Ecofeminism in the Asian Context (Feminism and Ecology)
By Sr. Rehka Chennattu, RA (India)
Asian Reality and Feminism
The Asian society is divided by inequalities of class, caste, race, colour, gender and disability. But probably the most cruel, dehumanizing and destructive as well as most comprehensive and pervasive of all inequalities is gender inequality – the socially and culturally imposed differences between women and men, boys and girls. One dominant instrument deployed by men and boys to reduce women and girls to fear and subjugation is rape. Our daily newspapers show that sexual harassment, rape and murder are the destiny of many women today.
These stories depict the sad plight of women in contemporary society, and call for women’s struggle for the right to life, and for justice, dignity and wholeness.
It is in this context that we understand better feminism and feminist movements, which try both to create an awareness of the atrocities committed against women or discrimination against women in society, in the Church, at work or within the family as well as to make conscious efforts to change these situations. Feminism is an ideology or world-view which questions the patriarchal attitudes which result in the domination of men over women. Feminism envisages a culture that promotes a relationship of mutuality and fosters co-operation and interdependence between men and women.
Many people prefer to shy away from being called feminist as it is a much misunderstood and misinterpreted concept. What is the unique and distinct way in which Asian women respond to the present situation of cultural alienation, religious deprivation and male domination? The following observation seems timely and relevant. The conventions such as “being submissive” or “to cultivate a capacity to endure suffering and humiliation” still reflect in many ways what Asian women were taught (and still believe) as the most natural, normal and noble way of behaving in society.
What seems appropriate in handling these issues is the strategy of constructive dialogues in view of challenging and changing the gender stereotypes in the Church and society being sensitive to the deepest aspirations of Asian women, who try to integrate both their mind and heart or reasons and emotions. Theological illiteracy is indeed one of the reasons for the subordination of women in the Church. Adequate biblical and theological formation will empower women to play their rightful role in the Church.
It is in this context of rich spiritualties as well as the process of secularization and the dehumanization of women/girls existing side by side that we reflect on biblical feminist spirituality for ecological sustainability.
Feminism and Ecology (Ecofeminism)
What is the link or connection between feminism and ecology? Since the beginning of the human species, there has been a close association between women and the earth, which is manifested in culture, history, and language. The earth and women are linked by the ancient world-view that regarded the earth as the nurturing mother. Both women and the earth are connected to production and to mothering, the ability to bring forth life and sustenance.
We women do not have to learn that we are part of the cosmos, because of our biological properties – menstruation, pregnancy, birthing and nurturance – we recognize ourselves as part of the universe rather than an outsider.1 This close connection also “results from the striking parallels which exist between the treatment of the Earth and the treatment of women.
For example, the traditional role of both is seen as an instrumental one – women and the earth are viewed in terms of having usefulness rather than as having intrinsic worth in their own right.”2 In the words of Maria Mies, “women and subjugated peoples are treated as if they were means of production or natural resources, similar to water, air and land.”3 The violence to the earth leading to the present ecological crisis, and the violence to women leading to the exploitation of women, arise from the subjugation of the feminine principle, namely, the life-giving and life-nurturing principles contained in productivity and creativity.
Moreover, the environmental issues are also women’s issues, as women are affected much during droughts and famines; they get sick, starve and die from toxics; their capacity to bear new life is threatened by pollution; they bear the burden of care for the sick and dying.4 Hence we talk about ecofeminism – it is the coming together of ecology and feminism, a coming together brought about by those who see the link between the domination of women and the domination of the earth/universe.5 In other words, we talk about an intimate link between feminism and ecology as they have a similar experience of subjugation as well as common concerns and goals to emancipate women and the earth from exploitation.
- See also Eleanor Rae, Women, the Earth and the Divine (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994), 29.
- Val Plumwood, Ecofeminism: An Overview and Discussion of Positions and Arguments,” in Women and Philosophy,ed. Jana L. Thompson (Australian Journal of Philosophy, sup?plement to vol. 64, 1986), 120.
- Maria Mies, Women, The last Colony (London: Zed Books, 1988), p. 5.
- Eleanor Rae, Women, the Earth and the Divine (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994), 51.
- Eleanor Rae, Women, the Earth and the Divine (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994), 23.