Ecofeminism establishes a connection between the exploitation of nature and the domination of women. It perpetuates the idea that the ecological disruption on the planet is a consequence of a capitalist patriarchal society, which believes that nature is dead and considers women as the other sex. Ecofeminism was coined by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1974. The term can be broken down into ecology and feminism. Ecology defines the relationships of organisms with each other and to their surroundings. Whereas, feminism advocates women’s rights for the goal of equality of genders. Humans have two discrete identities as men and women, both of which are part of the ecosystem. The superiority of one over the other will essentially create imbalance. Hence, it becomes imperative to understand the part each of us plays, to fathom that humans are not separate from nature but a constituent of it. There are multiple schools of thought around ecofeminism and what it means.
Karren Warren suggests that Ecofeminism is at least based on the following claims. (i) There are important connections between the oppression of women and the oppression of nature. (ii) Understanding the natures of these connections is necessary to any adequate understanding of oppression of women and nature (iii) Feminist theory and practice must include an ecological perspective, and (iv) solutions to ecological problems must include a feminist perspective (1987).
The ecofeminist discussion takes two forms. The proponents of body-based arguments claim that women through their uniquely bodily experiences — ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding — are closer to and more readily connected to nature. The oppression argument is based on the belief that women’s separate social reality, resulting from sexual division of labor and associated oppression has led women to develop a special social insight and connection with nature. In either case, ecofeminists typically derive ethics based on historically undervalued feminine values of ‘care, love and friendship, trust and appropriate reciprocity’ (Warren, 1990) that are meant to overcome all forms of domination.
Body-based argument garnered a lot of criticism. Robyn Eckersley suggested that the difference between the bodily experience of men and women, used to define the superiority of one over the other, is completely baseless. The claim that women are biologically closer to nature than men are, is regressive, that it reinforces the patriarchal ideology of domination and limits feminism’s own effectiveness. There is no actual proof to accept the body based argument, Catherine Roach points out, although men do not menstruate, bear children or breastfeed, they do share all other human biological processes (eating, sleeping, eliminating waste, getting sick, dying) and in addition, in their ejaculation of semen, they have experience of tangible stuff of the reproduction of life.
From another perspective, the oppression argument cannot be entirely omitted, as it has claimed to condition women in a certain way, which has been observed the world over. For instance, Muhammad Yunus, a Noble peace prize laureate from Bangladesh started Grameen bank. Lending exclusively to women, he found that extending credit to them created more change, more quickly, than lending money to men. The reason behind lending to women, who constituted the majority of the poor, the underemployed, and socially disadvantaged, meant they readily and successfully attempted to focus on the welfare of children and men. If a family member must starve in Bangladesh, often it is the mother. Moreover, women tend to focus on improving their child’s life. When she gets extra money, a typical woman buys cooking implements, repairs her house, or acquires beds. In contrast, men tend to spend borrowed funds on themselves. Numerous studies of male and female borrowers bear out this pattern.
Also, women play an important role in conserving biodiversity due to their role in household activities and the influence they have on their children, teaching them about nature and conserving biodiversity, said Onlathai Vilaisith, representative of the Women’s Union in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. According to a 2013 UN Environment publication on biodiversity for the well-being of women, women provide almost 80 percent of the total wild vegetable food collected in 135 different subsistence-based societies. Up to 80 percent of the population in many developing countries relies on traditional medicine. Women often have more specialized knowledge of various local and neglected species. Women play a pivotal role in the components of food security: food availability (production), food access (distribution), and food utilization (use and processing) as per the World Bank, 2009. Women have been conditioned to look after the needs of the family, community, and surroundings. This conditioning has evolved women’s mindset to confluence distinct factors and create harmony.
