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Starting in the 1980’s, policy makers and governments became more mindful of the connection between the environment and gender issues.[1] Changes began to be made regarding natural resource and environmental management with the specific role of women in mind. According to the World Bank, in 1991, women, “women 'play an essential role in the management of natural resources, including soil, water, forests and energy...and often have a profound traditional and contemporary knowledge of the natural world around them'”. Where women were previously neglected or ignored, a trend was started that realized the implications women have upon the natural environment and in return, what effects the environment has on the health and well-being of women. Gender-environment relations have valuable ramifications in regard to the understanding of nature between men and women, the management and distribution of resources and responsibilities and the day-to-day life and well being of people.[2]

Women’s connection with the environment[edit]

Farming and Agriculture[edit]

See Also: Feminization of Agriculture

In a majority of the world, women are responsible for farm work and related domestic food production [3] [4] [5] [6]. An increasing number of women are taking over and expanding their involvement in agricultural tasks but this has not changed the gender division of labor with regard to reproductive work.[6] Esther Boserup looked into the farming systems of men and women in Africa and found that “in many African tribes, nearly all the tasks connected with food production continue to be left to women”. [7] Schultz et al (2001), found that “90 % of women in the developing world, where most of the planet’s biological wealth is found, depend on their land for survival. Women head 30 % of the households in developing countries, 80 % of food production in sub-Saharan Africa is done by women, 60 % in Asia and 50 % in Latin America [8].

The dependence on nature and the environment for survival is common among Third World women [3]. For this reason, it has been argued that this dependence creates an deeply rooted connection between women and their surroundings. The views women have on nature are unique in that they connect the land to immediate survival and concern for future generations rather than simply looking at the land as a resource with monetary value [5]. With the development of newer technologies, there has been a shift to more non-farm activities, however, men more than women are the ones participating in the shift, leaving women behind [7]. It has been projected that with the continuation of men shifting to urban livelihoods, more and more women will be depended on to maintain the household by farming [4]. Issues such as climate change will have a greater impact on women because the land they farm will be negatively affected [8].

Land ownership and property management[edit]

In many parts of the world, specifically developing countries, there is a great deal of inequality when it comes to land ownership.[4] Often, women do not have the right to own land and/or property, but they often are the ones who tend to the land. Bina Agarwal, has written a great deal about gender and land rights in Third World countries and according to her, “Hence, insofar as there is a gender and class-based division of labor and distribution of property and power, gender and class structure people's interactions with nature and so structure the effects of environmental change on people and their responses to it.” [3]

Kenyan land takeover: In Kenya, starting in the mid 1980’s, women protested against the elites and big foreign corporations who were coercing and controlling the production of the land. Rather than allowing food to be grown for survival, women were pressured by both their husbands and the government to cultivate coffee for foreign profit. Protests continued and gained strength over the next couple of decades. The protests eventually ended in a Kenyan power shift enforcing democratic national elections which resulted in redistribution of land possible.[9]

Relationship between violence of nature and women[edit]

[[[Carolyn Merchant]] and Vandana Shiva wrote that there is a connection between dominance of women and dominance of nature. Shiva said, “The rupture within nature and between man and nature, and its associated transformation from a life-force that sustains to an exploitable resource characterises the Cartesian view which has displaced more ecological world-views and created a development paradigm which cripples nature and woman simultaneously”. [10] Exploitation of women’s labor as well as the abuse the natural environment are connected as they are both marginalized within the economy. Both the environment and women have been viewed as exploitable resources that are significantly undervalued.[9] The ecofeminist argument is supported by the idea that women in developing countries rely on nature to survive, therefore, destruction of the environment results in elimination of women’s method to survival.[3] According to Jiggins, environmental degradation effects women the most, furthering the inequalities between men and women. [5] One study showed that new developments in technology and developments in land access are denied to women, furthering their subordination and inequality. [11]

Theoretical Perspectives[edit]


See also: Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism says that women are closer to nature than men are. This closeness, therefore, makes women more nurturing and caring towards their environment. Some indicate the biology of women as the reason behind the closeness, while others credit culture and historical factors. [12] An ecofeminist believes in a direct connection between oppression of nature and she subordination of women. Vandana Shiva, an Indian physicist, is credited with bringing ecofeminism into public consciousness by her reports of the Chipko movement. [8]

Environmental Feminism[edit]

