They say she’s weak, for she remains quite.
They say she’s incapable, for she remains humble.
They say she’s submissive, for she knows no elation in dominance.
They say , they say ,they say..
She is made to believe.
Yet she knows not , what beholds in her wake,
For she needs to know, their existence is nothing, but for her sake.
It is almost ironical that these beautifully woven words hold true for both women and environment. So strong , yet so supple. Life givers , yet reduced to state where they have to beg to survive. The downtrodden sex, the fairer sex, the weakling, are words that have become synonymous for the one who’s incarnations are in different cultures worshipped ,as the ‘omnipotent goddesses’, the idols of whom adorn the households of so many Indians, the strength of whom, they said, even the fiercest of the demons feared-The Woman. She is the bearer of all living, the one who is bestowed with the gift of nurturing the existence of a being. And so similar to this, is Our ‘Mother earth’.
The reason, why the surroundings around us, and the nature sustaining all of has been given a feminine character, an identity akin to the women, the mother , is that it does not differ from those living and breathing beautiful creations , who play the role of a mother, a sister, a friend, a sustainer, a giver. Another reason is that both have been viewed as exploitable resources that been significantly undervalued.
It is but a truth, that nobody understands the pain of the downtrodden, than the downtrodden himself, in our case- ‘herself. At the heart of any feminist movement, there is woman. If trees and rivers and mountains had a voice, it would be a woman’s. This pain which resonated in the heart of the fairer sex led to the evolution of the concept of ECOFEMINISM, which profoundly refers to women’s and feminist perspectives on the environment – where the domination and exploitation of women, of poorly resourced people and of nature are all interlinked. Ecofeminism says that women are closer to nature than men are and believes in a direct connection between oppression of nature and the subordination of women. This closeness, therefore, makes women more nurturing and caring towards their environment.
Economists, Feminists and philosophers, all have diverse reasons to give for why woman and environment are that the closely connected, but no reasons as to why the men’s ignorance remains unquestionable here too. Some indicate the biology of women as the reason behind the closeness, while others give Dependency as a reason; others give culture and historical factors too. Right from the Palaeolithic age, to the present silicon times, human owes its existence to nature and its natural resources. With the advent of technical development and knowledge, there was a shift to non farming activities, with the men shifting to them, while woman, in most countries were left behind. The gender-environment relations have valuable ramifications in regard to the understanding of nature between men and women, the management and distribution of resources and responsibilities and the day-to-day life and well being of people even today.
In most of all countries, woman are considered the primary users of natural resources (Land, forest, and water), they are the ones who spend most of their time working on the farms to feed the household. Shouldering this responsibility leads them to learn more about soil, plants, and trees and not misuse them ,thus creating a dependency on the environment, and] that this dependence creates a deeply rooted connection between women and their surroundings. This connection, gives rise to a new culture of respectful use and preservation of natural resources and the environment, ensuring that the following generations can meet their needs. This also creates unique interests that may be differentiated from the interests of men, due to the varied psychological mindsets in both the genders.
Unlike men, Women connect the land to immediate survival and concern for future generations rather than simply looking at it as a resource with monetary value. While for men, everything comes down to economics, for woman it comes down to sensitivity, support and sustainability.
Women’s perspectives and values for the environment are somewhat different than men’s. Women give greater priority to protection of and improving the capacity of nature, maintaining farming lands, and caring for nature and environment’s future. Repeated studies have shown that women have a stake in environment, and this stake is reflected in the degree to which they care about natural resources. According to the World Bank in 1991, “Women play an essential role in the management of natural resources, including soil, water, forests and energy and often have a profound traditional and contemporary knowledge of the natural world around them'”.
Today, women struggle against alarming global trends, but they are working together to effect change. By establishing domestic and international non-governmental organizations, many women have recognized themselves and acknowledge to the world that they not only have the right to participate in environmental dilemmas but they have different relationship with environment including different needs, responsibilities, and knowledge about natural resources. This is why women are affected differently than men by environmental degradation, deforestation, pollution and overpopulation. Women are often the most directly affected by environmental issues, so they become more concerned about environmental problems. An example of female pro eminence in the defence of natural forests comes from India in 1906. As forest clearing was expanding, the conflict between loggers, government and peasant communities increased. To thwart resistance to the forest clearing, the men were diverted from their villages to a fictional payment compensation site and loggers were sent to the forests. The women left in the villages; however, protested by physically hugging themselves to the trees to prevent their being cut down, giving rise to what is now called the Chipko movement, an environmentalist movement initiated by these Indian women (which also is where the term tree-huggers originated). This conflict started because men wanted to cut the trees to use them for industrial purposes while women wanted to keep them since it was their food resource and deforestation was a survival matter for local people.
Another noteworthy example of Women taking initiatives for environmental protection can be seen in the ‘Greenbelt movement in Kenya, which was one of the earliest efforts of incorporating links between gender issues and resources conservation, and bringing the concept of ECOFEMINISM, further in limelight at the global level, by mobilizing a mass plantation of indigenous trees by Women. Apart from this, the rising education levels, and improvement in the conditions of urban woman, though to a limited extent, has made them self sufficient in handling their own environment protection councils , societies and so on, along with educational institutions, which inculcate in students, at the very basic level , a respectful attitude towards their sustainer, and foresightedness, as a way to care for not only the present, but the coming generations as well.
The deep connection between women and environment comes from the daily interaction between them. In recent decades, environmental movements have increased as the movements for women’s rights have also increased. Today’s union of nature preservation with women’s right and liberation has stemmed from invasion of their rights in the past. Throughout history men have looked at natural resources as commercial entities or income generating tools, while women have tended to see the environment as a resource supporting their basic needs. As an example, rural Indian women collect the dead branches which are cut by storm for fuel wood to use rather than cutting the live trees.]Since African, Asian, and Latin American women use the land to produce food for their family, they acquire the knowledge of the land/soil conditions, water, and other environmental features.]Any changes in the environment on these areas, like deforestation, have the most effect on women of that area, and cause them to suffer until they can cope with these changes. One of the good examples would be the Nepali women whose grandmothers had to climb to the mountain to be able to bring in wood and fodder.
Sensitivity towards the environment, a firm realisation of the importance of it, as well as the urgent need to take efforts towards the conservation of it, to save our being from dire consequences, is something that needs no formal education or degree. It just needs the heart of a woman, a child, a lover. It needs a realization that our earth, the mother, is in dire need of nourishment, only then she will be able to sustain her children.
In the end, if all the facts and rationalizations have still not registered the urgency of promoting gender quality to have a more sustainable environment, let me hope that the following statement by Noble Prize Winner, Amartya Sen will; “Advancing gender equality may be one of the best ways of saving the environment, and countering the dangers of overcrowding and other adversities associated with population pressure. The voice of women is critically important for the world’s future – not just for women’s future.”
References: Wikipedia, India today, The Times Of India.
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