ecofeminist movement

Written by Zunaira Malik 1:09 pm Articles, Published Content

The Ecofeminist Movement

Ecofeminism is an inter-disciplinary branch of environmentalism and feminism. It is an umbrella term that ties up climate catastrophe with socially constructed gender disparities. The central notion of ecofeminism is the belief that footprints of male-dominated malpractices are visible in the form of irreversible climate problems. Zunaira Malik believes that ecofeminism is a critical approach to racial and gender segregation, dualism, imperialism and classist attitudes – with an ultimate commitment to establishing egalitarian societies.
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Ms Zunaira Malik is studying international relations at Kinnaird College for Women University Lahore.

Rationale of Ecofeminism

The Ecofeminist movement conceives women and nature as characteristically homogenous because of the common traits of fertility, passivity, and nurturing. As per the UN report, women are more at risk of being affected by climate change adversaries. The systematic sadist and ferocious attitudes or violence that women face increases in times of disasters and instability.

Ecofeminists have set their sights on achieving a paradigm shift in exclusive or extractive liberal orders established by Western powers. In the book Oneness vs, the 1%, the shattering illusions and freedoms Vandana Shiva points out that humanity needs to escape from the illusions that hegemonize our minds and makes extinction look inevitable.

Similarly, Lisa Kemmerer wrote in her book Sister Species that all the feminists, environmentalists, and those who stand against racism and poverty are pulling different straws of the same broom. Val Plumwood in Feminism and the Mastery of Nature conceives ecofeminism as a “further frontier for feminist theory”.

A reflection of this feminist outlook is found in a bulk of fiction works like that of  Sula by Toni Morrison, Sassafras, Cypress, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange, and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver in which anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, anti-classist and anti-racists themes are being put on the spotlight and accentuated. The ontological and phenomenological split that is being constructed by orthodox western philosophy between humans and non-human beings is lambasted by feminist environmentalists.

By calling into question the exploitative behavior of human beings towards sentient beings, ecofeminists have also framed animal ethics. The gender impartiality which exists in mainstream discourse and that has erected a misogynist superiority complex around men is deconstructed by ecological feminists.

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A Consortium of Gender & Environmental Security

The lineage that is being tracked by ecofeminists between mother nature and women are of linguistic, theological, epistemological and other natures. The ecofeminist ethics rests on the critique of nature-cultural dualism. They gave a  holistic and ethical approach to environmental ethical discourse.

The ecofeminist moral point of view is subjective in nature that commits itself to eliminating the male biases created in the ethical domain. The political perspective of ecofeminists rests on its critique of not only the Eurocentric patriarchal perspective of democracy but also on green politics which have failed to encapsulate a gender-informed political perspective.

The Historicity of the Ecofeminist Movement

The calls for women-led ecological revolution were raised in the 1970s with the book Feminism or Death by Francois d Eaubonne and before her, the stage for ecofeminism was set by Rachel Carson. Ecofeminists seek to treat patriarchy and climate destruction holistically. Apparently, ecofeminism didn’t appear as a well-defined philosophical offshoot of feminism and environmental activism in the late 1980s.

It was at the 1992 UN conference on environment and development that the environment and women’s concerns were discussed in conjunction for the first time. The history of eco feminist activism leads us to the Chipko movement in India (1970), the Kenyan green belt movement and anti-nuclear movements where women’s participation solidified the logic of eco feminism.

The Ecofeminist Perspective of International Law

Ecofeminists have put international law on trial for being patriarchal, anthropocentric and gender-biased. Evidence of this standpoint is mirrored in the Boundaries of International Law by Chinkin Charlesworth in which women’s exclusion from international law is integral to the international legal framework thereby resisting any disproportionate attempts being made to protect women amid climate change.  

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This ostensibly universal legal order is charged by ecofeminists as imperial, heteronormative, elitist or implicitly ableist. Ecofeminism holds the view that the system of jurisprudence is inherently dualistic and oppressively dichotomous. The ecofeminist movement intends to protect the vulnerable from bearing the consequences of climate catastrophe.

The 1982 world charter on nature, UNFCCC and, the Whanganui agreement are some of the international law blueprints with ecocentric views. Ecofeminists challenge the persistent state-centric version of international law legal personality which according to them has advanced anthropocentrism. 

Typology of Ecofeminism

There exist innumerable breeds and categories of ecofeminism including liberal ecofeminism, radical ecofeminism, Marxist ecofeminism, cultural ecofeminism, cyber ecofeminism, and critical-transformative ecofeminism. Cyber ecofeminists like Donna Haraway have washed eco feminism with a post-structuralist tinge. In her work Cyborg Manifesto, she expressed her views by stating that the binaries of humans vs non-humans and humans vs machines with technological advancement have led to the rise of ‘cyborg’ and thus nullify the rationalistic and distinctive grounds of human superiority.

Socialist ecofeminism, on the other hand, frames a structural analysis to deconstruct patriarchal values prevalent in the capitalist economic system over the course of history. The dialect of historical materialism best contemplates the socialist ecofeminism rationale. The essentialist or cultural ecofeminists blame culture for excluding nature and women from social discourse and thereby naturalizing the submissive attitudes towards women and nature simultaneously.

Liberal ecofeminists iterate that only gender equality or equal participation in environmental policymaking could fix not only gender insecurities but also environmental problems. The bodily-based masculinization is the real reason for gender and environmental insecurity for radical ecofeminists.

Case Study: The Paradox of Gender & Water Insecurity in Pakistan

As the global food policy report projected that the heatwaves challenge in Pakistan is likely to increase at 0.7 days per decade, it is expected under the pretext of the International Food Policy Research Institute that climate change will be contributing to already worsening water insecurity in Pakistan. This will be playing its part in aggravating the insecurities of vulnerable groups including women. The inspection of water insecurity in Pakistan through a gender lens reveals some troublesome attitudes where women are repeatedly being ignored in policy-making conversations.

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With an increase in water stress levels, more burden is placed on the shoulders of women to fetch water from long distances which, according to a report, accounts for 72% of household water being fetched by women. The high suicide rates of women in Tharparkar are reflective of growing mental health problems among women amid the water crisis. Initiatives like the climate change gender action plan with women’s employment in plant nurseries under the umbrella of green stimulus reflect that the greening of jobs could fix not only environmental problems but also the gender insecurities exacerbated by climate change.

Policy Recommendations

There exist some policy loops in Pakistan to combat gender insecurity amid increased water stress levels; for example, lack of consensus between actions taken by provincial and national governments. The major problem lies in the National Water Policy 2018 which doesn’t address the factor of women’s vulnerability amid water stress levels. There must be a national drive to install vocational and training centers for creating awareness as well as the revaluation of the 2018 National Water Policy that inclusively addresses the problem of women’s vulnerability.


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