What is Ecofeminism?

The ecofeminist framework stands at the intersection between environmentalism and feminism, focusing on the mutually reinforcing minimization of women’s issues and environmental issues.

  • Ecofeminism draws critical connections between the oppression of women and the destruction of biodiversity, explaining them both as results of a patriarchal and consumption-based model of progress found throughout the world.
  • This model, which posits man and the capitalist system at the top of a hierarchy and everything else inferior, fails to ascribe value to diversity.
  • The adherence to this model ultimately results in the failure to see diversity as intrinsically valuable; women and nature, being different from the norm, are seen as inferior and unequal.
  • Vandana Shiva argues that pure capitalistic development—measured in the form of GNP (Gross National Product)—is inadvertently a measure of how “real wealth,” or the wealth of nature and wealth produced by women, is devalued. Thus, as a nation’s GNP increases, its valuation of women, biodiversity, and the intimate connection between the two decreases.
  • Shiva details the harm that placing commodity production above all entails, primarily the devaluation of the life, goods, services, and renewable resources that women and nature provide. She calls striving toward purely economic progress “maldevelopment,” and moving away from maldevelopment requires a recognition that “categories of ‘productivity’ and growth which have taken to be positive, progressive, and universal are, in reality, restricted patriarchal categories.” [1]
  • Thus, both women and nature are abused by the system, their sole value coming from economic exploitation required to sustain the patriarchal, consumption-based model.
  • Similarly, Shiva warns against embracing all science as good, arguing that “modern science and development are projects of male, western origin, both historically and ideologically,” as scientific value shot up during the Industrial Revolution, a period known for its gross environmental degradation, and science is still heralded as having the potential to unveil the unlimited possibilities of new areas that man can conquer. [1]
  • Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies’s seminal work, entitled Ecofeminism, explains the justification for the existence of ecofeminism:
    “Everywhere, women were the first to protest against environmental destruction. As activists in the ecology movements, it became clear to us that science and technology were not gender neutral; and in common with many other women, we began to see that the relationship of exploitative dominance between man and nature, (shaped by reductionist modern science since the 16th century) and the exploitative and oppressive relationship between men and women prevails in most patriarchal societies, even modern industrial ones, were closely connected.” [2]

 

Further Reading on Ecofeminist Theory

[1] Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. London: Zed Books, 1989.

[2] Mies, Maria and Vandana Shiva. Ecofeminism. Halifax, N.S.: Fernwood Publications, 1993.

Gaard, Greta and Lori Gruen. “Ecofeminism: Toward global justice and planetary health.” Society and Nature 2 (1993): 1-35.

Nogueira-Godsey, Elaine. “The Ecofeminism of Ivone Gebara.” Doctoral thesis, University of Cape Town, 2013.

Ress, Mary Judith. Ecofeminism in Latin America. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2006.

Shiva, Vandana. “Women’s Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity Conservation.” India International Centre Quarterly 19 (1992): 205-214.