E220: Ecofeminist Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva has been a hero since I first really listened to her speak five years ago on Bill Moyers. Her intelligence, courage, tenacity and heroism in facing down the US corporate giants bent on stealing water and destroying Indian agriculture is awe inspiring. She must battle coercive rules of trade under the World Trade Organization, of the World Bank and IMF – against all odds she is maintaining and even winning battles.

So I knew I felt great respect for Dr. Shiva and her work. What I didn’t know is that she is an ecofeminist.

Eureka! I found something yesterday that spoke directly to me. Ecofeminism . I confess from the onset that I am a brand new student, having only just found this term while looking up another. I did some reading. But that reading revealed my hero from India,
Vandana Shiva makes it clear that one of the missions of ecofeminism is to redefine how societies look at productivity and activity of both women and nature who have mistakenly been deemed passive, allowing for them both to be ill-used. For example, she draws a picture of a stream in a forest. According to her, in our society it is perceived as unproductive if it is simply there, fulfilling the needs for water of women’s families and communities, until engineers come along and tinker with it, perhaps damming it and using it for generating hydropower. The same is true of a forest unless it is planted with a monoculture plantation of a commercial species. A forest may very well be productive, protecting groundwater, creating oxygen, allowing villagers to harvest fruit, fuel, and craft materials, and creating a habitat for animals that are also a valuable resource. However, for many, if it isn't for export or contribution to GDP, without a dollar value attached, it cannot be seen as a productive resource (4 Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development 1988).

I have seen her as a prominent voice in the film, The Corporation, on Democracy Now a couple times,
Link TV and Bill Moyers as I said in the opening. She is richly eloquent in her description of the plight of the Indian farmer.

She is also a physicist and ecologist and the Director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is the founder of Navdanya -"nine seeds", a movement promoting diversity and use of native seeds. Dr. Shiva was the 1993 recipient of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize -the Right Livelihood Award. And she is the author of many books, her latest is "Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace."

There is an aspect of ecofeminism that I am not very interested in promoting. That is the metaphysical focus. Though I have no trouble with Wiccans or others who practice the magik, I am interested in Gaia or Earth as Mother is a metaphorical sense, rather than a literal worship. In part this is because literal interpretations devolve into silliness so easily. One only has to look at the xtian fundamentalists, the ‘intelligent design’ crowd to see this. (This TED film on A.J. Jacob's Living Biblically is fun.)

What I am interested in is reversing the priority, the sequence from economical first and ecological second. The ecological imperatives we must face trump the economical emphasis of our current structure.

Vandana Shiva explains how women's special connection to the environment through her daily interactions with it has been ignored. "Women in subsistence economies, producing and reproducing wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes. But these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognised by the [capitalist] reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth.”

From what I can glean in this recent search, there is no ecofeminist definition that can be claimed as ‘the ecofeminist’ philosophy. For me, ignorance is bliss. I may refute my own notions a year from now, but so be it. I read:

Ecofeminism sprouted in the early 1970s as Western women became disillusioned with the ideologies of the day. The environmental movement lacked a feminist analysis. Feminism had little concern for nature. The Left paid almost no attention to women, animals, or ecology. Political organizations rarely included a spiritual component, and few spiritual groups cultivated a progressive political consciousness.

Almost 40 years later the exact same conditions prevail within the environmental movement- now recast as sustainability movement, Feminism – now with the 3rd wave attacking my generation - still has little concern for nature, the Left – now recast as Progressive- seem to have become more misogynistic. Now the activist vegetarian group, PETA is fully, vigorously misogynist. Xtianist think everyone is going to hell and I can’t speak to spiritual groups cultivating progressive political consciousness. I haven’t seen or heard of spiritual groups in a long while, just the Talibangelists.

For me, ecofeminism is a label I will adopt. I like the ring and I like Dr. Shiva’s example.


Beany said...

Vandana Shiva is my idol as well. I first saw her in The Corporation and then in other documentaries - usually anything to do with water rights or seed saving/GMOs. I really admire her and the work she does. She really has tenacity.

I'm with you on the metaphysical stuff. I just lack the imagination to follow it all.

katecontinued said...

You are the very person I wanted to ask . . . Is Vandana Shiva well known and well respected within India? That is, is she a household name, a cultural icon, a celebrity?

I am just curious.

Beany said...

Honestly, I have no idea. I've been in the U.S. for 10 years and as a teen in India I had not heard of Vandana. Then again, I wasn't interested in politics or the environment. Maybe the more environmentally/politically aware classmates may have been aware of her.

As a teen, I was aware of the Narmada Bachao Project. I remember Medha Patkar - I think she might have come to my school to make me aware of the Narmada project.

katecontinued said...

Now that is a NBA reference I am interested in learning more about, but teens in the US have been cut off from anything close to civic action or activists. This worries me as the young of our country have a world of information they aren't hearing or learning.