Western vs. Non-Western

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.

Works Cited:

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/.

5 Replies to “Western vs. Non-Western”

  1. Hello Mandi, I really enjoyed reading your post. I do have struggled a lot with using the term “third world country” on one hand, it’s short and for the most part everybody knows what it means, on the other hand, it is vague and borderline offensive. I do like the Global South better but I fear that it may just be third world in a nicer label. I think the main issue when it comes to Westerners discussing other countries is ignorance, the reality is every country is different, different cultures, different quality of life, etc. What I think we need more than a better term to use when referring to these countries is to stop painting all of these countries as the same.

    At the end of your post you mention not siding with either ecofeminist belief. I would love to hear (or in this case read) more of your thoughts on this. So far I am not really convinced on ecofeminism, especially the nature-women connection, which seems to me to be based more on stereotypes and pseudo-science than reality. That being said I did not like the way you ended your post “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.” While I am not sure if this is an accurate definition for Ecofeminism, I do think it is an accurate description of human life.

  2. Hi Mandi,
    I think that you really mentioned some good differences between the western and non-western views. You also mentioned some interesting points about environmental degradation and how that can affect people in the global south. Women in the global south spend their days in nature. Why do they spend their days in nature? They spend their days in nature because they do not have any other choice. Environmental degradation forces them to not have easy access to clean water. They have to walk for miles just to go collect water. Water is essential to life, so they do not have much of a choice. They are impacted by environmental degradation daily. When you mentioned how in western culture ecofeminism is more of a choice and for non-western cultures that is not always the case. Western societies have access to nature, but it is a choice to whether they feel connected to it or are above nature. However, in non-western societies they do not always have the opportunity to choose if they want to be above nature or connected with nature. It all depends on opportunities and what the person has access to. It also connects to culture and how you were raised. If your culture believes that people should connect with nature more and should have a relationship with it then you will more likely associate yourself with nature. The main point that Agarwal is trying to make in her piece is that men have always been perceived to be above women as well as above nature. People and nature can be equal based on the connection we have with them. However, women have been seen to be more connected with nature then men. Men are more focused on society and there develop in society. Agarwal is arguing that though women are affected by environmental degradation they are also seen to be more connected with nature.

  3. Hi Mandi,
    I like how you expressed using the terms “third world” vs “first world” and how insensitive it is. I agree with your statement that it’s insensitive verbiage. I hear all too often western people referring to issues in their lives as “first world problems”. I’m sure this creates a negative feeling amongst those living in poor areas of the global south or what westerners often refer to as third world countries.

    As far as the ecofeminism and woman connection…I personally feel that ecofeminism as it relates to women has a connection of renewal or of nurturing. Women nurture their infants in order for their children to grow up healthy. In nature we see a renewal of plants and animals that come alive every spring. Nature nurtures them with fresh plant life for animals and insects to feed on and so forth.

    Western feminists have a completely different outlook on what feminism and feminists issues are. We cannot fathom the life of a woman living in a poor area or village in the global south. As you mentioned, having to worry about being attacked just getting water. These issues are unfathomable to us because our issues consist of issues like gender inequality. The one thing I’ve learned from some of my WGS classes is that we cannot possibly unite as one group of women fighting for one issue (equality) when equality means something different to Western women than it does to Women living in the Global South. I do feel though, that we should educate ourselves in the matters of women in poor countries and their struggles, we need to focus on how others seek equality within their own cultures and lives and respect the differences.

  4. I totally see where you’re coming from when you say that you can’t necessarily side with non-Western feminists because you do not personally go through the same struggles as they do because of the privilege you have. I really do believe that it is so easy for people up in the global North, or, “First World Countries” to become blinded to the un-imaginable struggles and severe oppression that women on the other side of the globe deal with daily. It’s so important for all of us to recognize all struggles of women no matter where they are. If we don’t do this, those women will not be able to get the help that they need to flourish. Eco feminists need to speak up for those who don’t have a voice.

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