“Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.”
Excerpt from Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 2004.
With their common prefix, Ecofeminism and Eco-municipality have the same goal: protect Earth and its resources. Indeed, both concepts demonstrate a change in perspective. The environment isn’t considered anymore as a free storage of resources for humans but as an active entity and its needs must be taken into consideration in human activities. Ecofeminism and its claims can enrich the concept of Eco-municipality concerning its relation to Earth but also in its social and inclusive perspective.
The word Ecofeminism appeared for the first time in the book of Françoise d’Eaubonne, Le féminisme ou la mort (“feminism or death”). Coming from the contraction of “ecology” and “feminism”, the term became more popular between the 70’s and 90’s in the context of the nuclear arms race and the beginning of the ecological crisis, of which consequences were already important at that time, especially in the Southern countries. This movement claims that women’s oppression and the environment’s exploitation are closely linked in the dualism of Nature/culture. As a matter of fact, since the Renaissance and the sacralization of reason and progress at this time, Nature and women are considered as inferior and submissive to men. Of course, behind this simple definition of Ecofeminism, many coexisting movements within exist. This multiple movements within Ecofeminism can be either opposing and/or complementary to each other. So, the ecofeminists reclaim a new and more valuable relation with Nature in social discourse, from which they were previously excluded. This article will explain the theoretical principles of Ecofeminism and their variants through different examples all over the world. It will also deal with what the Ecofeminism can bring to the Eco-municipality concept.
“Make visible the invisible”
On the one hand, if Ecofeminism links oppression of women and exploitation of the environment, it is because the mechanisms of domination that they include are similar and can be fought together. To understand the close link between the two concepts, the relationship between the dualisms Nature/ culture and man/ woman of our western culture must be understood. K. J. Warren analyzes the conceptual framework of modern thought’s dualisms through three steps: distinction, prioritization and subordination, and shows that it can be applied to both dualisms previously evoked. The power relationship is well established between men and women, Nature and culture: Rationality and Freedom thought through the progress seen as emancipatory from the depreciated Nature. Furthermore, we can talk about a “shared and crossed domination (nature is seen as a woman, women are assimilated to nature)” (Catherine LARRERE, 2012). Indeed, metaphors such as “virgin land” or “penetrate the secrets of Nature” show the rapprochement done between women and Nature and their common submission.
Ecofeminism calls into question the global economy which separates reproduction and production and makes invisible the resources that enable either to work. Some leaders in the field of the modern economy may brag of creating surplus for humans while the reality is that we can only talk about exchanges “in a world where nothing is lost and nothing is created” (Catherine LARRERE, 2012). That is what ecofeminists try to highlight. First, the current economy conceals its dependence regarding Nature from which it extracts resources and uses the natural processes. Second, if the labor force can perform tasks, it is because this force is supported and reproduced by predominantly female home makers who are doing the domestic work, which is unpaid, unrecorded, and unaccounted for. Ecofeminists want to make visible the invisible and claim a new more inclusive and sustainable economy.
On the other hand, ecofeminists take a new look at environmental issues through many aspects. First, the concept looks at the environmental questions through health and vulnerability of people, which introduces a social aspect in the relation between humans and Nature. By this careful consideration on the way of livings and their quality, women advocate for an environmental justice protecting both environment and people.
« Questions of reproductive health, the health of children and loved ones, the future of subsequent generations on Earth, and the implications of technology have caused women to take active stands against the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, radioactive wastes, hazardous wastes, pesticide and herbicides, and to join the appropriate technology movement. »
Merchant, 1996, p. 151
Ecofeminism highlights also a new vision on “mother nature”. Questioning the dualism nature/culture must not lead back to the idea of a mother nature being able to fix humans’ mistakes and rule over all harmony. The current environmental circumstances show that, on the contrary, Nature can impose its power on humans. This thought can be linked to the concept of “partnership ethic” developed by Carolyn Merchant (Earthcare: Women and the environment, 1995, p. 211-217): in this perspective, humans and Nature are partners and interact in a peer-to-peer relationship and not as dominant and dominated respectively. Thus, humans can have a positive relation with Nature as a citizen of the biotic community.
