A Look Into the Non-Western Perspective of Ecofeminism and Why It’s Important!

How many times did you turn the knobs on the faucet today? Have you visited the doctor when you felt something was off with your health? Have you ever felt like sitting in a classroom was taking too much time out of your day? Do you ever think of how much food we waste because we can always buy more on our next trip to the grocery store? 

I ask you to think of these questions as an opener to this blog because they include the very resources that we take for granted far too often as individuals living in the Global North. However, these are the basic necessities that are lacking and even absent for those living in the Global South, women being most severely affected.

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Bina Agarwal, in her piece,  The Gender and Environmental Debate: Lessons from India, defines an alternative theoretical framework to the Western perspective of ecofeminism in what she calls, Feminist Environmentalism. This theoretical perspective “…locates both the symbolic and material links between people and the environment in their specific forms of interaction with it, and traces gender and class differentiation in these links to a given gender and class division of labor, property, and power” (Agarwal 146). That is, women are not just linked to nature ideologically but also materially as they work and learn from the land. Therefore, women are not only victims of the destruction of nature, but also most knowledgeable about nature (Agarwal 126).      

Now let’s do a little comparison and contrast of Agarwal and Hobgood-Oster’s ecofeminism perspectives keeping in mind that neither is correct, we all have our own experiences and theoretical beliefs!

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Hobgood-Oster in her piece,  “Ecofeminism: Historic and International Evolution,” provides a Western perspective of ecofeminism in which, “…asserts that all forms of oppression are connected…oppression of the natural world and of women by patriarchal power structures must be examined together or neither can be confronted fully” (2005). In this perspective, there is an established connection between the domination of women and the domination of nature perpetuated by the male-centered patriarchy and capitalistic ideology. For example, effects of industrialization include air pollution which affects many U.S. children. Because women are considered nurturers, they hold the responsibility of caring for children experiencing these health impacts due to domination of the environment. While this reflects the system of the Global North, there is critique in this perspective as it has hints of essentialism through ignoring the differentiation amongst women while also leaving out the material relationships that women have with the environment. 

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Agarwal provides a non-Western perspective of ecofeminism, Feminist Environmentalism, in which establishes a connection between women and the environment “…structured by a given gender and class (/caste/race) organization of production, reproduction, and distribution” (127). That is, the material links that women have with the environment are structured through various factors of identity, eliminating essentialism and expressing that there are gender divisions in labor, class, property, and accessibility to resources. The environment is survival for women of the Global South and therefore they are victims and advocates in the degradation of the land. For example, we can look at the Chipko movement in India. Women are the laborers in gathering food, water, and taking care of children and families. Therefore, with the rise in deforestation and other forms of ecological degradation came floods and landslides. This not only depleted the resources, but impacted the livelihood of women leading them to become advocates in protecting the environment firsthand.

Image via Humans and Nature

Vandana Shiva, Indian physicist and social activist speaks of the interconnection between humans and nature that has been separated resulting in the ecological crisis that our globe is facing. In her interview with Scott London, she describes how society has split the need for ecological sustainability from the need of social justice when instead they must be linked for effective change to occur. She calls for the need of biodiversity both in ecological systems and human culture as we have “…gotten so used to manipulating objects and organisms and ecosystems for a single objective that we ignore the costs involved…ecological destruction is a form of injustice…environmental movements have been justice movements” (Shiva 2016). What does this mean? The Western perspective focuses more on the ecological aspect of saving the environment with probable ways of taking action. The non-Western perspective focuses on the degradation of the environment and the threat to survival with women jumping into the movement and taking action.

While there are differences in both ecofeminism perspectives, there are commonalities in which women are disproportionately affected at elevated rates by harmful influences to nature. The themes of greed and privilege are recurring as power imbalances leave women at the bottom of sufficient resources while working harder for an adequate livelihood. 

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Focusing on our perspective of the day, non-Western ecofeminism, Agarwal describes the factors of class-gender effects that contribute to the scarcity of natural resources that continue to be depleted in the Global South. She describes two factors: growing degradation of both quantity and quality as well as the increase of statization and privatization (Agarwal 129). If we were to break this down further, deforestation threatens natural resources such as groundwater, soil fertility, and firewood for fuel while increase of statization allows the state to take control of the forests and village commons and privatization allows ownership by privileged individuals, usually male, to make the commons available to select members of the community, excluding women (Agarwal 131). 

Now how does environmental degradation affect women of the Global South?

Image by Shutterstock via The Conversation

Reason #1: A gender division of labor. 

Women in poor peasant and tribal households are doing most of the gathering and fetching of resources while having the additional responsibility of family care. Women are also the sole economic providers in female-headed households (Agarwal 137). 

