Women climate activists who identify as ecofeminists are demanding the recognition of women’s climate justice work around the world to help protect the planet and advance gender equality.
French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne coined the term ecofeminism in 1974. In her book Feminism or Death, D’Eaubonne argued that with the planet in women’s hands, everyone will thrive.
Ecofeminism suggests that the patriarchy is the driving source behind the degradation of the planet and exploitation of women — issues that are inextricably linked and cannot be resolved without dismantling oppressive masculine power systems.
The ecofeminist ideology and movement also highlights the reality that women are the most impacted by environmental issues. Studies show that women are more likely than men to be impacted by climate change and 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.
Although embraced by artists and activists for decades, ecofeminism hasn’t been without criticism and pushback throughout the years, with some rejecting the movement’s centering on white feminism and a lack of inclusivity.
Now there’s a renewed effort to reclaim the term and affirm the role of women of color in leading the charge as the threat of climate change intensifies.
A new class of activists is carrying the ecofeminist torch passed down from pioneers of the movement, such as Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar and advocate for responsible agriculture, who volunteered with India’s Chipko movement to protect forests from deforestation in Uttarakhand in 1973.
Indigenous women and women of color have traditionally maintained the land due to proximity and gendered expectations that hold them responsible for feeding their families and procuring essential resources like water. Across Latin America, Indigenous women are at the forefront of initiatives to protect the Amazon, and in cities, young women are taking a stand against pollution.
Dominique Palmer, 22, didn’t have to travel far to see the impact of climate change on her community. Palmer started organizing UK Student Climate Network strikes and actions in 2019 after discovering how air pollution disproportionately impacted South and East London. The intersection between environmental issues, gender, and race became immediately clear for the writer and student.
Palmer lived in the South London neighborhood where 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah became the first person with air pollution listed as a cause of death in the UK in 2013. A 2016 London study showed that Black, African, and Caribbean communities are disproportionately exposed to toxic air conditions and represent 15.4% of those in the city exposed to illegal and severely high levels of nitrogen oxide, but only represent 13.3% of the city’s population.
The native woodlands in the UK are reaching a crisis point, with only 7% in good condition, and are another concern for Palmer. The woodlands in her country face many threats including destruction by development, pests and diseases, and pollution.
Palmer applies an ecofeminist lens to her work as an organizer for the global climate justice youth movement Fridays for Future International, a coordinator at the global youth-led concerts Climate Live, and a member of the UN Women Feminist Coalition for Climate Justice. She told Global Citizen she views ecofeminism as “both political activism and an intellectual critique, which brings together feminism and environmentalists to explore the connection of oppression of women and the patriarchy, and climate breakdown.”
Women are not necessarily intrinsically guardians of the earth, but gender inequality has forced them to bear the brunt of the climate crisis by dealing with extreme weather events and food scarcity head-on, more so than men as a result of resource allocation, labor divisions, and representation and power in decision-making spaces, she added.
“Ecofeminism addresses the extractive male-dominated system in which profits are prioritized over safeguarding the planet,” Palmer said. “It advocates for caring for our natural world, connecting with it, and building a relationship with nature. This is an essential approach to saving our woodlands, and biodiversity across the world.”
Palmer wants to see communities of color more represented in decision-making spaces.
Despite women and non-binary people accounting for much of the work to fight climate change, the United Nations Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 — where leaders of countries across the globe gathered to pledge to ensure the implementation of the 2015 Paris agreement and greatly reduce emissions and achieve net-zero by 2050 — was male-dominated and did not offer an accurate representation of the space, Palmer noted.
Men shouldn’t be excluded from ecofeminism, however, according to Lake Chad-based climate justice activist and eco-reporter Adenike Titilope Oladosu, 27.
“When we talk about ecofeminism, it is not something that the male folks should be afraid of,” Oladosu told Global Citizen. “Ecofeminism is gender-neutral; it is for both males and females.”
Oladosu felt joining the climate justice movement wasn’t optional. While studying agricultural economics during her undergraduate education, she started to understand the impact of the climate crisis specifically in regard to food security.
