Ecofeminism is a feminist movement that analyses the interaction between social and natural processes and draws attention to the connection between the oppression of women and that of natural resources. From an economic perspective, ecofeminism proves that development patterns contribute to the oppression of women and nature and proposes practices that diminish energy and resource consumption and aim at restoring the balance between economy and the natural world and consequently reducing inequality.
Ecofeminism seeks to create an egalitarian, collaborative society without dominant groups. In her book Le Feminisme ou la Mort (1974), Françoise d’Eaubonne defines ecofeminism as the movement that exposes the oppression and marginalisation of women, black people, children and the poor, both having the same cause (the patriarchal system) as the oppression of natural world (animals, earth, water, air etc). She also defines the purpose of feminism as the eradication of social injustice. Part of her ideas had already been formulated by Rachel Carson in 1962, in the book entitled Silent Spring, in which she proved that women are more vulnerable to the harmful events affecting the environment than men are. For instance, women absorb oestrogen-mimicking pesticides that can cause breast cancer, a disease Carson herself had.
According to Susan A. Mann, ecofeminism started with the activism of women belonging to various economic and social categories. It showed that the more axes of oppression like race or class interact, the more a woman is affected by the environmental issues. For example, following the evacuation of Roma families to Pata Rât, the women’s reproductive system was affected and their children developed a number of diseases because of the health-destructing environment in which they were forced to live.
Author Vandana Shiva points out that women were experts in holistic knowledge and nature’s processes. Such alternative knowledge that seeks social benefices is not accepted in the capitalist paradigm that does not recognise nature’s interconnection with life, work or women’s knowledge, because it is not compatible or consistent with productive work.
In their 1993 essay Ecofeminism: Toward Global Justice and Planetary Health, Greta Gaard and Lori Guen identified the processes that led to the current global situation:
– the introduction of the materialist model that reduced everything to resources;
– the emergence of patriarchal religions and gender hierarchies, which erase the world’s unique nature, men’s indisputable connection with the natural world and their dependence on it;
– the categorisation in terms of dualist systems, which lead to hierarchical relationships;
– the capitalist position and its need to dominate, exploit, destroy and turn the planet, its people and animals into instruments, with the sole purpose of accumulating goods.
Ecofeminist criticism of modern science
In Ecofeminism (1993), Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies criticise the concept of science seen as a system of thought based on universal and neutral concepts. They show that science is far from objective, but reflects the core values of a patriarchal society. The possibility of defining what is considered science is controlled by men; men are the ones who, throughout history, have had access to positions of power. The examples refer to the reorganisation of traditional knowledge through its professionalisation and institutionalisation, and the assimilation of information about women’s capacity to give birth. The medicalisation of childbirth has resulted in the exclusion or marginalisation of midwives and has changed the natural process of childbirth, turning it into an institutionalised procedure that requires expertise and special technologies and disregards and alienates women’s knowledge and ability to give birth. Another change – the industrialisation of agricultural processes and the artificial creation of seeds, has taken place in parallel.
Vegetarian ecofeminism and the criticism of the patriarchal, hierarchical society
Animal oppression cannot be compatible with a movement that wants to abolish any form of domination. Ecofeminism considers meat consumption a form of patriarchal domination and draws attention to the link between male violence and meat consumption. Carol J. Adams holds that in our society manhood is built through access to meat eating, which involves control over other bodies, whether of women or animals, and she adds that we cannot fight for justice and criticise the exploitation of the natural world without realising that the most defining interaction with the natural world is, in fact, the consumption of meat.
This type of ecofeminism introduces a materialistic approach that reveals the relationship between work, power, women and nature seen as property and objects of domination. Social ecofeminism seeks to annihilate the hierarchies that have turned everything into a market, that have even taken hold of the woman’s womb. The theory of social reproduction uses the same concepts and approach of the relationship between reproductive work and productive work, with an emphasis on the former (food, child and senior care), without which the latter could not be supported.
Spiritual ecofeminism/Cultural ecofeminism
This kind of ecofeminism refers to the approach that recognises Earth as a living entity and lays great stress on the relationship of interconnectivity, or rather dependence, that we have with nature, which translates into the practice of coexistence that is similar to a community. Spiritual ecofeminism is not particularly associated with any religion, but with fundamental values like compassion, care, non-violence, intuition and the non-hierarchical relationship between man and nature.
Many ecofeminist practices are associated with non-violent protests, especially in connection with the nature preservation movements that have existed since the end of the 19th century. One such movement, the Green Belt, launched in Kenya, in 1977, by Wangari Mati, included a programme for planting one thousand trees around villages to prevent desertification. The initiative, which was awarded the Nobel Prize, also promoted environmental education programmes that mobilised the population, holding its leaders accountable and making them accept responsibility for their political decisions. Ecofeminism can no longer be separated from the considerations of the environmental justice movement that aim to guarantee environmental justice and fairness in the current situation brought about by the mounting climate crisis.