This year, Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick (RFNB) has chosen the theme “Destroy the patriarchy, not the climate” for its Gender Equality Week. Why this theme? What are the links between feminist and environmental struggles? And how can we build a more just and equal world for everyone? Here are a few thoughts.
What is ecofeminism?
The term “ecofeminism” was coined by Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1972. In her work, the feminist pioneer demonstrated the close link between the overexploitation of natural resources and the systemic oppression of women. According to her, capitalism is an incarnation of the patriarchal imagination and the ecological revolution must necessarily be accompanied by a feminist revolution.
Other ecofeminist authors, such as Ariel Salleh, have also used this framework to reflect on systems of oppression, highlighting the exploitation of women and their reproductive work (which includes child rearing, but also elder care and domestic work) for the benefit of an economic system that benefits only the dominant classes. Thus, women’s reproductive work, which is generally free or underpaid (we are thinking here particularly of women health care workers), ends up at the bottom of the pyramid, benefiting productive work, which makes it possible to generate profit. As Flora Tristan said in 1846, women are the “proletariat of the proletariat.”
Ecofeminism brings a particularly interesting light, making the links between the various systems of oppression. Women, like nature, are absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of the economic system. Yet both are massively exploited around the world. The power of ecofeminism is to make this double logic of domination visible, and to propose a framework to fight it jointly.
Of course, as Cecilia Pérez Plancarte, a master’s student in environmental studies at the Université de Moncton, explained in the opening lecture of the RFNB’s Gender Equality Week, “ecofeminism in its many forms existed long before the term was invented.” She cited the example of the Chipko movement in India, which mobilized in the 1970s to protest the destruction of forests. She reminds us that forms of ecofeminism are varied and diverse, and draw their strength from their interweaving and multitude of their means of action.
Women are more vulnerable to the climate crisis
The second report of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was released last week. Not surprisingly, its conclusions are more than alarming. “Human-induced climate change, including increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme events, has had widespread adverse effects and has resulted in irreversible loss and damage to nature and people,” it says. “In all regions of the world, the most vulnerable people and systems are disproportionately affected.”
Women and gender minorities, especially Indigenous women, racialized women, women with disabilities, and all those living at the intersection of multiple oppressions, are the primary victims of the socioeconomic, cultural, and health impacts of environmental crises.
Indeed, the increased poverty rate of women makes them more vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as natural disasters or food insecurity. People who suffer from exclusion, discrimination, or lack access to necessary economic, social, and cultural resources have the least capacity to adapt to change. “Of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women,” the United Nations said. “While women play a key role in global food production (50 to 80%), they hold less than 10% of the land.”
For a convergence of struggles
It is increasingly clear that we must respond to the urgency of the climate crisis with profound systemic changes to our economic, political and social structures. Our response must be swift, comprehensive and concerted, and take into account the multiple systems of oppression at work, such as racism, colonialism, sexism and classism.
To achieve this, it is more necessary than ever to converge our struggles and fight together for climate and environmental justice that puts people and planet at the heart of decisions. Today, we must pool our efforts and resources to amplify our actions. Because the discriminations we experience are common, but above all because the actors who benefit and reproduce the patriarchal and capitalist system are the same: political leaders, economic elites, police and military institutions, etc.
And if the convergence of struggles appears as a strategic imperative, it is also a moral one. In the past, environmental organizations for the conservation of biodiversity have, for example, contributed to colonialism by depriving Indigenous communities of their lands to make them “protected” zones. To avoid repeating these mistakes, we must consider all perspectives.
Activists from all walks of life must unite and work together to build a more just, equal and inclusive world for everyone. It is by joining forces and fighting together that we can make a difference!
Julie Gillet is the Executive Director of the Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick.