Climate change will not affect all individuals equally. Various factors will determine its impact on every one of us. Climate change may be seen as a gender-neutral issue, but it isn’t and neither are its solutions. Many cultural ideas, laws and institutions contribute towards gender inequity and environmental disruption.
Thus, it isn’t surprising that there is a close relationship between climate change and gender. Men and women are treated differently across many cultures. If we look at the gendered division of labour, men are habitually paid more than women in the agriculture sector.
Women often have less access to necessary seeds, tools, fertilizers etc. and if these issues are compounded with their reduced access to education, women are more vulnerable than men to environmental changes.
This brings up various questions to one’s mind and a possible lens to answer these doubts is the ecofeminist movement. It uses the feminist lens to examine the relationship between the natural world and the oppression of women and establishes a close connection between the environment and women.
Ecofeminism emerged as a strong political movement in the 1970s but gradually lost its importance. However, as more and more attention was brought towards the climate action movement worldwide, the concept of ecofeminism gained momentum.
Ecofeminism, also known as ecological feminism, is a term coined by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1974. It’s a framework that seeks to combine, re-examine, and augment the environmental and feminist movements.
At its core, ecofeminism seeks to reveal the connection between the oppression of females and the disruption of the environment. The essence of ecofeminism lies in the claim that women’s liberation is intertwined with the liberation of the environment from human destruction.
Ecofeminism as a movement acknowledges these links that connect the domination and oppression of both nature and females because of this patriarchal society. Mary Mellor, a British academic, defines ecofeminism as, “the movement which sees a connection between the exploitation and destruction of the natural world and the suppression and subordination of women.”
The Ecofeminist theory has brought into sharp focus the links between evolution and gender. It has highlighted the fact that violence against nature and against women is built into the dominant patriarchal culture.
After all Ecofeminist movement is a way to interpret and connect the repression of the environment and women. It can definitely be a useful lens to understand how misogyny and the destruction of the natural world are connected while noting the crucial points of subjugation including caste, gender, race and class.
Is Ecofeminism still relevant?
Ecofeminism has received various criticisms since it rose to prominence in the 1990s. One of the primary critiques is that the foundation of Ecofeminism is that a woman’s nature is more closely related to the environment in comparison to those of men.
For example, the female inclination to be a gentle provider is immersed in nature’s qualities to provide everything necessary for survival. Even if this can be seen as true, the differentiation made between feminine qualities and masculine qualities presented in Ecofeminism workout right into the basic notions of patriarchy.
By presenting men as dominators and women as gentle providers undoubtedly makes a divide between men and women, contradicting the feminist movement of equality. As various critics point out, ecofeminism has lost its relevance because it only functions at a theoretical level, where women of different identities are grouped into ideas of one category.
Ecofeminism in India
The women’s movement in India has been immersed with issues of upper caste and urban-based women. It would, in fact, become more broad-based if the category “women” were looked at with an intersectional view and environmental issues relating to women of different regions, classes and castes were highlighted.
Protest movements against environmental degradation and struggles for survival point out the fact that race, gender, caste and class problems are deeply rooted in it. The poor, lower class and caste, and within it, the tribal women are worst affected and hence, they are the most active in the protests.
Thus, all women cannot be homogenized into one single category (as the ecofeminists have been doing), within the country or around the world.
Women as women have a special bond with nature, according to some ecofeminists, is proved wrong when one examines the countless environmental protest movements.
Women’s connection with nature and their responses to environmental degradation must be analyzed and located within the intersectional reality of gender, caste, class and race-based division of labour, property and power.
Women are victims of environmental degradation as well as active participants in the growth and protection of the environment. The unfavourable caste-gender consequences of these processes are reflected in the crumbling of indigenous knowledge systems and livelihood strategies on which poor, rural women depend upon.
It is essential to understand that ecofeminism requires an intersectional framework because it only focuses on the connection between nature and women. It fails to incorporate the diversity that already exists between women. As a result of which, ecofeminist theory tends to be negligent towards many women around the world.
Environmental damage and climate change are feminist issues. Both of them are one of the most urgent social issues around the globe today. By exploring the sustainable correlation between the environment and women, the fight for environmental protection needs to have many more women at its root.
To ensure that it’s truly intersectional, we have to not just focus on the relationship that women and nature have with each other but also on the different types of relations that the women have with each other within the society. For example, indigenous women who are living in close vicinity to nature have to suffer a lot due to the issue of environmental degradation.
We especially need to empower and support certain communities that actually have a close interdependent relationship with the environment if we want to protect the said environment from further exploitation.
By Krutika Dudharejiya, 3rd Year B.A.LL.B (Hons.), Faculty of Law, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara