A big part of growing as a feminist and as a global citizen is un-learning thinking patterns and language that we’ve been taught growing up. When I was in elementary school through high school, certain countries were always referred to as “third world” countries. I never saw an issue with this at the time. I was a child, and this is what the people I was learning from were telling me. I did not understand that the term “third world” can be socially insensitive, as it’s quickly translated to poor. Or, what makes up the first and second world? Why are we ranking?
A term that is used more currently is the Global South. This is based off geographical facts rather than a term that can be offensive. While there are many rich countries in the Global South (such as New Zealand, Argentina, etc), there are also a lot of impoverished countries. I want to focus on how women in these countries are affected by the environment.
A big way that women in the Global South are affected by environmental degradation is their water supply. There are a lot of countries where there is a lack of sanitation facilities, and the water supply may not be safe or may not even exist. This effects women for three main reasons.
1. Women typically hold the responsibility of getting the water. This can be very time consuming and also grueling.
2. It can be dangerous walking back and forth for women to a safe bathroom site. They are left vulnerable to attack.
3. Women have specific sanitation needs to attend to that men do not. They need to find ways to take care of themselves during their periods, pregnancy and raising children.
Being raised in an environment having to work hard for a basic human need like water definitely shapes part of who a person is. From an ecofeminist standpoint, it can be argued that women’s relationship to nature in this environment does not empower them. The relationship a woman has with nature in for example, the United States, versus the relationship a woman has in a country in the global south is entirely different. In dire situations like above, where a woman is typically unsafe in their day to day environment, they are oppressed just like nature is.
Eco-feminism from a non-western perspective views women as more of victims of their environment. At the same time, women have had a massive impact on different environmental movements, and have helped shape the environment in positive ways. Western feminism describes women as one with nature. Women are commonly associated with the beauty and softness of a flower. They are supposed to be united. It has been argued that the very life path of women, with menstruation, childbearing, etc proves that they are one with nature’s path. Non-western feminism doesn’t always view it that way.
A main difference that is found in western ecofeminism is that it can be privileged. Basically, western ecofeminism seems to view the relationship between women and nature mainly in the lens of how women treat nature. This is typically assuming that humans hold power over nature (besides in instances such as natural disasters) which is a privilege many of us don’t think about. Another difference between Western feminism and non-western feminism that Bina Agarwhal has pointed out is that Western feminism doesn’t necessarily include all kinds of women. Agarwhal writes in “The Gender and Environment Debate: The View From India” that this view describes “women as a unitary category and fails to differentiate among women by class, race, ethnicity and so on” (122).
The main thing that ecofeminism in the Western world and the non-Western world have in common is that they believe oppression of both women and nature exist, and that there is some sort of relationship. I don’t necessarily side with either belief. It is harder to understand how non-Western feminists feel because I have never personally endured the struggles a lot of women have. I have never had to worry if I was going to get water, or if I was going to be attacked on the way to the bathroom. I acknowledge their struggles and want my feminism to be inclusive and concern ALL people. This makes me feel like I cannot say I mainly side with Western ecofeminists, whose views Agarwhal called “idealogical” (120). To me, ecofeminism says that people and nature have a relationship, and we must care for the earth and it must care for us. To oppress and disrespect the earth is not feminist.
Agarwal, Bina. “The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons from India.” Feminist Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1992, pp. 119–158. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3178217. Accessed 8 Feb. 2020.
Jabeen, Neelam. “Women and the Environment of the Global South: Toward a Postcolonial Ecofeminism.” Women and the Environment of the Global South: Toward a Postcolonial Ecofeminism, North Dakota State University, 1 Jan. 1970, library.ndsu.edu/ir/handle/10365/25914.
UN-Water. “Gender: UN-Water.” UN, www.unwater.org/water-facts/gender/.