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Ecofeminism in India: Contribution of Female in Environment Conservation

Have we ever wondered about the logistics and rationality behind the term, “Mother Nature”? Why, of all designations, did we associate nature with mother? The planet Earth as we know provides us with important natural resources, which are essential for our survival. In the same way, mothers ‘selflessly’ provide for their children, to help them nurture and grow. That may be one of the reasons to conjoin nature and mother.

However, a closer look at this helps us to understand the sexism behind such a personification of nature. Entrenched on these grounds is the concept of ‘Ecofeminism’ which studies the relationship between women and nature, and explores the eco gender gap witnessed in many countries, including India.

What is Ecofeminism?

Factually speaking, women are considered second-class citizens. In a country like India, the female literacy rate is lower than the male literacy rate, the gender pay gap is thriving, and violence and crime against women are ever-increasing.

The patriarchal society has assigned obligatory duties to women, which is a tool by them used to keep the male hegemony budding. Women are viewed as baby-producing machines, selfless mothers, sacrificial, passive, and loving.

The feminine has been devalued and exploited by men for the longest time. This free access to the subjugation of women by men was immediately seen mirroring the exploitation of nature by men as well. For years, nature has been freely accessed by men for their own use, without any reparations or acknowledgment.

The devaluation of women has manifested in language relating to nature as, ‘virgin earth’ and ‘mother earth’. Terms like these further promote gender stereotypes and sexist languages.

In this light, understanding the concept of ‘Ecofeminism’ becomes slightly easier. This term was coined by Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1974 which argues that climate change and gender inequality are closely linked with each other on the grounds of masculine dominance in society.

Ecofeminism draws itself into separate schools: Radical Ecofeminism and Cultural Ecofeminism.

Radical Ecofeminism focuses on how the traditional control of men over women and the planet is one and the same, that is, the male gaze views both women and nature as commodified entities, over which they’ve undeniable control.

Cultural Ecofeminism digs out the fact that environmental degradation disproportionately affects women, pertaining to their financial and social status in society. For instance, in developing countries like India, water scarcity in rural areas forces women to walk long distances to collect water, food, and fodder.

Another instance: 90% of the people killed during the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women. This is because impoverished mothers would rather focus on the survival of their children. They’d provide food, water, and safety to their children and family first. This is exactly what happened during the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone.

Ecofeminism in India

One of the major pioneers of ecofeminism in the context of India has been Dr. Vandana Shiva. Vandana states that nature and women share a reciprocal and non-exploitative relationship with each other, and the degradation of nature and women’s work is mainly a result of colonialism. She places women central to biodiversity, as according to her, women’s knowledge and multifunctionality make them sympathetic to biodiversity.

Meanwhile, research also suggests that women have higher levels of socialization to care about others. This makes them more prone to be environmentally conscious. Moreover, Vandana also states that the so-called ‘development’ is not beneficial to women and nature, but strengthens the patriarchal control over both women and nature. However, Vandana Shiva’s study doesn’t include factors like caste and classes, which also play a crucial role in truly understanding the balance of women and nature on the scale.

Pic – Chipko Movement (Source)

One of the first ecofeminist movements in India was the Chipko Movement, during the 1970s in the hills of Uttarakhand. The word ‘Chipko’ means ‘to hug’ or ‘embrace’.  The movement originated in the forest covers of the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand. The forest regions during the 1960s-70s were faced by the threat of mass felling of the trees for commercial and industrial use.

Deforestation and its effects were felt most strongly by the women, and this led to the mass mobilization of women for the protection and conservation of the forests. This was the first time women leaders in large numbers were witnessed. The non-violent movement saw women and men hugging the trees and refusing to leave, that is, they were ready to make the bargain with their lives rather than see the forest cover reduced.

The Chipko Movement saw indigenous women leading the protest, who not only performed the main part of the protest which was silently hugging the trees but also raised and discussed issues of deforestation and its ecological consequences.

This also reignites the memory of the massacre of the Bishnoi Tribe who in 1730 was led by Amrita Devi to protect the Khejri trees of their village which were being cut down by the kingsmen. Approximately 360 people were beheaded while saving the trees.

Eco Gender Gap

Moving further, a phenomenon called Eco Gender Gap emerges which is built on this connection of women and nature. Climate change has made consumers and sellers shift to the green side. The products which are thus produced, are produced keeping in mind factors like their carbon footprint. The shift from plastic shopping bags to cloth shopping bags, green cosmetics, and the rise of cloth menstrual pads and menstrual cups, call into question women bearing the brunt of climate change more than men.

Eco Gender Gap, as the term self explains, the burden of green marketing is more on women than men. Statistically speaking, 71% of women in the UK try to live more ethically, compared to 59% of men (2018 UK STUDY). Some American studies have also found that American men consider ‘recycling’ a woman’s job.

The majority of women are responsible for household chores, garbage disposal, grocery shopping, and laundry. Most of the green marketed products, therefore, get focused towards women consumers. This solidifies the idea that sustainable living is essentially and solely a woman’s work. One may protest then that to close the eco gender gap we should close the gap of only women doing the household chores, grocery shopping, and laundry. As learned above, the feminine and nature have come to be seen as synonymous, and this can be one of the reasons why we rarely see men advocating for environmental conservation.

Ecofeminism and Eco Gender Gap bring into light the gendered inequality which has proliferated into our green lives as well. The masculine idea of control and over-exploitation of the earth’s natural resources for the perpetuation of capitalism has hampered women’s access to these resources. The green burden on women forces them to be the sole bearers of sustainability and conservation of the planet.

The idea of Ecofeminism has had its shares of criticism, however, trends and studies have proved that major environmentalists are women. There’s an immediate need to sensitize men about the environment and separate the stereotype that sustainability is feminine. Start by gifting tote bags to men. While research states that women are more closely linked with the environment, and therefore tend to be closer to it, it need not be devalued, but rather empowered.

Intersectionality in this notion has to be regarded as well. For instance, indigenous women and their communities are the most affected by climate change. Therefore, efforts to empower indigenous women need to be enacted. It’s time we break down the institutionalized oppression that men have acquired over women and nature.

Also read:

  1. Importance of Environment to Human Life
  2. Are Women Mere Vending Machines Of Fulfilling Needs?
  3. Mangroves – Nature’s shield against natural disasters and climate change
  4. The Connection Between Environment and Human Health
  5. Effects of Natural Disasters in Human Lives
  6. Effects of Global Warming and Climate Change
  7. Clean India, Green India
  8. The Impact of Climate Change on Human Lives

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