The Project

Introduction

Ecofeminists around the world have made connections between gender politics and environmental issues. The exact roles that women play and the knowledge they retain varies in different parts of the world—women in Latin America, where many of the most biodiverse yet most industrialized regions of the world are concentrated, clearly have unique and important relationships with the natural world that merit further study. Latin American ecofeminist thought rose in the 1980s, drawing inspiration from North American and European movements, yet forging a new emphasis on poor, marginalized Latin women as knowledge producers. Theologians, such as Ivone Gebara, point out the strengths of an ecofeminist framework for environmental issues in Latin America by not only addressing  biodiversity and environmental degradation, but also urbanization, industrialization, and female bodily integrity.

There has been notable success in the limited cases in which ecofeminist knowledge has been applied to find effective solutions to environmental and feminist challenges. Utilizing ecofeminism as an analytical framework has stimulated female empowerment, especially for rural, indigenous, and working-class women, encouraging their deeper participation in directly mitigating environmentally-related problems that unequally target and affect them.

However, despite these successes, few Latin women purport to identify themselves and their movements as “ecofeminist,” thus requiring a more scrutinizing analysis of women’s issues and environmental issues through the lens of ecofeminist theory. In this blog, we utilize an ecofeminist framework to study the intersection of current, ongoing environmental and feminist problems throughout diverse geographical areas of Latin America. Ecofeminism, we argue, can be used to understand the gender politics that accompany struggles for fair natural resource management as shown in case studies from Northeastern Brazil, Ecuador, and Amazonia, as well as industrial and urban issues in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Southern Brazil.

By critically analyzing the intersections between gender and the natural world, the blog draws parallels between environmental movements and the fight for gender equality, arguing that advancement in either sphere is not mutually exclusive. The analysis used should serve as a model for an ecofeminist, analytical framework desirable for moving social movements forward. Oppression and exploitation of both nature and women stem from the same systems of domination; until that realization is made by activists in either sphere, change will never be truly effective. These problems demand a cooperative and holistic approach—one that takes into account class, race, gender, and ecology—in order to successfully dismantle systems of oppression.

Framing Questions for our Analysis

  1. Why is ecofeminism useful?
  2. How does ecofeminism help us understand the gendered nature of specific environmental problems?
  3. How are rural and indigenous women stewards for their communities and the environments in which they reside?

Limitations

Early on in our research, we encountered a major problem—very few women’s social movements in Latin America identify themselves as “ecofeminist.” Therefore, as we mention above, the main method of analysis used in this blog is applying the theory and conceptions of an ecofeminist framework upon Latin American social movements that may not necessarily self-identify as “ecofeminist.”

Below is a list of limitations that we acknowledge in utilizing this analytical style.

  • Placing the external label of “ecofeminist” onto groups that we are neither a part of nor have direct connection with poses the problem of labeling a group with an identifier that they may consciously oppose. In doing so, we are eliminating the movement’s agency in identifying their own political and rhetorical agenda.
  • We are suggesting that ecofeminism is not taught but innate, since women who may not be familiar with the analytical framework of ecofeminist theory still embrace the same rhetorical strategies of classical ecofeminism. However, implicit in this conclusion is the inaccessibility of academic scholarship to women who participate in these movements—often, women of the lower- or working-classes, indigenous women, and ethnically or racially marginalized women. The concept of ecofeminism has emerged in an academic tradition, and we concern ourselves with the accessibility of theoretical works that inform our analysis.
  • By looping together all of Latin America into a single category for our ecofeminist analysis, we make an assumption that perhaps posits all Latin American women as a single and coherent group despite class, ethnic, racial, and/or historical differences and implies that gendered inequalities can be applied cross-culturally. This kind of assumption, warns theorist Chandra Mohanty, can produce the image of an “average third-world woman” who “leads an essentially truncated life based on her feminine gender and being ‘third-world’ (read: ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, religious, domesticated, family-oriented, victimized, etc.)…in contrast to the self-representation of western women as educated, modern, as having control over their own bodies and sexualities, and the ‘freedom’ to make their own decisions.”[1]

Below is a list of general critiques of ecofeminist theory that may also affect our analysis.

  • Ecofeminism as a method of discourse overly romanticizes and even folklorizes the connection/harmony between indigenous peoples and nature. In the manifesto written at the First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women at Puno, Peru, the women’s first demand is that their “worldview not be ‘folklorized’ by governments and private businesses.” Indigenous groups have long been victim of cultural appropriation and mythicization of their historical symbols with no deep interest in the traditions of their tribe. Although ecofeminism purports to strengthen and highlight the indigenous respect and valuation of nature in opposition to the capitalist destruction of natural resources, this discourse runs the risk of over-emphasizing the assumed connection between indigenous groups and the natural world, with connotations that imply less civilized or more primitive societies. There is a distinct ecofeminist theme to the Indigenous Women’s manifesto—the manifesto connects the destruction of the environment to the marginalization of women, emphasizing that they are concerned with “safeguarding [their] autonomy as indigenous women in order to…remain united in challenging the hierarchical, patriarchal, exclusionary, neoliberal and planet-destroying system of domination.” [2]
  • Ecofeminism also perpetuates the stereotype of women’s connection to nature and more intimate nature of the family and the natural world simply by virtue of their being women. Ecofeminist scholars assume that women have more natural or learned knowledge of natural resources, particularly how they apply to family care, cooking, or medicinal properties instead of economic value. This rhetoric perpetuates a “private sphere” view of women’s knowledge and strength. Although women’s main concern often is the family (see our post on Maquiladoras), it erases women’s value beyond their distinct connection to the earth.

Strengths of Ecofeminism

While we recognize and acknowledge these limitations to ecofeminism, we nonetheless find it useful as a frame of analysis for the case studies explored in this blog:

  • We primarily use ecofeminism to analyze social movements and grassroots organizing rather than literature, film, poetry, or any other medium. Because ecofeminist rhetoric is strategically valuable and immediately understood by the general public, ecofeminism is a useful way of understanding the success or sway of all the grassroots movements we study here. Again, we stress the idea that ecofeminism is not taught or learned, but immediately apparent to all.
  • An ecofeminist analysis is consistent with a holistic analysis of how social and political issues occur concurrently, in that it understands the overlapping, intersecting, and mutually reinforcing systems of oppression that work to marginalize women. Women are disenfranchised based on race, class, and gender, by a system that concurrently disregards and devalues biodiversity while exploiting the environment. Instead of looking separately at women’s issues and environmental issues in Latin America, utilizing ecofeminism allows us to simultaneously observe both and, most importantly, understand the ways in which they deeply connect. Doing this works to give a voice to systemically silenced women themselves as well as a literally voiceless environment.

 


[1] Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Under Western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses.” Feminist review 30 (1988): 61-88.

[2] Women of the First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women at Puno, Peru. “Manifesto at the First Continental Summit of Indigenous Women.” In Women and Gender in Modern Latin America: Historical Sources and Interpretations, by Pamela S. Murray, 328-31. New York: Routledge, 2014.