Environmental feminism differs from ecofeminism in that it is more focused on the actual, specific interactions with the environment. Connections between environment and gender can be made by looking at the gender division of labor and environmental roles. The knowledge of nature is shaped by the experiences an individual has. This is prominent in many developing countries where the responsibility of collecting fuel and fodder is placed upon the women.[3] Both the resources and the meanings are taken into consideration with environmental feminism. There is a challenge to not only focus on the gender division of labor but also the actual appropriation methods of the resources. [3] In other words, there is not simply an inherent connection between women and nature, rather there are material realities that exist. [11] Bina Agarwal [13] opposes ecofeminism and outlines three problematic elements which are:

  • Historical characterization of the situation of women and nature
  • Linking of the emancipation of women with that of nature
  • Assumptions about women’s agency


Due to gender differences in income-spending patterns, women are at a higher risk of living in poverty. For this reason, access to land is of special importance. Land access allows for a number of production advantages such as growing trees, fodder and/or crops. But, land access also allows for increased credit, bargaining power and strengthens aggregate real wages rates. [4] Even the smallest amount of land can have huge impacts on welfare directly as well as increasing entitlement to family welfare. Chada [14]


1. Incentive effect: If women are given secure land rights, there will be a greater incentive for higher production rates. Women will be motivated to use the best technologies, increase cultivation, and make long-term investments.

2. Credit and input access effect: “Titles would enhance women’s ability to raise production by improving their access to agricultural credit, as well as by increasing women’s independent access to output, savings and cash flow for reinvestment”. [4]

3. Efficiency of resource use effect: Studies have shown the possibility that women use resources more efficiently than men. This could mean anything from making a more productive use of loans of money earned to the ability of women to achieve higher values of output based on cropping patterns.

4. Gender specific knowledge and talent pool effect: Many women have specific and often times greater knowledge about certain crops and planting patterns. If women are included as farm managers, a more diverse and talented informed pool will be created.

5. Bargaining power and empowerment effect: Providing women with the opportunity to own land will increase their sense of empowerment and could help women to assert themselves more in various situations such as policy creation other government schemes.

Source of Land[edit]

Because public land available for distribution is now quite limited, most of the land will need to come from private sectors. “To get a share of land, therefore, it is critical for women to stake a claim in privatised land”. [4]

Environmental change and women[edit]

Today, women struggle against alarming global trends, but they are working together to effect change. By establishing domestic and international non-governmental organizations, many women have recognized themselves and acknowledge to the world that they not only have the right to participate in environmental dilemmas but they have different relationship with environment including different needs, responsibilities, and knowledge about natural resources.[15] This is why women are affected differently than men by environmental degradation, deforestation, pollution and overpopulation. Women are often the most directly affected by environmental issues, so they become more concerned about environmental problems. Studies have shown the direct effects of chemicals and pesticides on human health.[16] According to United Nations Chronicle journal researchers have found an association between breast cancer and the pesticide DDT and its derivative DDE; and also one study by the World Health Organization has found that women who are exposed to pesticides face a higher risk of miscarriage.[16] These kinds of health problems cause women to feel more responsible regarding environmental issues.

Gender and perception of the environment[edit]

Given the environmental degradation caused while men have had dominance over women, and women’s large investment in environmental sustainability, some have theorized that women would protect the Earth better than men if in power. Although there is no evidence for this hypothesis, recent movements have shown that women are more sensitive to the earth and its problems. They have created a special value system about environmental issues. People's approaches to environmental issues may depend on their relationship with nature. Both women and nature have been considered as subordinates entities by men throughout history, which conveys a close affiliation between them.[17]

Throughout history men have looked at natural resources as commercial entities or income generating tools, while women have tended to see the environment as a resource supporting their basic needs.[citation needed] As an example, rural Indian women collect the dead branches which are cut by storm for fuel wood to use rather than cutting the live trees.[18] Since African, Asian, and Latin American women use the land to produce food for their family, they acquire the knowledge of the land/soil conditions, water, and other environmental features.[19] Any changes in the environment on these areas, like deforestation, have the most effect on women of that area, and cause them to suffer until they can cope with these changes. One of the good examples would be the Nepali women whose grandmothers had to climb to the mountain to be able to bring in wood and fodder.[20] This conflict started because men wanted to cut the trees to use them for industrial purposes while women wanted to keep them since it was their food resource and deforestation was a survival matter for local people.[21]

Gender-based commitments and movements such as feminism have reached to a new approach through the combination of feminism and environmentalism called Ecofeminism. Ecofeminists believe on the interconnection between the domination of women and nature. According to ecofeminism the superior power treats all subordinates the same. So, ecofeminism takes into account women subordination and nature degradation.[22] Remarking all these different reactions, one can see that however, most policy decision makers are men.

