My name is Marcy Saldivar and I want to shed light on ecofeminism. I am a feminist and I actively study and advocate for all marginalized communities. My sister has Down syndrome which has motivated my interest in disability studies. As I studied these topics and discovered more about the operations of society, I found a commonality: women and all marginalized communities are hurt first in the face of natural adversity. Ecofeminism observes this relationship. After getting more involved with environmentalism, I developed a heightened passion for ecofeminism and, at that point, I had only seen a sliver of what ecofeminism has to offer.
What exactly is ecofeminism?
Ecofeminism is an activist movement that recognizes the intrinsic intersection between the destruction and exploitation of nature and oppression based on gender, race, abled-bodiness, and class. One of the aims of ecofeminism is to shift global interest from human domination over nature (anthropocentrism) to putting the needs of nature first or alongside human needs (biocentrism). This oppression roots from global patriarchal domination over women and nature simultaneously (androcentrism). Essentially, people (specifically men because they were the ones with access to education and advancing technology) began abusing the Earth for the sake of industrialization. That exploitation immediately affected women first because of their historic role as food and water providers. Furthermore, all marginalized communities are more likely to feel the effects of the destruction of Earth. In the following section, I will describe the origins of ecofeminism which developed on the other side of the world.
Ecofeminism was initially developed in the Global South. In developing regions of the world, women assume more traditional gender roles and have more responsibility to take care of the home. Many regions in the Global South lack the technologies to make water and food easily accessible. This makes women extremely connected to the land they live on. Because women are responsible for gathering water and food, they are inevitably invested in fighting deforestation, desertification, and water pollution.
Ecofeminist Winifred Metz describes one of the original grassroots movements of ecofeminism: “In 1974, a group of about thirty women in the Himalayas of Northern India united to save more than 10,000 square miles of forest watershed. Deforestation in the Himalayan forests had caused landslides, flooding and major soil erosion and had forced women villagers to hike further up the mountains to gather fuel. Now known as the Chipko Movement, Hindi for “to cling,” the name reflected the protesters’ practice of throwing their arms around the trunks of trees marked for chopping and refusing to move. This practice and term later became popular in other areas of the world and was popularly called ‘tree-hugging.’” These women influenced others to organize efforts to protect trees all around the world.
Ecofeminism is also present in the Global North in several ways as well. The Love Canal disaster of 1978 brought attention to the importance of the ecofeminist movement. This town in Upstate New York was located near a chemical landfill. 20 years after the town was built, chemical waste started seeping up and gathering in the lawns and streets of Love Canal. The chemical exposure resulted in a dramatic spike in miscarriages and babies being born with birth defects. The effect of the chemical leak had a devastating impact on women as it threatened the health of their unborn children.
The environmental abuse in industrial cities in the Global North threaten healthy pregnancies as well. Pollution is linked to pregnancy complications, so, once again, women have taken initiative to reduce emissions and other factors that contribute to pollution. After the Love Canal disaster and the surfacing research detailing the health effects of pollution, congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act to keep polluters accountable for environmental damage.
There are endless examples of the relationship between women and nature, but it would take a dissertation to capture the full diversity of ecofeminism. Instead, I am going to focus on a current event and its effects on not only women, but all marginalized communities.
An all too real example of the effects nature has on minority communities is the current COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is a global affair and marginalized people are in danger or being exploited everywhere, while more privileged individuals have the opportunity and resources to stay isolated and safe. Many people with disabilities, including my sister, are high risk or immunocompromised because of their disability directly or because of other, secondary health issues. Most healthy individuals will safely recover from the virus, but this is not necessarily true for those who are high risk. This demonstrates the direct, close knit relationship occurring between nature and the disabled community: People who are at high risk cannot control the natural spread of the virus, but the virus can have a huge impact on their lives.
Another group of individuals being impacted by the pandemic is essential workers. There is a large overlap between women, people of color, the lower class and essential jobs (this trend does not extend to healthcare professionals, although we should be highly appreciative of them, too!). Women have been fighting for decades to exceed their domestic duties and advance academically and into the workforce. Although the U.S. has made massive strides, women still face systemic oppression and are pressured to quit school to mother. This is more prevalent among the lower class because families, and especially young mothers, cannot afford babysitters or child care. When these mothers are able to return to work, they only qualify for minimum wage jobs, which also happen to be the essential ones. The New York Times did an analysis of census data and the federal government’s essential worker guidelines and found that one third of all women in the workforce have an essential job.
In addition, there is a strong intersection between racial minorities and the lower class. This is so important because essential workers are being exposed to the virus. Financially privileged individuals tend to work jobs that can be done from home or temporarily paused without any economic repercussions. Plus, those who do not have a car and depend on public transportation are more exposed to the virus. Thus, the lower class, people of color, and women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and are more likely to feel its effects.
Unfortunately, this virus is an act of nature that cannot be combatted directly. All we can do is practice social distancing (which I urge everyone to do!!!) and respect the dangerous nature of the virus. Social distancing not only protects you and your loved ones’ health, but it is respectful to all the workers putting their lives on the line to keep the world running.
Check out this link to read about the ecological effects of Coronavirus. I think you will be just as surprised as me to see how animals are being hurt by the pandemic.
What you can do
If you are an environmentalist, you are already helping the cause without even knowing. The work you do is helping women in your area, all over the country, and even all over the world. If you don’t classify yourself as an active environmentalist, the first step you can take is trade out wasteful living habits with sustainable ones. This website is a great resource full of blog posts and information that include ways you can make green choices. Another step that can be taken is to spread awareness and advocate for the women who might not have a platform to stick up for and protect themselves. Stick up for the women. Stick up for the Earth. Stick up for marginalized communities. Society will not change until people make individual differences. And Earth Day is a great day to start making a change!