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Reason #2: Systematic gender differences in the distribution of subsistence resources.

Women are less likely to receive adequate food and health care despite holding responsibility in providing this for others (Agarwal 137). Women are more likely to face nutritional problems and exposure to waterborne diseases due to gendered labor division (Agarwal 141). Access to clean water is important due to the specific hygiene needs of women and girls as well as the threat to personal safety as fetching water can be dangerous, time-consuming, and physically demanding (United Nations 2021). 

Reason #3: Significant inequalities in women’s and men’s access to the most critical productive resources in rural economies, agricultural land, and technology.

Women are systematically disadvantaged as they have fewer employment opportunities, less occupation mobility, less training, and lower pay for equal work (Agarwal 137). Women have limited rights in private property resources and with the privatization of land, women have less access to the shared resources and connections provided by the commons (Agarwal 137). 

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As demonstrated above, women are connected to the environment and face the detrimental impacts of degradation due to material links with natural resources. Reflecting on my own position, I find the feminist environmentalism perspective outlined by Agarwal most appealing. It is through this alternative theoretical framework in which women are recognized as victims of ecological destruction but also “repositories of knowledge” (Agarwal 126) allowing them to become active advocates in justice for change. Rather than calling for change, women become the change and that is what I urge each of us to do in our own communities. Harm to our environment becomes a human rights issue. We need to recognize that our connection with the environment is diverse as we share the land. 


Works Cited

Agarwal, Bina. “The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons from India.” Feminist Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1992, pp. 119–158., https://doi.org/10.2307/3178217. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023. 

Hobgood-Oster, Laura. “Ecofeminism: Historic and International Evolution.” Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, edited by Bron Taylor, Continuum, London & New York , 2005, pp. 533–539, http://www.religionandnature.com/ern/sample/Hobgood-Oster–Ecofeminism.pdf. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023.

8 Replies to “A Look Into the Non-Western Perspective of Ecofeminism and Why It’s Important!”

  1. Hi Kylie,

    The manner in which you broke down the issues facing women in the Global South was very clear in this post. In particular, you brought up Agarwal’s point that gendered divisions of labor in rural India can make women the sole economic provider. As you point out, in this particular situation, the rise of female headed households is a symptom of limited economic choices.

    However, the rise in female economic providers may have a different meaning in a different context. The feminist scholar Chandra Mohanty pointed out that for middle-class families in the US, a rise in female led households might be due to women actually have more economic freedom. (For example, the economic ability to choose to be a single mother or the ability to have a high-paying job that supports her family.) Therefore, in Mohanty’s view, it is equally important to look at both the facts of a situation and the specific meaning of those facts when analyzed for factors such as class, race, and historical context.

    In a similar example, looking at lack of nutrition in a household, Agarwal cites the destruction of local fuel sources in rural India while Jillian (in her blog for this class) pointed out that food deserts in the US contribute the lack of nutritional food options for women in poverty. Although the issue of lack of nutrition is similar, solutions that will be effective must necessarily be very different.

    These are examples of why grouping all women together may not be a particularly useful political tactic. Even if the facts of a situation may be similar, the meaning of those facts may be wildly different depending on the context. I think your post does a good job in pointing this out and especially in your emphasis in the end that we must to see the vast diversity in our connection to the environment.

    Mohanty, C. (1984). “Under Western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses.” boundary 2, 12(3), 333-358. http://www.jstor.org/stable/302821

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Thank you for your comment and for sharing the additional source from Chandra Mohanty! As you mention, the context of the situation and specific identity markers that an individual may identify with such as class, race, and ethnicity influence the effects of events such as ecological degradation. I think this is why I found the non-Western perspective of ecofeminism more appealing as it recognizes the importance of diversity rather than generalizing oppression. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!
      Kylie C.

  2. Kylie – this is a very comprehensive overview of the many different aspects of feminism from a non-western perspective. I especially appreciate your opening questions.

    Throughout the readings for this week, it made me think about how a woman of a similar age is likely having a very different experience based on where she lives. As someone living in the western and industrialized world, I am thinking about buying groceries (from a store that I travel to in my car), meal prepping for a busy week as I juggle work and school demands, and ‘tasks’ to check off my list. I never once thought about where my water would come from, worried about safe hygiene practices, or thought about how the lack of materials from mother nature might mean me or someone in my family goes hungry.

    When you expand upon the non-western philosophy of feminism, you state that the “environment is survival” for women of the global south. We all know that with the man-made changes and the environmental changes of the earth in response to what us humans have done to it, that the earth is not as predictable as it once was. In this way, women who depend on the consistent and constant bounty of the environment around them, may have their livelihood impacted, or worse yet, risk the safety and survival of themselves and their families.