Women environmentalists[edit]


Mei Ng[edit]

Mei Ng was born in Hong Kong, China and she received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California Berkely in 1972 and has worked diligently to promote environmental awareness throughout China. Her message of sustainability and eco-friendliness has reached nearly 860,000 people in 15 provinces. Mei Ng is an advocate of responsible consumption, renewable energy utilization, and sustainable development through the women and youth of China. [23]She previously held the position of Director for Friends of the Earth (HK) in Hong Kong, an environmental organization which seeks to encourage environmental protection in China.[24] In 2001 she was appointed to the Advisory Council on the Environment and in 2002 Mei Ng was elected to the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honor on World Environment Day. Also in 2002 she was appointed by the Chinese State Environmental Protection Agency as China Environment Envoy. In 2003 the Hong Kong SAR Government awarded her with the Bronze Bauhinia Star and in 2004 she was appointed to become a member of the Harbour Enhancement Committee. Mei Ng strives to mobilize women to defend the environment and to bring environmental education to all parts of China. [25] She founded the Earth Station, Hong Kong's first renewable energy education center and has been well-received by policy makers and citizens alike.[26]


Vandana Shiva[edit]

An influential leader in developing nation environmentalism is Vandana Shiva, born on November 5th, 1952 in India. Vandana Shiva has a B.S. in Physics, a M.A. in philosophy from the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) and received her Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario in Quantum Theory Physics.[27] Vandana Shiva is a world-renown environmental scholar and activist and she has made great strides for women in India as well as around the world.[28] As an physicist-environmentalist adhering to ecofeminism, Vandana Shiva has published numerous papers on the unequal burden placed on women by environmental degradation, stating that women and children "bore the costs but were excluded from the benefits"[29]of development. Vandana Shiva is also an active voice for localized, organic agriculture and she began a movement entitled Navdanya where participating Indian farmers have created 'freedom zones' to keep their crops free of chemicals to revitalize an organic food market in India. [30] She has received many honorary degrees awards. In 1993 she received the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize, also known as the Right Livelihood Award. In 2010 Sydney Peace Prize and in 2011 she received the Calgary Peace Prize. In addition, Vandana Shiva was named "one of the 7 most influential women in the world." by Forbes.[28]


Wangari Muta Maathai[edit]

In 1940 Wangari Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya. She attended Mount St. Scholastica College in Kansas and received her degree in biological sciences in 1964.[31] This was apart of the 1960 'Kennedy Airlift' which brought 300 Kenyans (including Barack Obama's father Barack Obama, Sr.) to the United States to study at American universities.[32] She then obtained her M.S. from University of Pittsburgh in 1966 and her Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.[31] Wangari Maathai was a relentless advocate for human rights, preaching the necessity for democracy. Her passion for environmental conservation lead her to found the Greenbelt Movement in 1977. Wangari Maathai's personal life was turbulent with divorce and jailings, as well as constant confrontations with the Kenyan government. Her push to protect national land from development made her less than favorable to Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, who served from 1978-2002. In 2004, Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Price making her the first African woman to win, a prideful moment for the people of Kenya.[33] On September 25, 2011 Wangari Maathai died of ovarian cancer. BBC World News noted this as a 'Death of Visionary'. [34]


Maria Cherkasova[edit]

Maria Cherkasova (1938 - ) is a journalist, ecologist, and director of Centre for Independent Ecological Programmers (CIEP). She is famous because of coordinating a 4-year campaign to stop construction of hydro-electric dam on the Katun River. After Cherkasova's involvement in the student movement on environmental protection in 1960’s, she began to work for the Red Data Book for the Department of Environmental Protection Institute. She researched and preserved rare species until she became the editor of USSR Red Data Book. She co-founded the Socio-Ecological Union, which has become the largest ecological NGO in the former Soviet Union. In 1990, she became director of CIEP, which arrange and drives activities in an extensive range of ecologically related areas on both domestic and international fronts. Cherkasova recently has shifted her focus on children rights protection to live in a healthy environment and speaks for both inside and outside Russia.[21]

