Ecofeminism in the time of climate change

ecofeminism and climate change

Ecofeminism emerged in the late twentieth century as a response to oppression faced simultaneously by women and environment. The roots of ecofeminism can be traced back to movements and activism around environmentalism, feminism and social justice.

The term ecofeminism was coined in the 1970s when the media and scholars recognized the parallels between exploitation of nature and subjugation of women when viewed under a patriarchal lens. Ever since ecofeminism emerged as a concept and movement in the 1970s, the very forces it has sought to fight and overcome have been working to declare it simply as a passing trend. Efforts have been made aplenty for co-opting ecofeminism; its commodification in mainstream culture has also been rampant. Ecofeminist ideology has often been diluted for all kinds of commercial purposes which has resulted in a superficial understanding of its principles. The environmental movement has itself seen much change since the 1970s. Many of the emerging issues, like global warming and climate change, took the center stage since the 1990s.

Today, with a much better understanding of the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation around us, ecofeminism has become more relevant than ever before. Climate change has escalated into a climate crisis due to our continued inaction towards combating it. Ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing a rise in global temperatures and resulting in extreme weather events. Melting glaciers and ice caps, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity and spread of new diseases are threatening ecosystems and human livelihoods in an unprecedented manner.

The climate crisis exacerbates existing inequalities, impacting vulnerable communities disproportionately and is aggravating social injustices. There is an urgent need to take action to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and adapt when mitigation is no longer possible. It is also imperative to adopt holistic approaches which will address the environmental crisis along with the social inequalities it exacerbates. Ecofeminism offers such a holistic approach to understand and combat the climate crisis.

Ecofeminism seeks to dismantle hierarchical structures that perpetuate domination over both women and the natural world. It advocates for a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable future for all beings. It challenges patriarchal structures that exploit women and nature, and advocates for their liberation and a harmonious relationship with the environment. It can contribute to addressing the root causes of climate change and foster equitable resilience by promoting holistic solutions that empower marginalized communities and prioritize sustainability.

Ecofeminism highlights how women are often at the forefront of climate-related challenges, such as water and food insecurity, as they are the ones who are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation first. A recent report by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows how climate change is unjust for rural women. According to the report, if climate change increases by another one degree Celsius, female-headed households income could reduce by 34 percent as compared to male-headed households. There are a myriad of the other impacts of climate change where women are affected first, directly and more severely. According to UN Women data, climate change altered unpredictability in rain patterns will increase water collection burdens on women. 8 out of 10 times, it is the women who in charge of fetching water in the world’s households that lack its direct access.

The ecofeminism perspective allows us to see how women must be empowered to play a central role in climate action due to their interconnected relationship with the environment. Ecofeminism advocates for recognizing and valuing women’s knowledge and contributions to sustainable practices, such as traditional agricultural techniques and community-based conservation efforts. It is for this reason that the United Nations firmly believes that women are key to climate action.

Women’s empowerment and leadership is essential for addressing the root causes of climate change, challenging exploitative systems and promoting more holistic approaches to environmental stewardship. This requires structural changes, institutional reforms and better understanding of the role women play in society. Women often lack access to resources and face barriers to decision-making, despite their big role in the work force. For instance, in India, women provide more than 60% of agricultural labor but have less than 14% land ownership. Women and children are also the worst affected when it comes to climate migration constituting 80% of the total affected population.

Addressing gender inequalities is essential for effective climate adaptation and resilience-building efforts to ensure women’s rights and well-being. Throughout history, women have played crucial roles in protecting the environment, often through grassroots activism, advocacy, and community leadership. Amrita Devi Bishnoi led a group of villagers in a non-violent protest against the felling of trees in present day Rajasthan, sacrificing her life to protect the trees. Another legendry woman, Gaura Devi from Reni village of Uttarakhand, played a pivotal role in the Chipko movement. Her courageous act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled has inspired millions since then. Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya, empowered communities through tree planting and conservation efforts. Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, ‘Silent Spring’ published in 1962, exposed the environmental and health impacts of pesticides, catalyzing the modern environmental movement.

Indigenous women have been stewards of their lands for generations, passing down traditional knowledge and sustainable practices. Women have led movements for environmental justice, conservation and promoting ecological interconnections, revolutionizing public perception and inspiring generations of environmental activists. As we navigate the challenges of the climate crisis, ecofeminism becomes not only pertinent but imperative. The principles of ecofeminism can be harnessed to forge pathways towards a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all.

Nirmala Konsam

Nirmala Konsam is Director of Development at Delhi Greens and has over a decade of teaching, research and advocacy experience in natural resource management and sustainable development.

2 thoughts on “Ecofeminism in the time of climate change

  1. The commercialization of ecofeminism is the real concern. Its principles are already diluted for profit sake, true potential of ecofeminism is long lost.

  2. Pingback: Water Minister Promotes Women Power in Conserving Water

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