Feminist Writing. Fourth Wave. For Women.

Why Sustainable Development is Incomplete Without Ecofeminism

In an age where the demand for sustainable development is louder than ever, an ecofeminist perspective is a necessity.

The oppression of women and that of nature find common ground in the long-continuing legacy of patriarchy and its brainchild – consumerist capitalism. With generations' worth of exploitation taking form with rapid climate change, the drastic changes in our environment are hard to ignore. The destruction of biodiversity and the uprooting of climax communities has progressed at an unprecedented rate since the advent of capitalist global economic policies. Though the awareness is managing to wade through the murky waters of willful ignorance, contributions from the ecofeminist spectrum are often sidelined or disregarded.

Hierarchy and domination both take center stage when one analyzes the disenfranchisement of women and the incessant exploitation of the environment. Ecofeminism takes a refreshingly new approach to understand hierarchies and their justification of domination. The more “traditional” approaches to decode what leads to the control of patriarchy over both women and nature fail to address the dualism permeating its oppressive constructs. Similarly, the effort to understand human impact on the natural world is limited to facts, numbers, and dry materialism. Ecofeminism’s approach, on the other hand, delves into the very heart of what ails both nature and womankind. It elucidates how the domination of the elemental and the feminine are closely intertwined. Though the contributions of both feminists and environmentalists that came before must not be overlooked, a blended approach will lead us to the root of what shackles both nature and women.

Nature & Femininity

The initial streams of thought that expressed a need to integrate environmentalism with feminist activism believed the necessity was driven by what they interpreted as the innately feminine character of nature. However, ecofeminist thinkers have moved beyond the gendering of nature. Instead, they've found reason in a deeper connection between the two. The dualistic lens of patriarchal worldviews lies at the root of both female persecution and rampant ecological devastation. Distinctions between assumed dualistic juxtapositions like nature & human, human & animal, elite & backward, rich & poor, and man & woman became more punctuated in the minds of the oppressors over time. The assumed dualism provided fertile ground for male-dominant forces to justify their exploitation of both the natural world and women.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Why Dualism Must Be Addressed

Ecofeminists draw attention to the dualistic approach of male-centric groupthink to effectively address tyranny across the board. Victoria Davion – a prominent ecofeminist philosopher explained the five steps through which dualistic approach led to oppression in her book, A Guide to Environmental Philosophy:

  • The persecutor often has an innate dependency on the persecuted. A fact often denied by the persecutors to feign superiority. Davion calls this “backgrounding.”
  • In the second step, the persecutor often fabricates far-fetched differences between themselves and the persecuted – something she refers to as “radical exclusion.” This step further propels oppression and institutes subordination of the oppressed classes/entities.
  • To further explain the dualistic problem, the author refers to the third step – “incorporation.” Here, the persecuted half of the dualistic pair is portrayed as one that lacks the same morally relatable features as the persecutor.
  • “Instrumentalism,” or the fourth step in Davion’s understanding, is the classification of groups seen as morally inferior to the persecutor.
  • In the final step, or “homogenization,” the persecutors remove distinction from the persecuted halves of the dualisms to paint them all under one brush stroke to tighten their hold over these groups.

Davion’s postulation of how dualism is the root cause of domination helps us understand why one group oppresses the other and takes away its agency. This applies to both women and nature, where both are seen as subservient to men. While this establishes a common link between the plight of nature, women, and disadvantaged communities, it also brings to light the mechanism through which persecution occurs.

The Current State of Sustainable Development Policies & Ecofeminism

Gender inequality finally got its rightful place on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2013. But was that enough? Apart from the fact that women are still under-represented in climate change discussions, it’s also essential to understand that women are impacted disproportionately by degraded ecosystems. In the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, significant data suggests that women are at greater risk of negative economic fallout. Women were up to 1.8 times more likely than men to lose their jobs due to the pandemic’s economic implications.

Apart from the economic and public health fallout, the ecological implications do not paint a rosy picture either. The necessity for emissions peaking by 2025 is now more an urgency than a goal following the pandemic. In the off-chance that this does occur, emissions must be cut by over 43% to meet the Paris Agreement goals for 2030. With several industrialized nations alongside a significant portion of the developing world not in sync with the dire nature of the climate emergency, ecological devastation is unfortunately set to continue. It also comes as no surprise that the UN Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals report indicates that the world is not set to achieve gender equality by 2030. While this does not inspire confidence, this isn’t a time for defeatism. It’s time that the demands for increased participation of women and underrepresented groups must not merely be restricted to the words of a policy document.

Why Ecofeminism Will Work

Due to socio-economic disadvantages, extreme weather phenomena such as flash floods, hurricanes, and heat waves are most likely to impact women the hardest. Besides existing vulnerabilities, the consistent disenfranchisement of women from having an opinion on matters of climate emergencies is rooted in the dualism-addled biases of patriarchal systems. In contrast to these issues, however, empirical data suggests women have marked effects on all markers connected to a sustainable future. Apart from the inclusion of women in both the decision-making and execution modalities of policies, mainstreaming ecofeminist philosophy to fine-tune existing approaches are also essential.

With refreshing perspectives and a non-materialist approach to resolving oppressive hierarchies that bind both the natural world and women, an integrated path is quintessential. Spaces dominated by male-centric ethics are among the main reasons why existing gender equality norms and climate policy have been lacking. Balancing the narrative by regaining these spaces with women-centric ethics is integral to our survival as a species within the natural framework. There remains no doubt that the synergistic and inclusive temperament of the feminine is key to unshackling animals, ecologies, and women.

Author Bio:

Sophia is an online ESL/EFL instructor and a passionate educator. She found her true calling — teaching — while she was juggling writing and a 9-5 desk job. When she is not busy earning a living, she volunteers as a social worker. If you want to connect, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and her blog Essay Writing and More.

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