Feminism and Ecology
"The revolution will be feminist, or it will not be," can be read in the numerous graffiti on the street walls of Chile, Argentina, and other Latin American countries in this new era of the feminist awakening in the region.
smile when I read the words revolution and feminism in a single sentence because in many revolutions in the region we were segregated because of our gender. But today is different; this is our revolution led by us and for us.
I would like to be protesting, screaming, replenishing the streets, holding the hands of my sisters knifed in the last peaceful march on July 25th of this year supporting free, safe, and legal abortion in Santiago, Chile. The crime was perpetrated by neo-fascists, without any other provocation except for women occupying the public space. These outrageous facts continue happening to us in the 21st century. This crime had practically no coverage in the written or broadcast media and a poor reaction from the authorities. Nobody was outraged. There are no detainees or suspects yet. Who cares about these women? As always, nobody, because they are women who are challenging the social, legal, political, and public status quo.
I would like to be in Chile in this exceptional moment for women of my generation to vindicate our inherent rights. This is the opportunity to fight for small and big causes: from basic respect in the streets to overcoming gender stereotypes and reducing wage gaps. An opportunity to address the main problems of our gender such as having full autonomy of our bodies and our reproductive rights, to not be killed, to not be raped, to implement public policies and laws with gender and human rights perspective. I know that this is a new beginning, one of many already undertaken, and that we should remain vigilant because the rights of women are not a conquered territory. Our rights are in permanent debate and question; we will always have to fight to move forward and maintain what we already have.
This effervescent revolution found me far from home, far from my country, Chile. It is a desynchrony that I deeply regret and that hurts. I would like to be writing this text with the pulse of the trenches and not from my apartment in New York. However, without this distance, without being an immigrant, I would not be who I am, nor would I think what I think, nor dream what I dream.
However, the physical distance from this feminist awakening in Latin America is in perfect harmony with my own epiphany and conscious awakening that gradually developed during the seven years of migration that I carry in my body between Paris, Washington DC, and New York.
oday reflexively, ethically, and politically I stand at the intersection of feminism and ecology. I consider myself ecofeminist in formation, actively collaborating in feminist organizations for immigrant women in New York, The Feminist Association of attorneys in Chile, and environmental organizations devoted to the issues in Latin America. The convergence of ecology and feminism did not seem obvious for me at first glance. For a long time I studied gender issues, human rights, and environmental international law separately as different fields. First for curiosity, then because of professional interest, but above all because of indignation.
I was born in a small country deep in South America - Chile. From my early childhood I was aware and alert to the situations in my country regarding prevailing machismo, the harmful effects of colonization, the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, the abuses of foreign investment, environmental disasters, violation of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and human rights because these situations are, unfortunately, an ordinary occurrence.
Like all Latin America countries, the geography of Chile has been abused again and again. As the articulate Eduardo Galeano said, “Latin America, the region of open veins. From the discovery until our days, everything has always been transmuted into European or, later, American capital, and as such it has accumulated and accumulated in the distant centers of power. Everything: the earth, its fruits and its depths rich in minerals, men and their capacity for work and consumption, natural resources and human resources [...] in colonial and neocolonial alchemy, gold is transformed into scrap, and the food becomes poison.” 1
ne day I woke up with a lot of resentment and I did not know why. Now, with perspective, I understand that it was because I was assimilating many things and growing conscious of many injustices. This situation coincided with moving to Harlem, the traditionally Afro-descendant neighborhood of New York where I noticed that racial segregation persists in many ways. That shocked me deeply.
Throughout this process, thinking about the abuse historically suffered by both our lands and our women’s bodies, I returned to a phrase about the origin of human rights declarations. This phrase indicated that the declarations of the late seventeenth century were intended to proclaim the universal rights of all people, but in reality the people that their writers had in mind were mostly owners, whites, and males. The right to property, as a human right, was a cornerstone of declarations. I also remembered that in the context of the Americas the discussion on the incorporation of the right to property in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights focused on the fact that it would serve as a protection for foreign investment, the same entity that in many cases has been linked with violations of human rights, violations of indigenous people rights, environmental disasters, and that perpetuates the colonial model. Consequently, I, as a woman, Latina, and without an important patrimony, will be always outside of that core of privilege and protection. Once I finished my thoughts, I said to myself; this is the Patriarchy!
oth women and nature have been oppressed for the same reasons. The Patriarchy is not only the superiority of men and the masculine over women and the feminine and its consequent domination and subjugation, but it is much more complex and frightening than that. As Amaranta Herrero points out, "three props mutually reinforce each other to maintain this double oppression [of women and nature]: capitalist patriarchy, a mechanistic vision of the world and a culture of domination and violence. With an anthropocentric and androcentric belief of biological superiority, human beings (some more than others) have appropriated, dominated and violently subjected living beings (including humans), as well as processes, products, and services that form nature or are generated by it. The patriarchal postulates of productivism, homogeneity, control, and centralization constitute the foundation of the dominant models of industrial thought and economic activities." 2
Feminism is an extensive movement that aims to create a profound transformation of gender stereotypes, and social, racial, class, and capitalist economic structures. Ecofeminism contributes in turn to the movement by seeking to overthrow the anthropocentric model of the exploitation of nature wherein natural entities are considered objects of appropriation and private property is for the benefit of a few. This is the inheritance of colonial slavery. This model has been the reason for the progressive degradation of nature that affects all of humanity. However, it affects the most vulnerable groups the hardest: women of indigenous peoples or ethnic minorities, women who live in agrarian or fish-farming survival economies, and others.
Feminism was not solely a political and ethical commitment for me, but also a critical mechanism that caused me to reflect, rethink environmental issues, and urged me to change the direction of my professional career. Feminist thinking and philosophy was the connecting point that united all my interests: gender issues, human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, and environmental international law.
aced with this concerning reality, I did not have any other option than to act for change. I started collaborating with a Non-Governmental Organization called Earth Law Center that aims to recognize the rights of nature to exist, thrive, and evolve. Their approach is to provide nature with a voice through the appointment of legal representatives to speak on its behalf and represent the natural world before the courts and other forums. They aim to enforce the interest and the rights of nature disconnected from its functionality for humanity and recognize minimum fundamental rights for rivers, ocean, mountains, forests, and other natural entities. In this scheme, nature would no longer be enslaved, exploited, destroyed. This holistic model calls for a new social pact where the highest interest of nature and its health is the primary element of valuation. Within the organization I led a group seeking the recognition of the rights for a whale sanctuary in Uruguay and led the writing of an amicus curiae brief for the protection of various rivers in Colombia and Ecuador. The protection of rivers is the protection of many communities, racial minorities, indigenous peoples, and women.
We live in difficult times. An urgent change in our structure is required; recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the UN (IPCC) says that we only have until 2030 before climate change becomes even more extreme.
I firmly believe that by overthrowing the structures that oppress our mother nature, those that oppress us, its daughters, will be destroyed as well. We should build a society in harmony with nature in which patriarchy has been defeated. We do not have too much time - act now.
Eduardo Galeano, Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina, Siglo XXI de España Editores, 2da Edición, 2010, pp. 16-17.
Amaranta Herrero, Ecofeminismos: Apuntes sobre la dominación gemela de mujeres y naturaleza, https://www.researchgate.net
Banner Collage based on “Woman Walking beside a River” by Henry Farrer, 1902