L encouraged me to write about the environment and how it relates to women, specifically about female environmentalists that I may have known from living in Ghana or from my current work.
This came as an interesting topic so I began exploring “eco-feminism” which is apparently a thing, but more importantly, something that my office (I work for a sustainability office at a major university) has been discussing just this past week.
To begin, I dug up this article about eco-feminism which I think addresses a few areas of environmentalism and how it intersects with gender and socio-economics. I have never actually heard the term “eco-feminist” before, which is not to say that I had not made the connection between gender and the environment.
Environmental issues affect us all in different ways. Living in a small rural farming village in the Eastern Region of Ghana, West Africa I experienced what life is like when you truly depend on your environment for everything. Fetching your water from a well, gathering or chopping wood for fire, growing your own food to either eat or sell for money to buy other things – this is what daily life is like for women (and men) in developing nations. But as I said before, women are the backbone of their families and communities in these countries. This article refers to these woman as the “natural resource managers” and “as resources become scarcer with decline in the environment’s health, girls are attending less and less school to be able to dedicate more time to finding water, or simply because school fees are no longer available as crop cycles become less predictable.” Unfortunately, this is true. Girls’ futures are stopped short when money is scarce and within a patriarchal society, women are not a priority. That is not to say that these women, the “natural resource managers” are not capable or intelligent. I spoke with many female farmers about climate change. Maybe we didn’t use that exact phrase, but the knowledge was there. During this time, Ghana was experiencing drastic changes in climate which resulted in unpredictable crop cycles. The farmers did not know when to plant their crops. The rains stopped coming. One family lost an entire year’s income because their plot did not survive. All three wells in my town dried up or broke and we were without water for about two weeks. And through it all, the women I knew managed to provide what food they could to their families. They helped this tiny white girl find clean sources of water to drink, even if it meant taking time away from their own chores. The cycle of poverty that women in developing countries face is a real tragedy, and one that stems from the reliance on what has now become an unreliable environment.
When L asked me to write this article she told me to name my top ten female environmentalists. I said that might be hard. You see, the sustainability movement is currently monopolized by men. Men hold more leadership positions in this field, even though the movement is largely fueled by women. Why is that? This is something that my office has been exploring in an effort to motivate our female students who are already involved to become leaders in sustainability efforts. This of course is another issue entirely, the lack of women in leadership roles. I’m not saying there aren’t great women active in environmentalism – to the contrary there are many. Acknowledging that there is a link between the environment and female empowerment is a start to this, I think. I know I barely scratched the surface with this topic, but I am interested in seeing where it goes from here.
Please comment with your thoughts!