Thesis: Ecofeminism: In Search of Universal Remedies

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Ecofeminism: In Search of Universal Remedies for Women & Nature

"Women just see that there can be no liberation for them and no solution to the ecological crisis within a society whose fundamental model of relationship continues to be one of domination. [Women] must unite the demands of [their] movement with those of the ecological movement to envision a radical reshaping of the basic socio-economic relations and the underlying values of this society…"

(Mellor, 1997, p. 297).

Ecofeminism cannot be seen as a single theory or strategy espoused by any specific organization or movement. Ecofeminism can in fact be viewed as a choir with many voices contributing a diversity of pitch, range, sharps and flats and indeed harmony in some cases as well. This paper reviews and critiques a variety of points-of-view -- each of them related to the degradation of the planet's natural resources and the linkage that degradation has to the global neglect of the feminine gender.

Chapter One: What are the links between the global political neglect of women and the global abuse of the natural environment?

Defining the terms that relate to Ecofeminism. Respected theologian and philosopher Rosemary Radford Ruether views ecofeminism as "An interconnection between the domination of women and the domination of nature"

(Ruether, 2005, p 91). In her book, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions, Ruether explores themes philosophically but defines her terms succinctly by placing the emphasis where it belongs: in an impressive critique of ethics, culture, history and gender-based society. On an ideological-cultural level, Ruether explains, women are viewed as being closer to nature (e.g., more identified with "body, matter, emotions and the animal world") (p. 91). Those attributes are respected and admired, for the most part, in the global community.

However, on the socio-economic level, Ruether asserts, women are identified with "reproduction, child raising, food preparation, spinning and weaving" along with housework and other tedious duties and responsibilities (p. 91). This socio-economic image of women is "devalued in relation to the public sphere of male power and culture," she writes (p. 91). Moreover, devalued classes of women are believed to be lacking in capacity for "intellect and leadership, denied higher education and located socially in the spheres of physical labor…" (Ruether, 2005, p. 91).

Philosophy professor Karen Warren -- and colleague Nisvan Erkal -- insist they have "empirical data" to prove that nature plays a powerful role in feminine issues. Their narrative weaves a story of the abuse of the natural world juxtaposed with what actions women -- who are at or near the bottom of the proverbial totem pole -- take in order to mitigate the damage done. An alert reader posits that these empirical examples are microcosms of what is happening in other contexts to other women worldwide. In Third World nations women are more dependent on trees and products from forests than men are, Warren explains (Warren, et al., 1997, p. 5).

Trees provide five pivotal elements in many developing countries' households. Those five are food, fuel, fodder, home products (building materials, gardens, dyes, medicines and utensils) and income.

"…Understanding the empirical connections between women and trees improves one's understanding of the subordination of women," Warren explains (p. 5). Women in developing countries must walk farther then men and carry fuel (wood) and fodder back to their homes. In New Delhi, for example, women walk an estimated ten kilometers (about 7 hours) every three or four days (Warren, 1997, p. 6). When forests are denuded, women suffer.

Additional empirical examples. In an empirical survey, women in Sierra Leone villages were able to identify thirty-one products from trees and bushes; in the same research, men in those villages could identify only eight products (Warren, 1997, p. 6). Yet men own most of the trees and carelessly clear-cut forests without thought to the adverse affect on women. Water is among the most prized and precious commodities in the world, yet less than 50% of the world's population has safe, potable water available. Women and children perform most of the collecting of water in India and elsewhere, Warren explains (p. 7). Wrongheaded policies -- or basic arrogance or ignorance -- in gender-based Third World governments relates directly to health risks from impure water sources; indeed, four million children die annually from various water-bourn diseases (Warren, 1997, p. 7). And while women perform the great bulk of the water-collection tasks in India, ironically it is "…women and children who experience disproportionately higher health risks in the presence of unsanitary water" (Warren, 1997, p. 7).

