By Megan Byrom - HSPS Student @ Queens' College, Cambridge
Rising sea levels, mass extinction, flooding, heatwaves and drought: the Anthropocene, to many scientists, has already begun, and the race to resolve, mitigate and ease climate change has too.
But how we begin to resolve such a universal and colossal global problem is contentious. From business tycoons arguing for capitalist innovation and trusting the power of technology to arrive at a conclusion, to international organisations like the UN promoting sustainable development goals and different climate treaties and protocols like the Paris Agreement, these different frameworks work to rush and find some solution to understanding and reversing climate change.
However, is ecofeminism the framework we have been lacking in climate discourse? Ecofeminism is a branch of feminist theory that considers the ways in which the oppression of women and degradation of nature are inextricably linked. Arising in the later 20th century, the theory manifested amongst protest groups globally, rom the Chipko movement in India to waves of anti-militarism in the US. Popularised later by Ynestra King, eco-feminist issues were heightened by rapid globalisation, industrialism and neoliberal projects across the world.
The eco-feminist theory is not conclusive. Earlier essentialist theories discussed the emotional connection between women and nature, arguing that gendered visions of ‘mother earth’, and women as caregivers explain the relationship between the two, as women are aligned with nature and not capitalist male culture. Later ecofeminism refused this essentialist view of gender and nature, moving away from spiritual ideas to focus on the material reality both women and nature face. This material reality, they argued, connected nature and women as exploited resources, abused in a capitalist system. In this women are seen as animals, subjects and reproductive bodies much like nature.
In the fight against climate change, eco-feminism is necessary. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. The majority of climate refugees and displaced people will be women. The roles of women in agriculture and as caregivers mean that flooding, environmental destruction and desertification impact them in unique ways. Systemic violence and inequality against women is evident in these different experiences of climate change.
To combat the Anthropocene, universal action against climate change ignores the ways in which climate change impacts different groups. Eco-feminism as a framework has the ability to look at the intersections of inequality that impact women and how this is worsened through climate change and its impacts on ecologies and economies.
Eco-feminism instead can evaluate the inequalities of both the causes and results of climate change, understanding that capitalist patriarchy creates both environmental degradation and oppression against women. Rising young leaders such as Vanessa Nakate, Luisa Neubauer, Greta Thunberg, Isabelle Axelsson and Loukina Tille are perhaps paving the way to an eco-feminist future - one which cannot ignore that global problems are not equal ones.
Ecofeminism by Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies (1993)
All We Can Save by Naomi Klein (2020)
Ecofeminism as Politics by Ariel Salleh (2017)