However, the oppression-based argument has a critic, Christine Cuomo suggests,
if it is true that females have been socialized in certain ways to maintain an oppressive system, then it is also true that aspects of this socialization must be thoroughly examined and recontextualized before they can be reclaimed and considered useful (354). It’s not right to assume that ecofeminism is only related to women as a gender and that men are any less human than women are, but it is safe to say that the argument involves women more than men to emphasize the role women have and bring them to the same level of social standing as men. In Saudi Arabia, women got the right to drive in 2017 but they still need permission from their guardian (a male member) to marry, enroll in school and university, and apply for a passport. Similarly, the idea of feminism propagates equality, the focus on women’s rights is due to continuous disenfranchisement.
This continuous depravity has started a dialogue in recent times, with a lot of issues happening the world over. Gloria Steinem, an eminent leader in the feminist movement points out that the courses on economics don’t start with reproduction, they start with production. It happens that reproduction is much more basic. And the definition of androcentric or patriarchal systems is controlling reproduction and that means controlling women’s bodies. It also is redoubled if there is a racial caste system, like in India because to maintain those separations it is doubly important to control reproduction. It is also of course connected to the environmental movement. The overload of human beings on earth is the single biggest cause of global warming.
Forcing women to have babies, either through religious ideologies or by taking away their right to abort can be seen as a major cause of overpopulation, which in turn leads to environmental degradation, over-farming, deforestation, and global warming. Population growth, in particular, places increasing pressures on the planet’s resources — water, forests, land, and the earth’s atmosphere — contributing to climate change and challenging environmental sustainability (Sustainable Development and Population Dynamics: Placing People at the Centre). Against this backdrop, in 2012, the United Nations Population Fund declared family planning a human right. But still, about 12% of women aged 15–49 globally don’t have access to family planning. This is a modern-day human rights violation happening right now. As mentioned by Karen Warren, solutions to ecological problems should include a feminist perspective, if women can have a say in framing these policies and get a chance to be elected, they would make more conciliatory policies.
Then again, Robyn Eckersley cautions ecofeminists to be wary of over-identifying with, and hence accepting uncritically, the perspective of women. She points out three ways in which over-privileging women’s experiences can inhibit the general emancipatory process. First, such an analysis can overlook the extent to which many women have been accessories in the process of ecological destruction in the past. Second, it can fail to identify the different ways in which men themselves have suffered from ‘masculine’ stereotypes. Third, it can be less responsive to the impact of other social dynamics and prejudices that are unrelated to the question of gender. Ultimately, she feels that while rendering visible and critically incorporating women’s experiences is commendable, over-privileging their experiences can only lead to a lopsided and reductionist analysis of social and ecological problems.
For example, the migration of many people from one country to another can lead to ecological problems, such an overwhelming use of resources of the host country. Myanmar’s torchbearer Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to the formerly military-ruled country — a fact that made her an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression. Becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader in 2016 after a democratic opening up, she has been accused of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh due to an army crackdown, doing nothing to stop rape, murder, and possible genocide, refusing to condemn the powerful military and acknowledge accounts of atrocities.
Hence, women as well as men, should not be generalized. Humans, being part of the same ecosystem are humans first and gender second. Hence, it is important to put all humans on the same pedestal as a part of nature and not separate from it.
The scope of ecofeminism is broad and gives a different lens on the issues happening the world over be it climate change, environmental degradation, or war as a matter of fact. While there are many schools of thought, the dichotomies are wide. However, any argument does not claim one gender superior to the other, but women have been in the backdrop for a long time now and it is imperative to bring them at the forefront of being active members in deciding what happens in the world around them. It has become important to be judicial and responsible when it comes to using the earth’s resources and therefore women should take part in framing policies when it comes to finding solutions to ecological problems that include a feminist approach. Since nature is deemed to be a dead entity and women are tagged as the other sex, it is imperative to fathom the consequences of this ideology and formulate ways and initiatives to combat them. This is an important finding in the understanding of ecology and anthropology. Regardless, future research could continue to explore theories and find creative solutions to address the issues the world over.