United States[edit]

Rachel Carson[edit]

One of the outstanding women environmentalists is Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson (1907–1964) was a scientist, writer, and ecologist. Rachel Carson went to the Pennsylvania College for Women, majoring in English, but she was inspired by her biology teacher so she switched her major to biology. She became more interested and focused on the sea while she was working at the Marine Biological Laboratories in Massachusetts. Her eloquent prose let to the publication of her first book, Under the Sea-Wind: a Naturalists’ Picture of Ocean Life , in 1941. In 1949 she became chief editor of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Her second book, The Sea Around Us, won the National Book Award and sold more than 200,000 copies. After that she retired from FWS and became a full time writer. After her third and final book about the sea, The Edge of the Sea, Carson focused on effects of chemicals and pesticides on the environment. That is when she wrote her book about environment, Silent Spring. The book was about what man has done to the nature and eventually to himself, and started a modern environmental movement. Carson believed that human and nature are mutually dependent on each other. She argued that industrial activities such as pesticides use can damages the earth ecosystem and will have far-reaching ecological consequences such as future human health problems. Today, scientific studies have demonstrated these consequences.[21]

Ecological movements initiated by women[edit]

Chipko movement[edit]

One of the first environmentalist movement which was inspired by women was the Chipko movement (Women tree-huggers in India). "Its name comes from a Hindi word meaning “to stick” (as in glue). The movement was an act of defiance against the state government’s permission given to a corporation for commercial logging. Women of the villages resisted, embracing trees to prevent their felling to safeguard their lifestyles which were dependent on the forests. Deforestation could qualitatively alter the lives of all village residents but it was the women who agitated for saving [End Page 163] the forests. Organized by a non-governmental organization that Chandi Prasad Bhatt led, the Chipko movement adopted the slogan “ecology is permanent economy.” The women embracing the trees did not tag their action as feminist activism; however, as a movement that demonstrated resistance against oppression, it had all the markings of such.".[35]

It began when Maharajah of Jodhpur wanted to build a new palace in Rajasthan which is India’s Himalayan foot hills. While the axemen were cutting the trees, martyr Amrita Devi hugged one of the trees. This is because in Jodhpur each child had a tree that could talk to it. The axmen ignored Devi and after taking her off the tree cut it down. Her daughters environmentalists like Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna

Green Belt movement[edit]

Another movement, which is one of the biggest in women and environmental history, is the Green Belt movement. Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai founded this movement on the World Environment Day in June 1977. The starting ceremony was very simple: a few women planted seven trees in Maathai’s backyard. By 2005, 30 million trees had been planted by participants in the Green Belt movement on public and private lands. The Green Belt movement aims to bring environmental restoration along with society’s economic growth. This movement led by Maathai focused on restoration of Kenya’s rapidly diminishing forests as well as empowering the rural women through environmental preservation, with a special emphasis on planting indigenous trees.[36]

Navdanya Movement[edit]

