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Eco Feminism Literature Review

1. Introduction

The following essay will give a critical appraisal of the ecofeminist arguments that the subjugation of the nature is akin to and stem from, the subjugation of women. For many years, prior to colonisation, native women believed that oppression of women did not exist. Women used to serve as political, spiritual and military leaders (Warren, 1997: 21). Like women, violence of the eco system was unheard of because it only served the needs of the people. The main priority was to achieve balance of things. An example of how women ruled as spiritual, political and military leader is that of Queen Nzinga of Angola, in Africa. According to Burness (1977: 226), she was a prime example of courage, determination and love for her people. She was the queen of present Angola of the Kaunda people and lived throughout the Atlantic Slave Trade (Burness, 1997: 227).

When colonisation occurred, it meant domination of women and nature. Colonisers had to first subjugate women in order to dismantle the whole society. This system was important to bring women down to submit to male authority (Warren, 1997: 22). Therefore, it is important that this essay give an understanding of ecofeminism together with the subjugation of women. The term ecofeminism will be explained in the following. It is critical to have an understanding of it because it brings emphasis between women and nature with reference to their connection. Secondly, it is important that this essay look at the colonisation of native land to give a brief history of how nature and people have been dismantled in a way that affects them not only psychologically but also physically. In addition with colonisation of land, an important aspect that will be about leadership. When it comes to ecofeminism and subjugation of women, leadership plays a fundamental role within the given time and place. Following that, the issue of oppression and subjugation of women will be thoroughly explained as to why it is taking place in the modern days. Furthermore, the role of agency will be looked at as to what big of a role it place in ecofeminism. Following will be about environmental politics. In addition, this essay will also elaborate on the oppression of women within class, race and gender. Lastly, this essay will try explaining on moral consideration. This is to learn of how agencies can come up with solution to the oppression and subjugation of women.

2. Ecofeminism

Women’s position in society exposes the set of environmental incivilities. Reason being is, for many years women are seen as carers for children, domestic and low paid workers. Therefore, according to Buckingham (2004), women share the same experience produced on the wide scale environment. Women have a particular relationship with nature because of virtue of biology. Therefore, the rise of ecofeminism is to demonstrate a way of thinking despite there being little written about feminist environmental thinking. Nevertheless, Buckingham (2004) explains the topic on gender has become widely embedded at an international level. According to United Nation Women (2016), with response to climate change, the rise on water levels and destruction on the environment, women are mostly affected around the world. They further state that during pregnancy their health is at risk. However, their voices are the least heard in environmental planning and have less access to land and productive resources. For many years, structures put in place fail to recognise that women play a crucial role in ensuring that the fragile ecosystem is protected and that resources can be managed in an efficient and sustainable way. Nevertheless, women’s contribution are often taken for granted and undervalued.

Ecofeminism, also referred to as ecological feminism, is a diverse movement because it represents different strands within feminism. According to Shepherd (2015), there are three different strands to look at namely liberal, radical and socialist ecofeminists. She further explains that liberal ecofeminist are those who challenge law and regulation that concerns women and the environment. Radical ecofeminist focus more on the patriarchal foundations for current environment degradation. Lastly, social ecofeminist state that they also recognise the patriarchal foundations bringing illness to the environment. However, they also focus on economic inequalities caused by the patriarchal system and the exploitation of both the environment and women (Shepherd, 2015: 64). It is then highly important to note that ecofeminism focusses on the relationship between women and nature that are connected to the domination of nature and of women. They also bring emphasis on the role of women in solving ecological problems.

When it comes to the topic of ecofeminism, there are different perspectives that argue about the legacies of it. Historically, women have been most of the time excluded from the public sphere through institutions created against them. Their relationship to nature and culture has been constructed in such a way that women are subordinate to men (Shepherd, 2015:65). Because of their closeness to nature, they were automatically excluded from participating in politics, economics or any kind of social participation. Another argument going against women is that they have essential characteristics and therefore, puts them in a marginalised category because they act in a certain way that will constrain development (Shepherd, 2015: 65). This review of ecofeminism has shown the most controversial issue because systems created disregards other identities that defines women such as culture, age and sex. This also assumes that all men differ from women in terms of caring for nature. These sets of ideas that women ought to be subordinate to men has entrenched and misinformed many within environmental policies across the world.

3. The Colonisation of Native Land and Leadership

Most of the colonised land contains many resources that brings riches to the world. However, the extraction affects people around the area in a bad way, which compromises their health. Many people’s environment are turned into dumps because of the extraction of resources and many are left to take care for themselves (Warren, 1997: 22). In the name of development, environment is compromised through the destruction that is taking place. While this mass environmental destruction is taking place and many suffer from it, it correlates with the ecofeminist theory of colonisation fundamentally dominating nature. Pregnant women suffer from miscarriage. Moreover, are infected by cancer due to extraction taking place (Warren, 1997: 22). Like the extraction of resources, life’s valuables are taken away from women and shortened in a brutal way.

