giving a new sentiment to highlight the virulent damage to nature, ecofeminism seeks to provide a fresh yet unique outlook to contemplate.

Ecofeminism provides an alternative to our ecological thinking and thrives to achieve solidarity among women. Wavering yet a unified voice invigorated the movement, demanding a poignant effect on the ingrained oppressing actions in the society. Inviting quite a lot of criticism and support for its cause, ecofeminism has left a lot to ponder upon.

Jahnavi Rathore is a social worker.


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