    You also bring up an important point about women needing to be involved in the changes that affect them. As Agarwal point out, while women are affected by environmental degradation, their understanding, practices, and connection to the earth also makes them critical agents of change (Agarwal 144).

    The three ways in which you share women are affected by the destruction of the environment are also pertinent. If I circle back to the beginning of my reply, I am most bothered by young girls and women not having access to running water in order to preserve the safety of their hygiene needs. It seems to be a pressing inequity issue as it relates to gender and class, as many of the women in the global north have access to running water and can manage issues of menstruation, and those of the global south can quite literally risk their life trying to manage these womanly aspects of life. I feel inspired to continue to learn about possible solutions and how I might be able to help women in need. As we are exploring in this course, ecofeminism reminds us that we are all intertwined, both as humans, and with our connection to nature.

    Agarwal, Bina. “The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons From India.” Feminist Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, JSTOR, 1992, p. 119. https://doi.org/10.2307/3178217.

    1. Hi Christine,
      Thank you for your kind comment! I am glad to hear that the opening questions led you to your own reflection on the amount of natural resources we tend to take for granted when living in the Global North. I cannot agree with you more that we get so caught up in the business of our lives that we do not even have time to stop and think that many women around the world do not have the same privilege as we do, especially as these resources are means of survival for women of the Global South. The point about accessible and sanitary water also struck me. Not only is it unsafe for women’s health, but it also risks their life in terms of vulnerability to violence when having to leave their homes at a distance in areas where crime is elevated. With more knowledge and collaborative activism, these basic necessities can be more accessible to women around the globe. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!
      Kylie C.

  3. Hello Kylie! I enjoyed your blog. You make a couple of very poignant connections.

    I loved your opening paragraph where you ask a series of questions designed to make the reader stop and think about these mundane tasks or actions that we take for granted simply because we have ready access and an over-abundance of resources and services. It reminded me of the article I read “White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh wherein she lists off a series things that she (as a white person) never has to think about that other’s do as a result of their race. This gave me that same moment of awareness of things I take for granted. Things that differ depending upon who you are, where you are from, your gender, your class, sexuality, race etc.
    I think you would enjoy the article as it addresses race as it applies to identification and life experiences and examines it in much the same way that we are examining differences among women.


    When you discuss Vandana Shiva you state that she, “speaks of the interconnection between humans and nature that has been separated resulting in the ecological crisis that our globe is facing” which is an accurate depiction of her work. When I look at Shiva’s theory what jumps out at me is the discussion regarding the separation between humans and nature – specifically and more directly women and nature. I think that it is important that we acknowledge (as you do) that even amongst women, that impact varies greatly depending upon their class status. For example for my last blog I focused on Indigenous women. I can say with a good amount of certainty that their relationship with the environment (nature) is different than the women of India. While there are similarities in their oppression and the types of degradation that they endure, their experiences with the separation between themselves and nature vary as a result of things like gender and class but also their spirituality, culture, traditions, sexuality, etc.

    You also address that the “non-Western perspective focuses on the degradation of the environment and the threat to survival….”which is a critical observation. I think that circumstances such as geographical location, culture, and class can impact a woman’s prioritization of particular issues and their urgency in terms of addressing it. It is a matter for them of life and death. Women (in general) are disproportionately affected by environmental issues, however it would be safe to say that there are women that are disproportionately affected in comparison to other women and we need to examine the factors behind those disparities and highlight the elements that diversify them in order to find more accurate and appropriate solutions.

    I agree with you about Agarwal’s work (non-Western) in that I too find it more appealing because it is more inclusive in its ability to identify and amplify the diversity that makes up the group “women”. I think that Western ecofeminist theory is a good place to start but that we need to continue to build on that in order to properly assess the what and why of our relationship with the environment. I am reminded of a pervious class I took in which we learned about the different feminist movements. Each one was very different from the next but had used ideas from the prior movement as steppingstones or as a foundational block for the next. Ideas evolved. Within that growth, many decades later, came the idea of intersectionality. There was a moment in time when the feminist movement did not include black or brown women. They were forced to work on there own and in doing so they eventually banded together with some of the black men and their organizations in their fight for social justice. It was in this moment that they realized while their gender may have been different that they shared other important aspects of their identities upon which they had a shared vision. They used both their commonalities and their differences to empower a movement to fight for change. They became the change.

    As you so eloquently stated, “we need to become the change.”

