How Ecofeminism Works

Ecofeminism Fundamentals

Indian ecofeminist Dr. Vandana Shiva has devoted her life to ending the industrial exploitation of Asia, South America and Africa.
Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images

Ecofeminism is based on the theory that the oppression of women and the oppression of nature are fundamentally linked. In ecofeminist literature, ecofeminism is often described as the belief that environmentalism and feminism are intrinsically connected. Another definition suggests that discrimination and oppression based on gender, race and class are directly related to the exploitation and destruction of the environment.

Some ecofeminist writers unabashedly believe such oppression is patriarchal while others choose to imply that it is. Either way, the link being made between women and nature is evident. But while some ecofeminists view the link between woman and nature as empowering, others believe it's imposed by patriarchy and is degrading.


Those who see the association as empowering generally assert that women are closer to nature because of their positions as mothers or homemakers. As a result, they conclude that because women take care of their families and homes, they'll be more aware of environmental issues than men.

The people who view the association as degrading generally state that man will continue to exploit women and nature because man sees both as eternally fertile or endlessly capable of providing life [source: Sturgeon].

The ecofeminist movement quickly gained momentum in the U.S. Ynestra King and activist Grace Paley were among the women who organized the "Women and Life on Earth" conference at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1980. After the success of a conference at Sonoma State University the following year, a group of eight women formed the first national ecofeminist organization -- WomanEarth [source: Ress].

Ecofeminists address issues like water pollution, deforestation, toxic waste dumping, agricultural development and sustainability, animal rights and nuclear weapons policies.

Ecofeminist literature asserts that the notion of power must be restructured. Collaborative relationships should be nurtured instead of a power dynamic. Underlying much of the activism is the aim of creating an interconnected community, absent of patriarchal or other forms of hierarchy. An ultimate goal might be described as a reality where all life commands its own essential value.

No matter the differing approaches or schools of thought, one thing is certain -- ecofeminism is a global, multi-issued movement with an ever-growing community of activists and theorists.

Now, let's put some of this theory into context with a few examples of ecofemism in India, Africa and the U.S.