As for every movement of thought, critics exist towards Ecofeminism. The main criticism is about essentialism, which means giving, by his or her essence, features to someone. For example, it can lead to giving to women the same traits as that of Nature because of their close link. However, the goal of Ecofeminism is not to demonstrate that women are more able to defend nature than men, but rather to highlight the analogy between domination of Earth and domination of women: women are not the same as Nature, but the domination is similar.
Ecofeminism around the world
As there is no universal definition of woman nor of feminism, there is also no single definition of Ecofeminism. Several sub-movements coexist.
Post-colonial feminism is developed mainly in southern countries where the consequences of the development of globalization have strong impacts on women. For example, their traditional daily activities are compromised and they are the target of effort to control demography. This Ecofeminism brings to the fore the fact that the domination of nature is closely linked to domination of women and colonial or post-colonial oppression. Social Ecofeminism, for its part, advocates the idea that capitalism and patriarchy are two systems that merged: “the capitalist patriarchy brings into opposition and hierarchize nature and culture: culture is considered as superior to nature and develops itself on the death of nature” (Simonae, « Expliquez-moi l’écoféminisme », 2017). In this way, these ecofeminists denounce the fact that women and nature’s work is free and not considered as important. A third movement is the cultural Ecofeminism which considered the rationalistic and scientists’ values as responsible for the destruction of the link between Earth and human beings. This movement blames the monotheist religions too for encouraging power relationship between humans and nature, men and women. So, the cultural Ecofeminism encourages a strong relation between women and nature because they have a close link with it due to their gender role and biologically. Finally, non-heterosexual perspectives can help to question the Ecofeminism which is mainly based on the heterosexual woman’s experience. Also, Ecofeminism can enable analysis of how non-heterosexual people have been feminized, erotized, animalized and naturalized in a pejorative way.
There are many sub-movements in Ecofeminism so the movements that embody them are as numerous as the examples that exist in the world! The Chipko’s movement in India can be considered as one of the first ecofeminist movements even if it doesn’t call itself as such. From 1973 to 1980, villagers expressed opposition to the exploitation of Mandal’s forests for commercial purposes and this sparked other similar protests in other areas across India. In 1977, the Green Belt Movement in Kenya was composed of women who were opposed to the deforestation, which had a real impact on their daily activities (wood harvesting, alimentation of members of the household). Wangari Maathai, ecofeminist and leader of the movement suggested to put in trees around the towns and villages (“the green belts”) to solve the problem. She received the Nobel prize in 2004 for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. In northern countries some movements emerged too, such as the pacific protest camp near the military base of Greenham Common in England. This place was occupied for 19 years (1981-2000), in a single-sex way exclusively by women to protest against the installation of nuclear missiles. These examples show that women and nature’s voice can be heard through common movements that question the prevailing traditional system.
Conclusion and implications
Ecofeminism can bring a lot to the Eco-municipality concept. These two concepts refer to the image of an active Earth with which humans can make a pact in the same time they stop exploiting it. In closing, these notions bring both to the fore the social aspect of the sustainable development: in a sustainable world, men and women are equal and all can answer to their human needs in a sustainable perspective.
LARRÈRE, C. (2014, May 21). « L’écoféminisme : féminisme écologique ou écologie féministe ». Retrieved from http://journals.openedition.org/traces/5454 ; DOI : 10.4000/traces.5454.
Violynea, Natty. (2017, March 17). « Expliquez-moi l’écoféminisme ». Retrieved from https://simonae.fr/militantisme/les-indispensables/expliquez-ecofeminisme/?fbclid=IwAR3jbSILHzTt0qS5wjAlYROFLA5R8olYZJJ-6WQJ_15YM2G_LvIrL_6UBzk
LARRÈRE, C. (2017, February). « L’écoféminisme ou comment faire de la politique autrement ». Retrieved from https://www.cairn.info/revue-multitudes-2017-2-page-29.htm