Successfully tackling the climate crisis requires first an understanding of the societal structures that produced our current situation. Ecofeminism undertakes this task by unpacking the relationship between gender and the environment.
This branch of feminism highlights how the patriarchy has traditionally depicted both women and the environment as “chaotic, irrational” entities in order to justify control by “ordered, rational” men. The subsequent dichotomies of male-female and man-nature have become relationships of dominance in which the former exploit the latter. The value in illuminating the similarities between the treatment of women and nature is that it forces us to understand the climate crisis as not merely a problem of the wrong energy source or insufficient environmental regulation. Instead, eco-feminism challenges us to see entitlement and exploitation as a root societal problem with many symptoms, of which the patriarchy and the climate crisis are just two examples. From this, we can adopt a more progressive critique of the climate crisis. Rather than aiming for ‘sustainable development’ or a ‘green economy’, we can question whether any style of capitalism or any production based on a self-entitlement to take from nature as we please, can ever be truly sustainable.
As well as highlighting how the climate crisis and misogyny share a similar source, eco-feminism also explores how these oppressions intersect. Firstly, the statistics from climate disasters around the world show a clear trend that the victims will predominantly be women. As Margaret Arnold states: “disasters tend to reveal development failures and societal issues”. Taking Bangladesh as a case study, in a 1970 cyclone the ratio of female victims to male was 14:1. In another cyclone in 1991, again over 90% of the death were women. Analysing why this is, reports attributed the unequal death toll to entrenched gender roles; women are expected to also save children and elderly dependents, they are expected to protect livestock, they are less likely to be aggressive when there is fighting over limited resources and may put off attending emergency clinics if there are not female medical staff.
Likewise, eco-feminism stresses the link between gender diverse organisations and effective climate initiatives. Greta Gaard explores how male-centred ideas of reason have led to climate change being conceptualised as only “a scientific problem requiring technological and scientific solutions”. As a result, feminist and queer theory critiques of relationships are ignored and the role played by domination and exploitation, discussed above, go unchecked. Of even greater concern, some policies appear to blame women for the climate crisis. Following the hysteria of Ehrlich’s Population Bomb, Gaard argues that climate solutions became focused on ‘overpopulation’ and encouraging female contraception and sterilisation in developing countries. Such schemes notably share a dark history with racialisation and eugenics. This of course ignores how the poorest 50% of the world produce just 10% of global emissions. In contrast, a study by Ergas found that countries where women hold a higher percentage of parliamentary seats “are more likely to ratify international environmental treaties” and have lower ratios of CO2 emissions to life expectancy years.
It’s clear that eco-feminism provides rich insight into understanding the causes of the climate crisis as well as how best to tackle it. This is a global problem and we’ll only be able to respond effectively with inclusive and holistic solutions, arrived at via an openness to different lived experiences and diverse perspectives.