Women farmers grow an estimated 60 to 80% of the world's food crops; in Africa women raise 70% of food crops yet women are poorer than men "…because their access to credit is limited" by the men who control the banks (Warren, 1997, p. 8). Finally, Warren explains that in a verifiable survey 38% of pregnant Native American women on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota suffered miscarriages due to uranium mining on their land. Corporations run by men own the mines but they use Navajos to do the labor.

Empirical research identifies women's strong environmental sensibilities. Kari Norgaard and Richard York write in the journal Gender & Society that "…Nations with higher proportions of women in Parliament are more prone to ratify environmental treaties than are other nations"

(Norgaard, 2005, p. 506). The authors note in their narrative the accurate generalization that in "an unequal society" the impact of "environment degradation" tends to fall "disproportionately on the least powerful"; hence females have been "uniquely and disproportionately affected by ecological destruction" (p. 507). Given this reality, and the fact that "…the state is both capitalist and patriarchal" -- hence, power is gendered and women are usually on the outside looking in -- adds up to the unavoidable fact that "…sexism and environmental degradation are interconnected processes" (Norgaard, 2005, p. 508). As to the empirical data to prove their contentions, the authors reference existing studies prior to laying out their own data. For example: a) Szagun and Pavlov (1995) researched and found that Russian and German girls had "higher levels of environmental awareness that boys"; b) in Australia, girls showed a higher level of "environmental responsibility" than boys did when socioeconomic levels were held constant; c) in Norway, research by Standbu and Skogen (2000) discovered that while boys and girls indicated similar interests when it comes to ecology and the environment, "girls were more likely to join environmental organizations"; and d) research by Navarro (1998) and others showed similar findings (more girls joining environmental organizations than boys) in Spain. (Norgaard, 2005, p. 509).

Since women both perceive environmental risks "as greater" and are "less willing to impose these risks on others" then, the authors assert, if women can achieve a "higher status" within states, it surely will lead to "more environmentally progressive policies" once women put their "views and values" into action (Norgaard, 2005, 509). Meanwhile, by using the scale that was developed by Roberts and Vasquez (2002) the authors have come up with some fascinating empirical data. To wit, in most cases their research shows that the higher the percentage of women in Parliament (or other designation for a representative political structure), the higher the ranking in the "state environmentalism" category.

In Sweden, 42.7% of Parliament is female and the country ranks 10th of out the 19 nations studied in terms of positive environmental laws. Denmark's women hold 37.4% of the seats in Parliament and that ranks them #3 out of the 19 states. Norway is close to Denmark in percentage of women in Parliament (36.4%; they ranked 4th in elected females) and Norway ranks 7th in environmentally responsible legislative efforts. The Netherlands ranks 5th in percentage of females in Parliament (36% are women) and it ranks 2nd of the 19 nations in "state environmentalism" (Norgaard, 2005, p. 512).

Incidentally the United States is ranked 11th when it comes to good environmental stewardship and only 13.3% of the U.S. Congress is female. The data provided by Norgaard and York clearly shows that when women have political / legislative power, smarter environmental policies and laws are in greater abundance.

At the same time feminists are working to mitigate environmental abuses they may need to learn some pivotal ecological lessons from nature. Nineteen years ago professor Sue V. Rosser published a piece ("Lessons for Feminism from Ecology") that is as thoroughly relevant to the theme of ecofeminism today as it was ahead of its time in1991. Rosser's piece notes that feminists had hitherto used the "lens of gender" to critique the degree to which "androcentric bias" -- a bias that assumes males are the dominant force and females are relegated to a sub-level -- has twisted the practice and concepts of science. More recently, she asserts, ecofeminists have "extended this critique to ecology…"

(Rosser, 1991, p. 143). and, Rosser continues, while male domination has precipitated the exploitation of both women and the environment it seems an appropriate time to explore what the theories and methods of ecology might… [END OF PREVIEW]

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