How Ecofeminism Works

Ecofeminist Movement

Lois Gibbs spoke at the 25th anniversary commemoration of Love Canal.
Harry Scull, Jr./Getty Images

The Green Belt and Chipko Movements and Love Canal all have one thing in common -- the leadership and activism of strong and persistent women.

Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai is arguably best recognized for her development of the Green Belt Movement. She was the first African woman and the first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2004). She was also the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree [source:].


While serving on the National Council of Women in 1976, Maathai introduced her idea to plant trees to conserve the local environment and improve the community's quality of life. As interest widened, Maathai developed her local tree planting effort into a grassroots organization that spread to other African countries and eventually became the Green Belt Movement. Maathai has helped women plant more than 30 million trees on their communities' farms and school grounds. Upon receiving the Nobel Prize, Maathai said that the movement was about "inspiring people to take charge of their environment, the system that governed them, their lives and their future" [source: The Green Belt Movement].

Vandana Shiva was a participant in the Chipko movement during the 1970s and is considered to be one of the foremost ecofeminists today. Shiva was trained as a physicist, but began her work as an environmentalist and ecofeminist activist while participating in Chipko. In 1988, Shiva's book, "Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development," grounded her in the ecofeminist canon. It also opened discussion of the environmental struggles of women in Third World nations.

Shiva has formed organizations that directly counter environmental and ecological threats in India. She leads the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) -- through which she began a research initiative on ecological sustainability called Navdanya, meaning nine crops. In a letter posted on her Navdanya Web site, Shiva wrote, "For me, ecology and feminism have been inseparable" [source: Navdanya].

­­Love Canal homemaker Lois Gibbs became concerned for her children when they began exhibiting chronic, unexplained illnesses. Gibbs became an activist in 1978 and started working on behalf of her neighborhood in an effort to investigate the area's health concerns. Gibbs helped form the neighborhood's homeowner's association and filed reports with Niagara Falls' city officials, complaining of odd odors and the appearance of unidentifiable substances. However, city officials were slow to respond. As the investigation continued, dozens of residents came forward, attesting to unexplained illnesses, miscarriages and birth defects. Through the residents' research and activism, they eventually discovered that their neighborhood rested on tons of chemical waste. Based on her experience and desire to help others, Gibbs went on to establish the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

But what's the current state of ecofeminism? How do ecofeminists stay active? Go to the next section to find out.