One thing that one should look at when dealing with leadership transition in the challenges of environment ethics within the ecofeminist spectrum is the changing patterns of leadership. The question of dominance deference is important mainly because leadership is about teaching people how to lead. According to Kellerman (2012: 141), becoming a leader is presumed to be a path of money, creating change and most importantly, common good. Furthermore, she elaborates by stating that leadership is about educating people to becoming future leaders who will contribute to the development of justice and wellbeing of the society (Kellerman, 2012: 161). However, she further states that that there is a lack of dominance transition within industry leadership.

In the ongoing debate about feminist leadership, it becomes apparent that it needs to be deconstructed to understand the principles of feminism and leadership. However, gender roles biases exceed the expectations of women leaders. Leadership roles of women are prejudice in two ways namely, seeing women as less favourable than men within the work environment and secondly, evaluating prescription of a leader less favourable when done by a woman (Chin, Lott, Rice & Hucles, 2007). Therefore, the consequences for this is women are given less positive attitude than that of a male leader. This also makes it hard on women to achieve success on their leadership roles. Some women in leadership position adopt a concept namely collaborative leadership where they use nurture to engage, lead and communicate. This is viewed as a level playing field between the leader and the followers (Chin et al., 2007). This egalitarian approach creates a healthy environment for both leader and the worker. This evidence proves that women leadership is vital in the working space despite them being labelled as having less work ethics than men have. Women are also in the position of achieving great success for themselves should they not be broken down by systemic structures at place.

4. Oppression and subjugation

The ongoing process of ecofeminist arguments lies on the oppression and subjugation of nature, which stem from the subjugation of women. According to Abberley (1987), oppression can mean to subjugate by cruelty and force. He goes further by explaining that it lies heavy on the mind and the imagination, which torments and can be obsolete overwhelming. Nevertheless, even though oppression and subjugation may not completely be one concept, it is important to note that these two concepts are complementary to each other in order for development to take place (Abberley, 1987: 8). Subjugation of women has been made a part of the daily existence. It neither began with modern capitalism nor does it disappear in the 21st century. According to Reiter (2012), sexual inequality have been long embedded in institutions. She further states that a great number of information of women exists; however, this information is frequently questioned by men rather than from other women. Women’s roles most of the time are glossed over and absent from descriptions (Reiter, 2012). Furthermore, women has always been perceived as people doing housework and only gossip.

According to Anderson (1991), events that led to the subjugation and oppression of women can be seen as the different power relation between them. These social forces creates an outcome made by a certain action on each other. When one group possesses power, whether it is localised or within institutions, conflicting indication arises easily and subjugation can take place (Anderson, 1991:7).

5. Moral Agents

Many ecofeminist believes that qualities of women such as nurturing can be associated with the earth. However, society has turned out to be an exploitative one, which is associated with patriarchy. Nevertheless, when dealing with environmental ethics, one spectrum that can be looked at is moral agents. According to Taylor (1986), not all humans are moral agents and that moral agents are not only humans. This is an important understanding of elements of environmental ethics that reveals a connection between the changing concerns about environmental ethics and how it is promoted in the modern day (Tilbury, 2006: 195-212).

Taylor (1986) further states that moral agents have duties and responsibilities that makes them account to any actions. They are obligated to judge from what is right and wrong and to engage in moral deliberation.

According to Mies (1990), women’s movements that took place in the 19th and the 20th century occurred because their history has been suppressed by governing institutions and the academia. She further states that many of the murdering and burning of women took place because of speculation such as women being witches (Mies, 1990: 443). As a result, these movements were created to fight against patriarchy, the exploitation and subjugation of women (Mies, 1990: 443). This statement reaffirms the view that Tilbury (2006) makes. Within a patriarchal society, moral reasons are not always considered. Many fail to resolve issues and therefore fail to have will power to carry out decisions.

6. Environmental Politics of Women: Class, Race and Gender

Environmentalism is important mainly because the main objective is to protect natural environment. Therefore, challenging existing organisations is important in order for them to favour more environmental friendly ways of living. The implication of the understanding environmental politics is the relationship between natural environment and humankind. There are many gendered bodies attached to natural environment that makes sense to people’s relationship with nature. According to Shepherd (2015), it is very common to many cultures, both Western and non-Western to refer to nature as mother. Therefore, it is certain that these sentiments offer to many a rational understanding of the feminised nature. Furthermore, it brings a mutually understanding to why both nature and women has experienced exploitation and oppression, also the understanding of protection.

Women can be seen to be oppressed in three ways, which is class, race and gender. Gender violence is evident in Africa due to years of psychological oppression of both women and men. According to Green (1999), Africa has the worst violence against women in the world. However, women have started resisting it. She further states that the East and the Southern African states have much higher rates in wife beating. Furthermore, societies have adopted the idea that that women are foolish and childlike and therefore need to be beaten to be corrected (Green, 1999).

