Almost all global land is owned by a few men who exploit and destroy it in the name of the capitalist patriarchy. These few claim ownership over a world that really belongs to every living being. It is time that we start respecting the land again, that we take from it only what we need and that we re-educate ourselves about the nutritional and healing powers of the land and the earth. Because we are the descendants of the witches whose wisdom became subject to destruction. The right to our land was taken and our bodies were burned. Women worldwide have been disowned and disregarded in a world ruled by patriarchs. But we are still here, strong and wise, preserving and re-creating the wisdom about ourselves, our bodies and the land. And in doing so we must come together strongly and move away from the patriarchy which degrades and exploits us, our land and our fellow living beings; which shames us, sees us sex as objects or birth machines, feeds us harmful birth control, ‘sanitary products’, pain killers, and drugs developed mainly by men. This is a system which was not designed with us and which we can never be a part of. Instead, we want to know and love our bodies, know and love the land, and use the interconnection between the two. So, what we need is to share our experiences, knowledge, skills and wisdom to create a space where we can thrive in connection with nature.
I was outraged when I realised how male dominated politics and profit driven business hurt the planet, violate the rights of women, queer folk, non-binary people, first nations people, and workers (the list could go on) day in day out. At first, I felt helpless. So, I got angrier, my feminism more radical, and my environmentalism deeper. And I came across ecofeminism. I was studying gender studies in Ireland at the time and ecofeminism helped me realise the connections between oppressions and exploitations of multiple organisms. Various ecofeminists or feminist political ecologists, such as Bina Agarwal, Vandana Shiva, or Val Plumwood, that I read pointed out the interconnectedness of male domination and the various forms of male oppression over this planet and over most of its inhabitants. I will aim to answer the question of what ecofeminism means to me, why I am so passionate about it, and how it can starve the patriarchy at its roots. There is no better way than to start with the land, the entity that is crucial for all of us living beings to eat, drink, and build shelter, or basically, to survive. But we know who owns most of it. As an example, two maps below show the holdings of agricultural land globally where data is available.
This first picture shows agricultural land held by women, with the colour blue indicating where women own or hold more than 40 per cent of land.
Image 1 (FAO)
In this second image, the same data is considering male holders. All blue, who would have guessed!
Image 2 (FAO)
The capitalist patriarchy is profit-driven and does not shy away from over-exploiting nature, animals, and human beings, especially women, seeing them as mere resources. And if we move away from farming and take a more general look at income and ownership, statistics prove that ‘women globally receive less than 10% of all wages, and only 1% of women in the world own property’ (Salleh, 2005, p. 12). And as if that was not enough, women worldwide perform most of the work. As Greta Gaard puts it in an article in the Women’s Studies International Forum ‘women work 2/3 of the world’s working hours, produce half the world’s food [… , but] of the worlds one billion poorest people, women and girls make up 70%’ (Gaard, 2015, p.23).Because the land has been claimed and women have been oppressed by the capitalist patriarchy for ages, we must take a feminist stance in our fight for a healthy planet. Bina Argawal sums up the ecofeminist argument like this:
‘(1) There are important connections between the domination and oppression of women and the domination and exploitation of nature.
(2) In patriarchal thought, women are identified as being closer to nature and men as being closer to culture. Nature is seen as inferior to culture; hence women are seen as inferior to men.
(3) Because the domination of women and the domination of nature have occurred together, women have a particular stake in ending the domination of nature, “in healing the alienated human and non-human nature”.
(4) The feminist movement and the environmental movement both stand for egalitarian, non-hierarchical systems. They thus have a good deal in common and need to work together to evolve a common perspective, theory and practice.’ (Argawal, 1992, p. 120)
Obviously, I am opposed to male domination over nature and women and I not only think but know that it is time that we start respecting the land again, that we live in harmony with nature and free ourselves and the world from the patriarchal grip. After all, we are part of nature and it is only natural that we start defending ourselves in our holistic web of life. Rainforest Activist John Seed said once 'I try to remember that it is not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking.' (Macy, 2012, p.94). When we resist capitalist destruction and patriarchal oppression we are defending ourselves. Even more so, we are nature defending itself!
