Australia is in the midst of a national reckoning on sexism and misogyny within politics and the broader culture. It seems an important time to be taking a deeper look at the bigger picture; our current ways of thinking, our structures and institutions, enabling this kind of violence to continue to proliferate.
We are at a turning point on our planet as the destruction of the environment in the name of profit and 'growth' seems all too close to the violence being continually hurled at women. As women across Australia and the world have become sick and tired of what Brittany Higgins called this 'tired, stale, fight' at the recent March 4 Justice, the stakes also have never seemed higher. Women want change. Women want an alternative; a new vision; a new paradigm. So, is there an alternative? Well, the ecofeminists of this world certainly think so.
Ecofeminism is a social theory as well as a political movement that sees a relationship between the degradation of the natural world and the subjugation and oppression of women. It maintains that the culture of domination and power generated by unequal gender dynamics and global injustice is the same culture that precipitates the exploitation of nature and the rest of living beings. It emerged alongside second-wave feminism and the green movements of the 1970s, with its first premiss being that the "material resourcing of women and of nature are structurally interconnected in a capitalist patriarchal system." It addresses the problems of economic reforms that are based on limitless growth in a limited world, whereby the powerful grab the resources of the vulnerable.
As Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies argue in their groundbreaking book 'EcoFemisim', this 'resource-grab' mentality that is necessary for 'growth' "creates a culture of rape - rape of the Earth, of local self-reliant economies, of women".
In Australia, approximately one in five women have experienced sexual violence at some stage in their lives since the age of 15 and one in three women have experienced physical violence at some stage in their lives since the age of 15. Horrifically low reporting and conviction rates for sexually violent crimes continue the cycle of powerlessness for survivors and lack of accountability for perpetrators. As seen in the recent outpouring of allegations in politics, this problem is widespread, stitched into the fabric of the institutions we are meant to revere. So what's going on? How has this culture of violence been allowed to thrive unchecked, still in today's world?
At the core of ecofeminism is the idea that reducing society to the economy all in the name of 'growth' ultimately creates a culture of commodification and consumerism, where everything has a price and nothing has a value. This, ecofeminists argue, is the foundation of capitalist-patriarchy.
Patriarchy is defined as a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. Capitalism is defined as an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
The intersection of these systems, according to ecofeminists, cultivates a cycle of domination; domination of the global North over the global South, the domination of man over women, and the frenzied pillage of ever more resources for "ever more unequally distributed gain to dominate nature." The same masculinist mentality of corporate growth and greed that sees the aggression against the environment and the devastation of the Earth, is the same mentality which would deny women the right to their own bodies and would see the ongoing proliferation of violence enacted upon them both in terms of economic exclusion and sexual assault; both simultaneously relying on multiple systems of dominance and state power to have their way.
The restructuring of the economy under the principles of neoliberalism; privatisation, globalisation and universal competition, have implicitly promised peace and justice within a 'free world market'. Yet as ecofeminists assert, what this has resulted in, is the 'global' domination of local interests, by means of "subsuming the multiple diversities of economies, cultures and of nature under the control of a few multinational corporations, and the superpowers that assist them in their global reach through 'free' trade and increasingly, conflicts, military and otherwise."
Ultimately the victims are local, and invariably women, who are most vulnerable. This deepening economic vulnerability of women makes them even more exposed to all forms of violence. This is particularly true with transnational corporations shifting production to cheap labour countries. In Bangladesh for example, about 90% of the workers in the textile factories are young women, with the lowest wages in the world and some of the most inhumane working conditions. Without this exploitation of women, and oftentimes violence, capitalism would simply not maintain its growth obsession.
So, what does ecofeminism propose?
Ecofeminism states that it is humanity's choice; either to be creative or destructive. If we continue to understand the human condition as one of domination and unstoppable economic growth under the model of capitalist patriarchy, then we will continue on the path of climate catastrophe, injustice and inequality.
So, we need a new economic and cultural model; a new vision of our world. Ending violence against women must include moving beyond the perpetual cycle of economic growth, so-called 'free trade' and consumerism. We need to build a world that is nonviolent and sustainable. One that centres around peaceful economies that promote planetary and human well-being. And we need to value cooperation rather than competitiveness.
Rather than seeing ourselves as outside the ecological web of life, as masters, conquers and owners of the Earth's resources, we must see ourselves as deeply rooted inside of it; as co-creators and co-producers with a duty to care for life on Earth in all its diversity. Rather than a worldview centred around a careless and blind exercise of power, control and violence, it must become about conserving, healing and producing and consuming within ecological limits.
As Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva proclaim; "we are in the midst of an epic contest - the contest between the rights of Mother Earth and the rights of corporations and militarised states using obsolete world-views and paradigms to accelerate the war against the planet and people." It's up to every one of us to choose what part we have to play in this contest, no matter how big or small. The future of our planet and its diversity relies upon it.
[Header Image: Unsplash]
Written by Nikki Thorburn
Nikki is a writer and musician, who when she's not on stage, can be found tucked away in her bedroom writing about all things sustainability, social justice and feminism. She's written for publications including RUSSH, Rolling Stone, Bustle, Frankie and Elle Magazine and one day wants to become a pilot and circumnavigate the globe solo - just like Amelia Earhart.