Ecofeminism is a concept, a movement bringing out the relationship between women and nature. It claims that both the women and nature have been overexploited by patriarchy and the culture. However, it in no way flows in one single course, with the basic concept, it has many dimensions to it and many proponents and variations to it as well. The relationship between women and nature, as constructed by various scholars, is based on three claims – ‘Empirical’, ‘Conceptual’ and ‘Epistemological’ in nature (Sharnappa, 2016). The first claim which is empirical in nature relates socio-economic and political poverty of women with the destruction of nature. It has been observed that the women are the firsthand victim of consequence of destruction of environment – given the dependency of women on nature. The conceptual claim brings out the “hierarchy and dualism” on which society is structured. It throws light on ‘patriarchy’ as the root cause of domination of women and exploitation of nature. The third claim, epistemological in character, focuses on the knowledge of nature which women possess more when compared to any other. Being the humans residing in the rural areas more while men migrating for other works, they have been agrarian cultivators, thus, possessing more knowledge regarding the sustenance of nature.
The Eco-feminism has been documented well in the western world; however, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist in the other part. The theory of eco-feminism has evolved over the years and the socio-economic as well as the political concerns of the region has influenced its course. For instance, the differences in the ‘Western Eco-Feminist Discourse’ and ‘Indian Ecofeminist Discourse’ have been brought out by many. The basic departure in the conceptualization of ecofeminism is related to the emphasis on the kind of environmental crisis (Sharnappa, 2016). It has been pointed out that while ecofeminism in the West has emphasised on the direct impact of science and technology on the nature and the consequent impact on women, ecofeminist discourse in India has more or less revolved around the threat to traditional methods of production and subsistence since majority of population still depends on it. The threat that has been taken into account pertains to the building of dams, industrialization, impact of logging. So, the scholars have pointed out that the environment crisis in India revolves around the attempt to reduce the impact of such threats on the victims, generally the peasants.
The exploitation of women, especially the peasants has been stressed by many scholars. Vandana Shiva, one of the pioneers of eco-feminism movement in India focuses on this aspect – the way in which technological development has robbed many peasants, especially women of the ‘third world’ of their traditional practices. She believes that “only path to survival and liberation for women is an ecological one of harmony, sustainability, diversity, as opposed to domination, exploitation and surplus”. Bina Agarwal, an Indian Economist and also one of the critiques of ecofeminist’ arguments, too, provides three-fold explanation to why women are most affected – highlighting the class-gender dimensions to the effect of environmental degradation. She asserts that given the pre-existing gendered division of labour, women in the poor households are worse hit. The disparities in the distribution of ‘sustainable resources’ (for e.g., healthcare) which actually deprive women to access the basics, adds to the burden. Furthermore, the women also have limited rights to private properties, access to employment opportunities and others which only aggravates the plight. She asserts that due to the exploitation and destruction of the nature, women have to work longer in order to gather woods; have to walk longer distance to access to water and the caste factor only adds to the woes; becoming more prone to water-borne disease or the un-healthy environment are some of the effect. Given these conditions and their condition in the labour markets well as their position in accessing the resources and basics, women, especially those of lower caste bear and face the most severe outcome of the exploitation of nature.
The assumptions and principles of ecofeminism has its own share of constructive criticism and variations to it. Bina Agarwal, while critiquing ecofeminists’ argument puts forward a different argument, or say perspective than those of Shiva’s. She contests that ecofeminism does not cover the structure in its entirety. She argues that ecofeminism sees women as a single entity – ‘in unitary’, it does not see her in the context of differences in caste, class, race, etc. Furthermore, it also does not take into account the material reality of women and just interrelates the nature and women ideologically; neither it talks about how ideological shifts are caused by the dominant groups and ‘how such shifts get embedded’. Thus, at this juncture she brings in the concept of ‘feminist environmentalism’ wherein she presents the relationship between men and women rooted in material reality as well. She brings in the elements of how gender and class change the course of any discourse especially which involves women. Thus, women’s interaction with nature must be located within the material reality of caste, class and gender along with all other concerns and not just seeing her(s) as ‘unitary’.
Another point that has been raised is that ecofeminism assigns the responsibility of fighting against the environmental threat solely on women without even taking into account if the women are equipped enough for it. It thus, needs to call for sharing the responsibility between both the gender and not just on the women. The discourse, the impact of the movement should not just be confined to the saving of nature or as Bhasin said’ “clearing up the mess all the time”. It should extend to granting of rights, skill-upgradation and involvement of women in the decision-making process. Thus, in order to strengthen the force or the movement, the diversity as well the different concerns need to be taken into account.
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