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Issue 12
April , 2009
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* EDITORIAL

Ecofeminism

Suparnaa Dutta
Source: Toxics Alert, Date: April , 2009

Proponents of gender equality and and supporters of environment have often pointed out that it is women who get worst affected by the excesses done against nature by its violators.The term "ecofeminism" is no more foreign to many of us.For the uninitiated, ecofeminism can be simply described as a social and political movement which points to the existence of considerable common ground between environmentalism and feminism,with some currents linking deep ecology and feminism.Ecofeminists argue that a strong parallel exists between the male oppression and subordination of women in families and society and the degradation of nature by similarly masculine attitudes and methods. They also explore the intersectionality between sexism, the domination of nature, racism, speciesism, and other characteristics of social inequality.

Wikipedia will tell you that Ecofeminism, or ecological feminism, is a term coined in 1974 by Françoise d'Eaubonne. It is a philosophy and movement born from the union of feminist and ecological thinking, and the belief that the social mentality that leads to the domination and oppression of women is directly connected to the social mentality that leads to the abuse of the environment. It combines eco-anarchism or bioregional democracy with a strong ideal of feminism. Its advocates often emphasize the importance of interrelationships between humans, non-human others (e.g., animals), and the earth.

Wikipedia while describing the initiation of ecofeminism would also tell you that a central tenet in ecofeminism states that male ownership of land has led to a dominator culture (patriarchy), manifesting itself in food export, over-grazing, the tragedy of the
commons, exploitation of people, and an abusive land ethic, in which animals and land are valued only as economic resources. Other ecofeminists claim that the degradation of nature contributes to the degradation of women.

Examples of acceptance of ecofeminism as a part of environment activism galore in today's world.Reports from various parts of the world published on dgCommunity , a community newsnetwork on-line,reports two such events recently held.

The first one is in Cambodia.To mainstream gender and women-related issues and concerns in the government's agenda, nongovernment organizations, development partners and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in cooperation with the Department of Fisheries (DOF) under the MInistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Cambodia, conducted the technical
assistance project entitled Promoting Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment - Gender and Development (GAD) Activity for Enhancing the Role of Women in Inland Fisheries in Cambodia in the fourth quarter of 2007.The project sought to come up with an information base on gender issues and concerns, an analysis of constraints and opportunities, and interventions and strategies to promote women's full participation in inland fisheries.

The second one is in preparation for climate change negotiations in Poznan, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA), in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations and Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, commenced the first global effort to ensure that climate change funds target women and men equitably. The Gender and Climate Change Finance Workshop, held in New York, brought together climate change experts, governments, UN agencies, and civil society organizations from around the world to develop gender-based guidelines for climate change finance decision-makers. The workshop was organized in response to the fact that climate change finance mechanisms have had limited benefit for the poor and disadvantaged within developing countries, in particular women, who are emerging stakeholders in upcoming climate change negotiations.

Our own ecofeminism trip started perhaps with Chipko movement.Though is folklores and legends are to be believed it statrted years earlier when a girl, Amrita Devi, died trying to protect the trees that surrounded her village. The story tells us that the local Maharajah’s tree cutters had arrived to cut the villager’s trees for wood for his new fortress. Amrita, with others, jumped in front of the trees and hugged them. In some versions of the tale their dramatic efforts prevented the forest’s destruction; in others Amrita dies in her valiant attempt.

In an article published in PUCL, Gopa Joshi describes how women got finally involved in this tree hugging activism.

"The Chipko Movement in the Uttarakhand region of the Himalayas is often treated as a women's movement to protect the forest ecology of the Uttarakhand from the axes of the contractors. But the reasons behind women's participation are more economic than
ecological. In fact, the economic and ecological interests of Uttarakhand are so interwoven that it is difficult to promote one without promoting other. In this paper an attempt would be made to explain the reasons behind women's active participation in the Movement and their place within the Movement.

"The Chipko Movement began in 1971 as a movement by local people under the leadership of Dashauli Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) to assert then rights over the forest produce. Initially demonstrations were organized in different parts of Uttarakhand demanding abolition of the contractual system of exploiting the forest-wealth, priority to the local forest-based industries in the dispersal o forest-wealth and association of local voluntary organizations and local people in the management of the forests.

"In 1982 , in spite of these demonstrations, the DGSS (now DGSM, M for Mandal) was refused, by the Forest Department, on ecological grounds, the permission to cut 12 Ash trees to manufacture agricultural implements. At the same time, an Allahabad based firm was allotted 32 Ash trees from the same forest to manufacture sports goods. On hearing this news, Chandi Prasad Bhatt threatened to hug the trees to protect them from being felled rather than let them be taken away by this company. Till this time, however, the women were absent.

"In 1974, inspite of DGSS's protests, about 2500 trees of Reni forest were auctioned by the Forest Department. The DGSS planned to launch the Chipko Movement there. However, the local bureaucracy played the trick and managed to make the area devoid of local men as well as activists of the DGSS. To the utter surprise of everybody, 27 women of Reni village successfully prevented about 60 men from going to the forest to fell the marked trees. This was the first major success of the Chipko Movement. It is after this incident that attempts were made to project it as a women's movement. After this incident, the Reni Investigation

Committee was set up by the U.P. Government and on its recommendations 1200 sq. km. Of river catchment area were banned from commercial exploitation. After Reni, in 1975, the women of Gopeshwar, in 1978, of Bhyudar Valley (threshold of Valley of Flower), of Dongary-Paitoli in 1980, took the lead in protecting their forests. In Dongari and Paitoli, the women opposed their men's decision to give a 60 acre Oak forest to construct a horticulture farm. They also demanded their right to be associated in the management of the forest. Their plea was that it is the woman who collects fuel, fodder, water, etc. The question of the forest
is a life and death question for her. Hence, she should have a say in any decision about the forest. Now they are not only active in protecting the forests but are also in afforesting the bare hill-slopes."

Needless to say there is a lot of material on Chipko movement on the net.One very poignant account of the movement is given on www.womeninworldhistory.com.

"Women’s participation in the movement can be traced to a remote hill town where a contractor in 1973 had been given the right by the state to fell 3000 of trees for a sporting goods store. The area already was dangerously denuded. When the woodcutters were scheduled to appear, the men were enticed away from the village leaving the women at home busy with household chores. As soon as the woodcutters appeared, the alarm was sounded and the village’s female leader, a widow in her 50s, collected twenty-seven women and rushed into the forest. The women pleaded with the woodcutter calling the forest their “maternal home,” and explaining the consequences of felling the trees. The woodcutters, shouting and abusing the women, threatened them with guns. The women in turn threatened to hug the earmarked trees and die with them And it worked! The unnerved laborers left, the contractor backed off. In 1974, women in a nearby area used the same tree hugging technique in order to protest the clearing of their forest lands. And in 1977, in another area, women tied a sacred threads around trees fated for death.....a symbolic gesture in Hindu custom confirming the bond of brother-sister relationships. They declared that their trees would be saved even if it cost them their lives.

"In the 1980s the ideas of the Chipko movement spread, often by women talking about them at water places, on village paths, and in markets. Women decided they were not powerless; there were actions they could take and a movement which would support them. Songs and slogans were created.

" In one the contractor says:

“You foolish village women, do you know what these forest bear?
Resin, timber, and therefore foreign exchange!”

The women answer:

“Yes, we know. What do the forests bear?
Soil, water, and pure air,
Soil, water, and pure air.”


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