By Ariana Javidi, Age 19
My first experience with activism was with environmentalism. As a kid, I was instilled with a deep love of the outdoors by my parents and spent every possible moment outside. When I learned about “global warming” in elementary school, I remember being devastated. I couldn’t understand why humans would know that their actions were destroying the planet, and still engage in them; I also couldn’t understand why people would deny and distrust the empirical evidence that climate change exists, while the science used to gather that evidence is the same as that which powers their homes, their phones, their cars, and every other aspect of their lives. From that point on, I defined myself as an environmentalist.
As I progressed through high school and entered college, feminism became an increasingly important part of my personal activism. The intersectionality of the feminism others practiced around me inspired me and motivated me to critically examine the entitlement with which I perceived the world, and the construction of my own individual identity, privilege, and oppression. But over time, in the separate pursuits of creating both intersectional feminist and environmental change, I realized that I had become accustomed to thinking about environmental issues and gender inequality as separate and disconnected, and resigned to accepting the general consensus of most feminists that there is no room for intersectionality when it comes to environmentalism.
But is that really true? It’s disappointing to me that western feminism, along with other western social justice movements, has completely failed to integrate a sense of responsibility for the planet into their agendas. I perpetually witness self-proclaimed “feminists” and other “activists” for change walking around holding single-use bottles of water, disposable coffee cups, and always saying yes to a plastic bag with their takeout. This blatant disregard for the environment is not only dangerous, considering the urgency of the threat of climate change to the security of the Earth but is problematic in the sense that it highlights a deep hypocrisy of feminist, anti-racist, LGBTQ, anti-classist, and other civil rights movements that hold fundamental understandings of equality, justice, and the sanctity of life itself.
With roots in the lesbian-feminist, peace, and ecology movements of the 1970s and 1980s, ecofeminism recognizes the inherent connections between male domination of the world and overexploitation and abuse of the natural environment. Utilizing a feminist Marxist framework of ideology that understands patriarchy as an instrument of capitalism to maintain gendered power inequalities, ecofeminists recognize that the devastation of the planet by corporate interests solely concerned with ever increasing profit margins is fundamentally linked to masculinized, capitalist systems of power that inflict ecological as well as gendered violence.
The separation of women’s rights and environmental sustainability doesn’t occur in other parts of the world. Movements like legendary activists Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya and Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya movement in India have sought to empower women through economic opportunities in environmental conservation and sustainable agriculture. As women-centered movements founded and run by women, both the Green Belt Movement and Navdanya recognize the profound investment women have in the conservation and protection of their ecosystems from environmental degradation. Particularly in the developing world, women’s economic, social, and cultural security frequently depends on the preservation of natural resources and the environment; for example, Waangari Maathai started the Green Belt Movement when she heard local women talk about the increasing insecurity of their food, water, and energy (firewood) supplies. In communities affected by environmental degradation, women are disproportionately affected as the main providers of food and water to their households; these concerns fall upon gender lines with men often being the perpetrators and beneficiaries of environmental destruction and women the producers of food and energy for themselves and their families.
If mainstream feminism continues to ignore the urgency of threats posed by climate change and the corporate destruction of the planet, there will be tremendous consequences not only for the security, health, and well-being of future generations and the Earth, but for the success of feminism itself as a social movement. For without a profound understanding of the connection between unjust power systems created and dominated by men and widespread violence against global ecosystems, feminists cannot fully begin to break down these patriarchal structures, as their complicity in the perpetuation of ecological violence explicitly condones and encourages systemic gender inequality.