    1. Hi Teresa,
      Thank you for your comment and for sharing that article on “White Privilege” by Peggy McIntosh, it does sound very interesting and something I will be looking into! I love the insight that you provide about each feminist movement being a stepping stone from the previous one, addressing more inclusivity. Ideas, events, theories, and movements are always evolving and therefore, it is important to evaluate and address the flaws in our history and work towards equality for all as time progresses. In this case, as the non-Western perspective urges, diversity of both the environment and human community is needed in order for survival and it starts with us being advocates. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!
      Kylie C.

  4. Kylie,

    I’m always floored by your blog posts because I think that they manage to inform the reader in a conversational and easy-to-follow manner, but your writing itself is engaging. The way that you use pictures, well-placed bullets, bold text, and more stylistic choices to emphasize your writing makes me want to come back week after week to see what you have to say. Seriously, even if I don’t comment that week, I’ve read your post!

    I think you chose such a powerful and thought-provoking quote to include from Vandana Shiva (she had many quotable snippets, but I think the one you included that links the lack of biodiversity to the capitalist justification of manipulating objects and organisms gets to the heart of her message.

    It’s insane to me the way that Big Agriculture companies like Monsanto are able to completely monopolize and patent agriculture and nature in general. This is actually a crisis that I’ve done extensive research on, and it never fails to get me all riled up and heated.

    It is crucial to our health and the health of our environment that we actively prioritize preserving plant biodiversity. Numerous crises of food security arise when biodiversity is threatened, and it doesn’t just affect women in the East or Global South, but it’ll begin to affect everyone the world over the longer these companies are left unchecked. And not just unchecked, but protected and encouraged like with the World Trade Organization’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement “which allowed for the patenting of life forms and would therefore make it possible for corporations to essentially require farmers to continue to purchase their seeds after local varieties had been eliminated” (Britannica).

    I’m sure you’ve noticed the prices rising in our grocery stores. There’s even something of an egg-crisis happening right now. We are experiencing just a taste of what dependence on these companies is like, a dependence that people around the world contend with every day.

    At this point, it is impossible to discount the threat of endangerment when “93% of the Earth’s vegetable varieties have gone extinct” (Fox). MeiMei Fox, an NY Times bestselling author interviewed ethnobotanist Sefra Alexandra for Forbes magazine, where Alexandra attributes the greatest challenge surrounding our dwindling biodiversity to a lack of funding. “It can be difficult for people to conceptualize the value of crop conservation in the long-term when our culture tends to obsess over short-term financial gains” (Fox). But now, with the price of produce sky-rocketing at our local shopping markets, this “far-off” dystopian idea is becoming a reality in the West.

    Financial gain is the underlying catalyst for corruption in preserving biodiversity. Companies have created genetically modified food to grow more uniformly, have a thicker skin so as not to blemish, to resist pest damage, and more, not with consumer health or food security in mind, but with being the most marketable at a pristine grocery store and turning a profit at the forefront. It has gotten to the point that in the West, organic seed growers and farmers banded together to take legal action against a major corporate contributor to GMOs, the Monsanto food company.

    The growers were faced with inadvertent contamination of their crops by cross-pollination and run off of Monsantos’ inorganic and GMO farming techniques. Monsanto then counter-sued pleading that those same crops were illegal since the growers were in possession of plants containing Monsantos’ patented biotech genes (GMOs), whose seeds were not purchased! This is the exact situation that Shiva and Agarwal were warning about and trying to draw attention to that people in the East have already been facing for years.

    These disease-resistant and pest-resistant seeds were not created with growers’, consumers’, or the environments’ well-being considered, it is a product created for profit, and the business moguls running the companies are not above shady business practices and low moral standing.

    Works Cited:
    Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Vandana Shiva”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vandana-Shiva. Accessed 13 February 2023.

    Fox, MeiMei. “The Seed Huntress: On A Quest To Preserve Biodiversity.” Forbes, 28 Jan. 2019, http://www.forbes.com/sites/meimeifox/2019/01/28/the-seed-huntress-on-a-quest-to-preserve-biodiversity/#7dfde4b62a22.
    Accessed 13 February 2023.

    1. Hi Jasmine,
      Thank you so much for your kind comment! I cannot agree with you more about Monsanto, it is big corporations like these that value profit and production over the health of humans, non-human animals, and the environment! Monocultures have consumed agriculture due to mechanization practices. This is reducing biodiversity of the environment, but as Shiva expresses, this is also threatening human diversity. As the environment is destructed, it harms the natural resources and all forms of life that aid in survival. As Agarwal discusses, this is felt differently depending on one’s social status as we can see for women of the Global South. Therefore, recognition of this is important as essentialism will not solve these harmful consequences. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!
      Kylie C.

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