Around 44.7 percent Kenyan women say men have the right to discipline their wives because they feel it is their fault most of the time. Because men pay bride wealth to the women’s family to compensate for labour, men feel like they own women (Green, 1999). However, some

women do not want bride wealth because they believe the men will treat them better. Even though women are in abusive relationships, they fear divorce because men usually have full custody of children. They also believe the only alternative they have after divorce is prostitution (Green, 1999). Many developers believe that once they have invested money into doing something, they can abuse the environment and do as they please. However, nature cannot voice out how it is exploited and misused. Furthermore, like women who think prostitution is an alternative option for them, nature also experience a negative reaction like global warming and depletion of resources. Therefore, it is important to note how women’s behaviour correlates with nature.

Eighty eight percent of all domestic workers in South Africa are black and eighty-eight percent of them are women (Gaitskell, Kimble, Maconachie & Unterhalter, 1983: 91). The domestic labour debate, represented by Marx, was an analysis of the subordinate position of women under capitalism. According to Gaitskell et al. (1989), domestic workers are powerless and vulnerable because they are considered unproductive workers because. They are directly paid in revenue; they also depend heavily on the fluctuating income of households. However, the rise of unions gave them power to negotiate with employers. Nevertheless, in the case of South Africa, apartheid was a system of exploitation designed to produce a supply of cheap labour. For black women who worked as domestic workers, it placed them at the bottom of the ladder, making them extremely vulnerable (Gaitskell et al., 1983:92). Black women, most specially are still are facing challenges. Because they are forced into the bottom class, giving the households to do as they place with them. This shows how nature is also exploited even though nature provides for people’s needs; many do not give back to it.

With information above, these statements has surely explained how women, like nature, has been exploited and forced to subordination to the patriarchal system. Events that are occurring are caused by patterns created in societies and subcultures so that women can be subjugated in a way that they cannot rebel against. The only way that women can believe that they can are not supposed to be subordinated to men is when they break the mental models they have and stand up against the systemic structures formed against them. Nevertheless, it is important to come up with a solution that will benefit nature and women like men are benefiting from the patriarchal system. Alternatively, the change of the system should be created in such a way that nature is preserved and not exploited and should be nurtured.

8. Morally Considerable

Nature and women need to be provided with an appropriate development of values, which concerns the environment. Environment ethics is important because it provides a stable and healthy ecosystem. There is interdependent on life forms, including man, which acts as a guidance to the human race. Moral law is highly important because it teaches integrity of the ecosystem, which eventually creates a balanced ecosystem (Lemons, 1981, 219). Liberation will not take place when there are fundamental models of relationships continuing domination on one another. Therefore, a transformative world, which acts as an alternative to the domination of exploitation, would best suit the needs of the human race. According to Zimmerman (1987), environmental radicalism ought to be created sufficiently to maintain deep ecology. He further states that ecofeminist believe that once systems such as hierarchism, atomism and dualism are removed and replaced, only then can humanity live in harmony with each other and non-humans.

Therefore, the United Nation Women (2016) has come up with a platform where they discuss women and the environment and has identified twelve areas of concern. This is to help to pinpoint strategies objectives for government action on the environment. This will be done by including women in environmental decision making in many levels while integrating their concerns and their perspectives in policies and programmes. Therefore, this will help establish ways to access in having an impact in development and environmental policies for women (United Nation Women, 2016). Women are working on building inroads while government is seeking their expertise and leadership on making key environmental decisions. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done to support women’s role in decision making to secure a better future not just for women but also for everyone.

9. Conclusion

As human beings, we all have godly elements within us. This is well known because many feel in their hearts. We all are capable of loving our environment, caring for it and preserving it for the future generation. Women are just as capable as any man and even more. As human beings, we die a little inside when we destroy what was always preserved for us, we lose connection, and we do this almost every day. Living systems are units of interaction and cannot be understood independently. Human nature is all about how humans express. “We are of it and it in”.

Women, like men, ought to be given a chance to participate in roles that the society considers only reserved for males. As mentioned in the above, women, for many years, have taken part in leadership roles, like the example used of Queen Nzinga. However, due to patriarchal system that has oppressed and subjugated women, making it hard for women to have a voice in the society, it is safe to say now is the time to back what is originally made for all beings. Nevertheless, many are resisting and taking actions against placed policies and rules upon women. Women play an important role in the society whether in leadership position or taking care of a home. However, many are destroying nature in the name of development while causing disruption such as droughts, climate change and depletion of resources. Women can be associated with nature and have characteristics of it, it is important then to keep in mind that they are the most in touch with nature and could possible shape their whole life.

Many has lost respect for nature when accumulating leadership positions. When people are in position of power, they automatically think of an increase in salary without considering whether they are compromising their morals. In addition, when women are in leadership position, they are undermined and expected to lead as men do. However, women have been described to have a different way of managing people in workspaces. Nevertheless, it is important that people break away from systems that subjugate women in a way that they do not have a voice and lose power in the patriarchal system. Therefore, this essay has given a critical appraisal of the ecofeminist arguments that the subjugation of the nature is akin to and stem from the subjugation of women.

© Submitted as an assignment for Leadership and Environmental Ethics, April 2017. Post Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Development, Stellenbosch University.

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