Navdanya also known as the 'Nine Seeds Movement' seeks to empower local Indian farmers to move away from growing any genetically modified organism (GMOs) on their land and return to organic, chemical-free practices. This movement has reached over 5,000,000 Indian farmers and created over 65 seed banks around India.[37] Navdanya fights to eliminate the commercialization of indigenous knowledge also known as 'Biopiracy'.[38] Navdanya addresses multiple other international issues including climate change, food security, misapplication of technology, food sovereignty, fair trade, and many others.[37] This movement also created a learning center entitled Bija Vidyapeeth. Bija Vidyapeeth, in collaboration with Schumacher College in the United Kingdom, seeks to educate participants in sustainability and ecological principles.[39]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Retrieved 4/10/2012.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ (Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2011, volume 29, pages 237 ^ 253)
  3. ^ a b c d e f Agarwal, B. (1992). The gender and environment debate: lessons from India. Feminist Studies, Vol. 18, No.1, Spring.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Agarwal, B. (1998). Disinherited peasants, disadvantaged workers: a gender perspective on land and livelihood. Economic and Political Weekly , Vol. 33, No. 13 (Mar. 26 - Apr. 3, 1998), pp. A2-A1
  5. ^ a b c Jiggins, J. (2004). Changing the boundaries: Women-centered perspectives on population & the environment. Covelo, Ca: Island Press.
  6. ^ a b Lastarria-Cornhiel, S. (2006) Feminization of Agriculture: Trends and Driving Forces. Santiago: RIMISP
  7. ^ a b Boserup, E. (1970). Woman’s Role in Economic Development. Male and female farming systems (15-65).
  8. ^ a b c Schultz, I., Hummel, D., Empacher, C., Kluge, T., Lux, A., Schramm, E., Schubert, S., Stiess, I.(2001). Research on gender, the environment, and sustainable development. Studies on Gender Impact Assessment of the Programmes of the 5th Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration.
  9. ^ a b Perkins, E., Kuiper, E., Quiroga-Martínez, R., Turner, T. E., Brownhill, L.S., Mellor, M., Todorova, Z., Jochimsen, M.A., McMahon, M. (2005) Explorations: feminist ecological economics. Feminist Economics Vol. 11, Iss. 3 107-150
  10. ^ Shiva, V. (1988). Staying Alive, London: Zed.
  11. ^ a b Nightingale, A. (2006) "The nature of gender: work, gender, and environment" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24(2) 165 – 185
  12. ^ Agarwal, B. (2000). Conceptualising environmental collective action: why gender matters. Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol.24(3), p.283-310
  13. ^ Agarwal, B. (1998). Gender and environment management in South Asia: can romanticized pasts help model desirable futures? Macalester International: Vol. 6, Iss. 1 Article 1-6.
  14. ^ Chadha,G K (1992). Non-farmSectorin India's Rural Economy: Policy, Performance and Growth Prospects, mimeo, Centre for Regional Development, JawaharlalNehru University, Delhi (1992), showed that households that owned land earned markedly more than landless households.
  15. ^ Cite error: The named reference Jiggins.2C_Janice_1994 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  16. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference Silent was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  17. ^ Wenz, Peter S. (2001). Environmental Ethics Today. New York: Oxford University Press.
  18. ^ Rodda, Annabel. (1991). Women and the Environment. New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd.
  19. ^ Cite error: The named reference Abzug was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  20. ^ Breton, Mary J. (1998). Women pioneers for the environment. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
  21. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference Breton.2C_Mary_J._1998 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  22. ^ Cite error: The named reference Mellor was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  23. ^ February 9, 2010. Accessed March 1, 2012.
  24. ^ Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong). Accessed March 1, 2012.
  25. ^ United Nations Environmental Program. Global 500 Environmental Forum. 2011. Accessed March 2, 2012.
  26. ^ Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong). Accessed March 1, 2012.,%2011,%20479,%20508,%20538.
  27. ^ Hoskins, Leigh Ann. Davidson College. Accessed March 5, 2012.
  28. ^ a b Vandana Shiva. Accessed March 5, 2012.
  29. ^ Shiva, Vandana. The Impoverishment of the Environment: Women and Children Last. Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology (Fourth Edition). 2005. Pearson Education Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  30. ^ United Nations Environment Program. Accessed March 5, 2012.
  31. ^ a b Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Accessed March 2, 2012.
  32. ^ The Guardian. "Wangari Maathai obituary". September 26, 2011. Accessed March 2, 2012.
  33. ^ The New York Times. "Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dies at 71." September 26, 2011. Accessed March 2, 2012.
  34. ^ BBC World News. "Wangari Maathai: Death of a Visionary". September 26, 2011. Accessed March 2, 2012.
  35. ^ Grewal, Jyoti. "Theorizing Activism, Activizing Theory: Feminist Academics in Indian Punjabi Society." NWSA Journal.Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2008 [1]
  36. ^ Green Belt Movement. (2006). Retrieved November 15, 2006 from
  37. ^ a b Navdanya. Accessed March 5, 2012.
  38. ^ Yamey, Gavin. "The Bittersweet Sounds of the Modern Food Chain." Plos Biology. February 2006. Vol.4, Issue 2, pp. 0165-0166. Accessed March 5, 2012.
  39. ^ Navdanya. Accessed March 2, 2012.
  40. ^ Agarwal, Bina (28). "Disinherited Peasants, Disadvantaged Workers:A gender perspective on land and livelihoo". Economic and Political Weekly. 33 (13): A2–A14.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help); Check date values in: |date=, |year= / |date= mismatch (help)

External links[edit]

Category:Environment and society Category:Women in society Category:Environmental history Category:Women in history