Resistance to destruction is as old as our oppression. Witches were burned because they were strong women who resisted collectively. They refused to listen to what men tried to command them. Instead they knew our bodies, our land and its fruits. They worked together, spread their wisdom, and refused to bow to the patriarchy. They were healers, knew how to use herbs and plants for birth-control and abortions, and provided mental health services for their communities. The patriarchy smelled its enemy and started burning our great-great-grandmothers. But not everyone could be burned, and we have a lot of resistance left in us.
Indeed, when we look at the figures of environmental activism, we see a lot of women and non-binary folk at the centre of action. Because these groups are suffering most at the hands of the patriarchal oppressor, so it makes perfect sense that we will fight back. Consider for example the Chipko Movement in India in the 1970s where a group of women, knowing the value of the forest, embraced trees to prevent deforestation successfully. Or look at other current environmental movements, which focus not only on resisting the destruction of nature but also on creating positive societal change putting women and queer folk at the centre of planning, action and resistance (e.g. Ende Gelaende).
We can incorporate resistance into our daily lives by disobeying the patriarchy. Let's resist capitalism. Let's stop listening to what a patriarchal system is trying to tell us. The ‘beauty’ and pharma industries are just one of many examples of capitalist profiteering off women and off people who menstruate. We are told to pay to look young and ‘beautiful’ forever, to buy expensive single use menstrual products, to swallow pills for menstrual cramps, to stuff our bodies with harmful birth-control hormones. Even though any witch would tell you that there are ways to menstruate, to ease pain, prevent pregnancy, or even abort a foetus - ways that are perfectly natural and not invasive to our bodies as well as kind to nature.
This wisdom about us and the land exists. It can be found for example in anarchist libraries and zines, in online publications, through workshops and feminist courses, through holistic herbalists, and simply by creating safe spaces and talking to one another about our lived experiences. Learning, collecting and sharing this knowledge empowers us, makes us independent and forms the foundation for a just and sustainable world.
Ecofeminism acknowledges that we live on a planet, which carries everything we need if harvested with respect and with sustainability in mind. Ecofeminism sees humans as beings of nature. Human beings breathing air, drinking water, building shelter, etc. We have developed through nature, we are born through nature and we function in nature. But the patriarchy has lost sight of nature – there is no intrinsic value found in nature in capitalism - only value for money. Ecofeminism imagines a utopian world where we can see all living beings as equal, as having a right to flourish and to reach their full potential. Ecofeminism means empowering ourselves as women and non-binary folks and feminist allies and taking back what we need. In this way, we need to re-educate ourselves about our bodies, our health, our food, our surroundings and we need to stand in solidarity with one another. Ecofeminism is radically imagining a different future where we have power over ourselves and where male domination no longer prevails. Its calling for a world in which we don’t depend on medicine or birth-control created by men, where we don’t have to buy food that has been modified by massive companies and makes us sick. We need a world in which all have access to resources and land, that we know and love and treat with respect. The current system does not work for us and therefore needs to change through us and by us and in harmony with nature.
Argawal, B. (1992) 'The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons from India', Feminist Studies 18 (1), pp. 119-158
FAO [online] available at: http://www.fao.org/gender-landrights-database/data-map/statistics/en/ accessed 10 December 2017
Gaard, G. (2015) Women’s Studies International Forum, 49 pp. 20-33
Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012) 'Active Hope', New Worl Library California
Shortall, S. (1992) 'An empirical Study of the Power Relationships Affecting Farm Women on Irish Farms’ 32 (4) pp. 431-451 Vepa, S. (2005) ‘Feminisation of Agriculture and Marginalisation of Their Economic Stake’
Economic and Political Weekly, 40 (25) pp. 2563-2568