A Glimpse of Ecofeminism

Women and nature share the same pathological story in the neo-liberal world characterized by the logic of reckless development. It is high time that we rethink growth and progress and arrive at a more sustainable and holistic conception of modernity that is in tune with nature at large.

Vandana Shiva

The crisis mind can offer no solutions. Those who dare to think of solutions are precisely those who were declared incapable of thinking. Like the women in the Third World, they are clear that the issue is survival, and they have the relevant expertise. ‘Rational’ man of the modern west is exposed today as a bundle of irrationalities, threatening the very survival of humankind. When we find that those who claimed to carry the light have led us into darkness and those who were declared to inhabit the dark recesses of ignorance were actually enlightened, it is but rational to redefine categories and meanings. Recovering the feminine principle as respect for life in nature and society appears to be the only way forward, for men as well as women, in the North as well as the South. The metaphors and concepts of minds deprived of the feminine principle’ have been based on seeing nature and women as worthless and passive, and finally as dispensable. These ethnocentric categorisations have been universalised, and with their universalisation has been associated the destruction of nature and the subjugation of women. But this dominant mode of organising the world is today being challenged by the very voices it had silenced. These voices, muted through subjugation, are now quietly but firmly suggesting that the western male has produced only one culture, and that there are other ways of structuring the world. Women’s struggles for survival through the protection of nature are redefining the meaning of basic categories. They are challenging the central belief of the dominant world-view that nature and women are worthless and waste, that they are obstacles to Progress and must be sacrificed.

The two central shifts in thinking that are being induced by women’s ecological struggles relate to economic and intellectual worth. The first relates to our understanding of what constitutes knowledge, and who the knowers and producers of intellectual value are.The second involves concepts of wealth and economic value and who the producers of wealth and economic value are. Women producing survival are showing us that nature is the very basis and matrix of economic life through its function in life support and livelihood, and the elements of nature that the dominant view has treated as ‘waste’ are the basis of sustainability and the wealth of the poor and the marginal. They are challenging concepts of waste, rubbish and dispensability as the modern west has defined them. They are showing that production of sustenance is basic to survival itself and cannot be deleted from ‘economic calculations; if production of life cannot be reckoned with in money terms, then it is economic models, and not women’s work in producing sustenance and life, that must be sacrificed. The intellectual heritage for ecological survival lies with those who are experts in survival. They have the knowledge and experience to extricate us from the ecological cul-de-sac that the western masculinist mind has manoeuvred us into. And while Third World women have privileged access to survival expertise, their knowledge is inclusive, not exclusive. The ecological categories with which they think and act can become the categories of liberation for all, for men as well as for women, for the west as well as the non-west, and for the human as well as the non-human elements of the earth. By elbowing out ‘life’ from being the central concern in organising human society, the dominant paradigm of knowledge has become a threat to life itself. Third World women are bringing the concern with living and survival back to centre stage in human history. in recovering the chances for the survival of all life, they are laying the foundations for the recovery of the feminine principle in nature and society, and through it the recovery of the earth as sustainer and provider.

The above passage has been excerpted from Vandana Shiva’s book ‘Staying Alive :Women,Ecology and Development’,published by Zed Books, 1989.


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