BIG IDEA: ECOFEMINISM
“Ecological feminism is the position that there are important connections — historical, experiential, symbolic, theoretical — between the domination of women and the domination of nature, an understanding of which is crucial to both feminism and environmental ethics. I argue that the promise and power of ecological feminism is that it provides a distinctive framework both for reconceiving feminism and for developing an environmental ethic which takes seriously connections between the domination of women and the domination of nature”Karen J. Warren (1990), “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism” (126)
naturism is an ideology that views humans as superior to the natural world, leading to human attempts to dominate nature.
Watch this video for a good introduction to ecofeminist approaches. Please pay particular attention to critiques of Western ecofeminist approaches, including their neglect of race, class, and colonialism as relevant categories of analysis.
LESSON: ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
The environmental justice movement is a diverse grassroots movement that emerged in the 1980s. Dorceta E. Taylor argues that Black people and people of colour – many of them women – have been active in the environmental justice movement because the concept of environmental justice deploys a race and class analysis to capture experiences of environmental racism. The case of lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, is just one example of environmental racism, a pattern in which Black and Indigenous populations are more likely to be exposed to pollution and hazardous waste. Taylor writes:
“By making justice a central organizing theme, the environmental justice movement has been able to attract a membership that is far more diverse and representative of the general population than any of the other sectors of the environmental movement. The movement focuses on themes of fairness, justice, distribution of environmental impacts, and sharing the costs of environmental impacts as a way of linking the struggles for equality and as a way of mobilizing community wide coalitions built across race, ethnic, and class lines”Dorceta E. Taylor, “Women of Colour, Environmental Justice, and Ecofeminism” (42)
In 1991, the First National People of Colour Environmental Leadership Summit articulated 17 principles of environmental justice, among them:
- “that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.”
- “the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honouring the cultural integrity of all our communities and providing fair access for all to the full range of resources.”
- “the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of colour” (quoted in Taylor, p. 42-43)
Women of colour, Taylor argues, have found a home in the environmental justice movement. In contrast, ecofeminism — a theory and movement dominated by white women — has not been attentive to the issues faced by women of colour. Taylor writes: “white women who consider themselves ecofeminists have founded, defined, and shaped a movement that reflects their perceptions of reality, their experiences, and their cultural heritage” (62). Dorceta Taylor uses an intersectional analysis in her critique of ecofeminisms, arguing that whereas ecofeminists critique white men’s domination of nature and women, women of colour cannot prioritize patriarchy and environmental degradation. They must also consider racism.
LESSON: ENVIRONMENTAL REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE
“Environmental reproductive justice is a place-based, relational approach to reproductive justice that enhances environmental justice by shifting the lens away from the individual and body and the advancement of individual rights towards an emphasis on building healthy and sustainable communities”Dr. Sarah Wiebe (2017) “Toxic Matters: Vital and Material Struggles for Environmental Reproductive Justice” in Abortion: History, Politics, and Reproductive Justice after Morgentaler, eds. Sharon Stettner, Kristin Burnett, and Travis Hay.
In the previous module, you learned that women of colour in the United States articulated the concept of reproductive justice to capture how gender, race, and class power relations limit reproductive choice. Whereas reproductive rights emphasize an individual’s ability to make decisions about their own body, reproductive justice offers a collective, holistic, and intersectional analysis of various issues related to bodily autonomy and reproduction. A reproductive justice framework emphasizes that women should have the right not to reproduce, including access to abortion, but also the right to reproduce in environmentally, culturally, physically, and socially healthy ways. Environmental reproductive justice builds upon reproductive justice, capturing how the interrelationships between gender, race, colonialism, class, and environmental violence impact reproductive autonomy.
Environmental reproductive justice acknowledges that pollution and climate change impact reproduction on both individual and collective levels, which is to say they impact the ability to reproduce future generations safely and healthily. In this sense, environmental reproductive justice emphasizes relations between the individual, the community, and the natural environment. An environmental reproductive justice approach emphasizes the importance of women’s knowledges of their own bodies, in addition to cultural and community knowledge, and scientific evidence. An environmental reproductive justice approach argues that a healthy natural environment is necessary for reproduction, documenting ways that “environmental factors impact an individual or community’s ability to physically and culturally reproduce” (Wiebe, 2017: pp). The individual and collective focus of environmental reproductive justice is crucial; the concept of environmental reproductive justice acknowledges that reproduction happens at a collective level. For Indigenous peoples, who have been the targets of genocidal policies in the Canadian settler-colonial context, reproduction is a matter of collective and cultural survival. Because Indigenous women give life to future generations, their ability to reproduce in culturally, physically, and environmentally safe and healthy conditions is fundamental to Indigenous sovereignty, survival, and resilience.
Dr. Sarah Wiebe’s research documents struggles for environmental reproductive justice in the Anishinaabe community of Aamjiwnaang, in the midst of Canada’s “Chemical Valley”. The Chemical Valley, near Sarnia, Ontario, is home to over 60 facilities operated by companies such as Imperial, Shell, and Suncor, which manufacture petrochemicals and polymers. A 2013 study by Dr. Nil Basu, the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Health Sciences, found that mothers and children from Aamjiwnaang had elevated levels of endocrine disruptors, which are hormone-blocking chemicals. Dr. Basu’s study comes after a 2005 community-based study in partnership with the Aamjiwnaang Environmental Committee, which found that female births outnumber male births in Aamjiwnaang by nearly 2:1; the community attributes this to toxic chemicals. The community also documents high rates of miscarriages and stillbirths, which contributes to a sense of both individual and collective trauma. Sarah Wiebe writes: “Though women’s physical, material bodies are at the forefront, the whole community is affected” (4). Environmental reproductive justice describes an approach to theory and activism that focuses on local communities, women’s knowledge, and relations between individuals, communities, and all living things. In the assigned resources for this module, you will read more about environmental reproductive justice and watch a documentary about Aamjiwnaang.