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Is ecofeminism the solution?

What happens when feminism is part of the conversation about climate change? According to Asmae Ourkiya, a doctor and researcher on ecofeminism and an activist, it brings different lenses to perceive environmental issues. "And we need to see from different angles to tackle climate change."

Have you heard of ecofeminism? It has been around since 1974 when the French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne coined the term. But she did not invent it. Ecofeminism started in the 1970s as a movement in countries of the global south where there was a significant exploitation of the land. Groups of women, like Chipko Andolan in India, took the initiative of protecting their land from deforestation and other type of exploitation. "It really started with women saying that it was enough before it arrived in academia as a critical theory" explains Asmae Ourkiya. And it is very important to remember where it came from. "The problem I have with Françoise d’Eaubonne coining ecofeminism is that she appropriated the term from a white feminist perspective and women in the global south and indigenous women were not given enough credit" adds the activist.

But why is ecofeminism important in this day and age?

In a globalise world where everything seems more complex than it has ever been, intersectionality highlights the reality that a lot of people face: they experience a combination of overlapping systems of oppression based on many factors and identities for example, gender, skin colour, sexuality, social class, etc. "Ecofeminism recognises that certain group of people are disproportionately affected by climate change and acknowledges that, in order to address environmental issues, we need to understand how these oppressions overlap" states Asmae Ourkiya. "It is increasingly recognized that women and gender issues in general are integral to climate action and vice versa" they add.

As a critical theory, ecofeminism "questions established power structures, ideologies and social norms to reveal how they shape society today", according to the doctor. As a movement, "it pushes systematic change by trying to modify laws and how systems work" they explain. And it all makes sense when thinking about certain industries such as the fashion industry. The workers in sweatshops are in majority women and not only are their rights violated but the environmental cost of this industry is gigantic. For instance, a 2020 study states that "impacts from the fashion industry include over 92 million tonnes of waste produced per year and 79 trillion litres of water consumed."

"If we don’t recognise certain people, especially in the global south, as part of the environment, how can we foster a culture and protect it? These people are not seen as part of the culture and the environment that we want to protect, so nothing ensures them safety in their work place and a non-polluted workplace. And it begs the question: how can we expect people to care for and protect the environment when they are not receiving protection and care? How can we expect them to preform something they don’t get?" asks Asmae Ourkiya.

"When the pandemic started, the prime minister, here in Ireland, said that we were all in the same boat. And I commented that we were in the same storm but not in the same boat. Some were on yachts and others were trying not to drown"

For them, ecofeminism is essential for a better future and they recommend reading the papers of Greta Gaard and Ariel Salleh on the topic of ecofeminism and the online Canadian magazine Niche to understand the topic better. "A lot of women around the globe are still fighting to abolish femicide, marital rape, child forced marriages. As long as there are still countries fostering punitive laws against individual freedoms and sexist legislation, we still need feminism and ecofeminism. Because feminism is not just for women it’s for everyone" they declare.

Without feminism, environmental issues are perceived through androcentric lenses, argues the activist. Meaning that climate change is viewed through a male-centred, white and privileged gaze that doesn’t see issues faced by people who don’t fit this definition. "For example, when the pandemic started, the prime minister, here in Ireland, said that we were all in this together, in the same boat. And I commented that we were in the same storm but not necessarily in the same boat. Some were on yachts and others were trying not to drown" they say.

Through the lenses of ecofeminism, I asked Asmae Ourkiya if they had the power to change things overnight, what they would do. And for them, a lot of efforts should be put into changing the educational system.

"An important step is to make therapy part of education. I believe that a lot of men, boys, or people who are assigned male at birth are given the burden of being machos, of not expressing their feelings, and with time that leads to problematic leaders like Trump or Bolsonaro. So for me, it is about fostering a culture of care in the educational system regardless of your identity. Also I think we should include environmental education in all curriculums. The majority of people live in cities and we are disconnected to what is the environment" they explain.

And this disconnection with nature is also part of the researcher’s work into bringing queer ecology into ecofeminism. According to them, "queer ecology challenges anthropocentrism which is the belief that humans are above all other beings on the planet, that they are superior. Anthropocentrism is challenged by separating the notion that we are superior to nature and by bringing humans back to nature. Queer ecology also questions heteronormativity by showing that there is many examples of hermaphroditism and homosexuality in other species and so these things cannot be seen as deviant or unnatural."

By intersecting queerness and ecofeminism the idea of community is reframed and, for Asmae Ourkiya who wrote a book about the topic, it is necessary to broaden our view of community. "It’s important because, when we talk about people who face environmental degradation, there is a lot of people from the lgbtq+ community being impacted by it. Taking the example of the virus outbreak we faced in 2020 – which was an environmental issue – a lot of people from the lgbtq+ community were forced to live with their family who didn’t understand their identity and had to face domestic violence" they state.


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