You are currently viewing Feminism in focus: Ecofeminism

Feminism in focus: Ecofeminism

WRITTEN BY Macy Roberts

At large, feminism’s mission is and has always been to pursue equality of the sexes. Although, more specific goals of the feminist movement have appeared across history.

During the late 19th century, feminism focused exclusively on white, middle class women. Over the course of a few decades, modern feminism broadened its scope to focus on intersectionality and the idea that there is no singular experience that shapes the female identity.

Because our understanding of history is dominated by a male-perspective, we must challenge ourselves to consider nuances and how gender issues can be understood through a variety of perspectives. One commonly overlooked perspective regards the relationship between gender and the environment.

As stated by social theory scholar, Mary Mellor, in her book “Feminism & Ecology,” “ecofeminism is a movement that sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women.” 

The idea of ecofeminism started gaining academic consideration between the second and third waves of feminism in the 1970s. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, its philosophies became more largely recognized alongside the emergence of more radical feminism, but ecofeminism was criticized for lacking a focus on race and class issues. Now, the idea of ecofeminism is once again being regarded with interest and acknowledges how marginalized groups are disproportionately impacted.

According to Jessica Schmonsky, a writer for Voices of Biodiversity, “the central tenet of ecofeminism is that social and environmental issues are not separate, that the causes for the mistreatment of women, people of color and the environment stem from the same place.” 

Ecofeminism strives to put an end to exploitation caused by humans and instead foster the innate relationship humans have with the environment. It looks beyond the need to advocate for equality of the sexes by also suggesting there is a need to recognize the equality of human life and the natural world. 

Women share a symbolic link with nature – humankind has coined terms like “Mother Earth” that gender the environment and associate nature with femininity – and while both women and men can advocate for environmental issues, they disproportionately affect the former. 

In Latisha Ann Campbell’s thesis contained by the University of the Incarnate Word, she writes “ecofeminists note that the daily activities of most women in the world – nursing, nurturing, gathering fuel and water, cooking, cleaning and farming – link them to nature and often cause them to be the first harmed by environmental degradation.”

One way we can better understand ecofeminism in context is by looking at examples like the Chipko Movement in India. In the 1970s, this movement gained traction among rural Indian villagers as a result of increased forest destruction and an exploitation of natural resources by the government.

The Chipko Movement was primarily led by women, as the government’s actions had an especially grave impact on them. In the villagers’ community, men often left the home to find work outside the Himalayan region, leaving the women responsible for taking care of the farmland and collecting necessary resources.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent approach to conflict, the Chipko Movement received its name due to the approach of tree hugging as a form of peaceful protest. The movement was not only successful in influencing environmental policies in India to preserve forests and natural resources, but also in advocating for feminism. 

According to “Remembering Chipko Movement: The Women-led Indigenous Struggle,” an article published by Feminism in India, in addition to protecting the natural environment, villagers “questioned the status quo, biased in favor of men, and demanded a say in decisions which affected them.” 

The author of this article, Pallavi, emphasized the importance of feminism as it related to the Chipko Movement by writing that “eco-feminism became an important factor in the development of the movement, emphasizing as it did the relationship between the exploitation of nature and the suppression of women.”

Many examples of ecofeminism in action can be found in both the past and present. As modern feminism begins to align itself with the importance of intersectionality, the discipline is beginning to be understood in new, better informed ways. 

Considering the increased interest environmental issues are being regarded with in modern academic and social circles, it’s certainly possible that ecofeminism will begin being associated with more importance and interest than before. 

Like all disciplines of feminism, our understanding of ecofeminsim is constantly changing as we feminists gain more awareness and exposure to different scholarly approaches. There are many ways to understand the overarching message of feminism – eco-feminsim provides us just one of many different perspectives necessary to understand the intricacies of the feminist movement and the lived experiences of women around the world.