Feminist political ecology
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Feminist political ecology is a feminist perspective on political ecology, drawing on theories from post-structuralism, feminist geography, and cultural ecology. Feminist political ecology examines the place of gender in the political ecological landscape, exploring gender as a factor in ecological and political relations. Specific areas in which feminist political ecology is focused are development, landscape, resource use, agrarian reconstruction and rural-urban transformation (Hovorka 2006: 209). Feminist political ecologists suggest gender is a crucial variable – in relation to class, race and other relevant dimensions of political ecological life – in constituting access to, control over, and knowledge of natural resources.
Linking gender hierarchy with environmental degradation
Feminist political ecology attempts to include gender as a “key element” in political ecology analysis (Hovorka 2006: 209). It is informed by several decades of feminist scholarship on the material and cultural links between gender hierarchy (where the masculine is valued more than the feminine) and the domination of the natural world. Ecological feminist scholars working in different disciplines, such as Carolyn Merchant (1980), Val Plumwood (1993; 2002) and Vandana Shiva (1989), laid the foundations for this field by providing empirical evidence and conceptual tools for the systematic analysis of the twin devaluation/domination of nature and the feminine.
The study of the relationship between environments, gender, and development has grown in importance because of the restructuring of economies, environments and cultures at a global and local level (Mitchell 2000). Women and men are being viewed as actors who affect environmental management, resource use, and the creation of policies for health and well-being. Feminist political ecology does not view gender differences in environmental impact as being biologically-rooted. Rather, they are derived from social constructs of gender, which vary depending on culture, class, race, and geographical location, and they change over time between individuals and societies. A key moment on the development of the approach was the publication of Feminist Political Ecology, edited by Dianne Rocheleau et.al. at Clark University in 1996. The book showed how usage of environment and labor patterns are gendered, but also how certain environmental problems have particularly negative effects on women (Rocheleau et al. 1996). These concerns were largely absent in the better-known political ecology volume Liberation Ecologies, which was published in the same year and also developed at Clark (Peet & Watts, 1996).
In a study on the Rural Federation of Zambrana-Chacuey (a peasant federation) and an international nongovernmental organization (ENDA-Caribe) in the Dominican Republic, Dianne Rocheleau examines social forestry within the region. Women are involved in the forestry industry, but previous research (summary numbers, “regional maps of forestry-as-usual” (Rocheleau 1995: 460) had not represented the “different publics (differentiated by gender, class, locality, and occupation) within the Federation (p460)”. Rocheleau’s study draws upon post-structuralism to “expand our respective partial and situated knowledges through a politics a science that go beyond identity to affinities then work from affinities to coalitions" (p459).In other words, the study does not assume that the identity of a person defines them, but instead focuses on “affinities” (defined as “based on affiliations, and shared views of interests, subject to change over time”). The purpose of this was to “address women within the context in which they had organized and affiliated themselves (p461)”. The purpose of the study was to include women in the general study of the area in a way that gave justice to the “ecological and social contexts that sustain their lives" (p461), instead of separating them from the context, rendering them invisible.
In a Botswana study on urban poultry agriculture, Alice J. Hovorka (2006) examines the implications of fast-paced urbanization on social and ecological relations in a Feminist Political Ecology framework. Men and women are both involved and affected by development issues, so therefore “gender is an integral part of a key element of agrarian change and rural-urban transformation" (Hovorka 2006:209). Before urbanization took off, socially constructed gender roles played a huge part in gendered experiences of the landscape. Gender determined the different roles, responsibilities and access to resources. It is important to note that although Botswana women gained the right to vote in 1966, they remain excluded from political power. Gender issues are rarely raised in this country where “powerful conventions restrict women’s domain to the household and women’s autonomy under male guardianship" (p211). With urbanization, land use is becoming more accessible to Botswana women. But studies have revealed that “women’s access to social status and productive resources remains limited compared to men's" (p213). Traditional gender roles affect women’s economic situation, their access to resources and land, their education, and their labor market.
Quotes on feminist political ecology
- New research in feminist political ecology moves "from a focus on women's vulnerabilities and the silencing of gendered and subaltern knowledges to stress the global significance of women's embodied practices, emerging social movements, and collaborative action."—Stephanie Buechler and Anne-Marie Hanson (2015)
- “Feminist Political Ecology aims at analyzing gendered experiences of and responses to environmental and political-economic change that brings with it changing livelihoods, landscapes, property regimes, and social relations.”—Alice Hovorka (2006)
- “Rather than “adding women” to standard methods of empirical research it was possible to include gender as a subject of study, to incorporate feminist post-structuralist perspective into the research design, and to apply it to an analysis of social and environmental change within the region." -- Dianne Rocheleau 1995.
- “My first feminist paper was published, out of research I did in the late 1970s on sex difference in migration and social change in rural Puerto Rica. It had to do with how rural industrialization, reflecting US development policies, was impacting on who stayed and who left. And how class and gender intersected with migration patterns in rural Puerto Rico.”—Jan Monk
- Buechler, S. and A. Hanson. 2015. A Political Ecology of Women, Water and Global Environmental Change. Routledge.
- Elmhirst, R. 2011. Introducing New Feminist Political Ecologies. Geoforum 42(2):129-132 (special issue)
- Hovorka, A. 2006. The No. 1 Ladies' Poultry Farm: A Feminist Political Ecology of Urban Agriculture in Botswana. Gender, Place and Culture 13(3): 207-255.
- Merchant, C. 1980. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Harper Collins.
- Mitchell, Don. 2000. Cultural Geography. Blackwell.
- Peet, R. and M.J. Watts (eds.). 1996. Liberation Ecologies. London and New York: Routledge.
- Plumwood, V. 1993. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge.
- Plumwood, V. 2003. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. London: Routledge.
- Rocheleau, D. 1995. Maps, Numbers, Text and Context: Mixing Methods in Feminist Political Ecology. Professional Geographer 47(4):458-467.
- Rocheleau D., B. Thomas-Slayter and E. Wangari (eds). 1996. Feminist Political Ecology: Global Issues and Local Experiences. London and New York: Routledge.
- Shiva, V. 1989. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. London: Zed Books.
- Richardson, Douglas, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey Lynn Kobayashi, Weidong Liu, and Richard A. Marston. The international encyclopedia of geography: people, the earth, environment, and technology. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2017.