“I see it as a responsibility, and I think everyone should also see it as a responsibility, that we protect the planet that houses us to carry the weight and not to depreciate or further exploit,” she said.
“Everyone is welcome in the movement to see that we have a world that protects the rights of women and girls, to try to see how we can all develop without any form of violence.”
Oladosu believes climate justice also plays an integral role in ending harmful practices that contribute to gender inequality. When the extremist militant group Boko Haram abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria, in 2014, she attributed increased gender-based violence to the depletion of natural resources in the area.
There are more than 20 million child brides in Africa’s Sahel region, where 80% of farmland is degraded, Oladosu pointed out. Families give up their daughters or pull them out of school to survive the financial impacts of the climate crisis. Access to land could help eradicate child brides or reduce gender-based violence, according to Oladosu.
Fatoumata Kiné Niang Mbodji, the communication and advocacy officer at Lumière Synergie pour le Développement, an NGO in Senegal, and a member of the WoMin African Alliance of activists, has witnessed the impact of the climate crisis on women in agriculture specifically.
Fatoumata Kiné Niang Mbodji. Courtesy of Fatoumata Kiné Niang Mbodji.
Women fishers in Bargny, Senegal standing up against Tosyali Steel Co. Courtesy of Fatoumata Kiné Niang Mbodji.
Women work the land, produce food, and have learned to use plants as medicine, Mbodji, 27, told Global Citizen. But Senegal, a coastal country, is seeing thousands of residential areas destroyed by coastal erosion. Livestock and fisheries, the main agricultural development sectors in the country held down by women, are taking a hit, she said.
The disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on women is not a new phenomenon.
“An order has been established to the detriment of women,” Mbodji said. “History has been a witness to the numerous struggles led by women, including women of color, to free themselves. The gendered realities that control the situation of women of color around the world make this positioning strategic. Not because they have more legitimacy than their sisters in the rest of the world, but because history has shown that they have had to fight doubly for their conditions as women as well as being women of color.”
Ecofeminism offers a framework to promote the empowerment of women, she explained.
“I consider ecofeminism not as a movement that comes and goes, but as an ideology that must be adopted to give back the rights to women and to allow them to stand up openly for nature and their survival,” she said.
“Any person who fights for the protection of the environment by seamlessly integrating the instrumental role of women can be qualified as an ecofeminist.”
Many of the women at the forefront of the ecofeminism movement don’t identify as ecofeminists themselves — and that’s something Madagascar-based human rights activist Volahery Andriamanantenasoa, 47, wants to change.
Volahery Andriamanantenasoa. Courtey of Volahery Andriamanantenasoa
A climate justice march in Madagascar. Courtesy of Launching of the social movement for climate justice and human rights,
Andriamanantenasoa has been involved in the defense of the rights of communities affected by large-scale mining and agribusiness projects. To her, ecofeminism means “the end of domination in all its aspects,” specifically gender and social equality and equity and a rational and responsible interaction with nature.
In Madagascar, women are the most affected by the impacts of the climate crisis, experiencing the shocks of strong yearly cyclones and floods that decimate their homes, crops, and lives.
“For them, it is a question of survival,” Andriamanantenasoa said. “They don't usually ‘name’ that this is an ecofeminist struggle. And I would like them to become fully aware of this and to clearly link their struggle to the fight for gender equality and social justice, to the fight against patriarchy and the extractivist and capitalist systems, and to be able to assert this position more strongly in order to be able to influence national and global policies.”
Jhannel Tomlinson — co-founder of the feminist climate activist movement GirlsCARE Jamaica and a PhD candidate at the University of West Indies, Mona — works in community-based adaptation to climate change. Tomlinson echoes the sentiment of the need for more recognition of ecofeminists. At climate conferences, she has noticed a lack of representation of Caribbean activists.
Tomlinson is actively trying to engage and educate girls across the Caribbean who want to take climate action, but don’t know how to get involved. There is a growing need to mitigate the negative effects of the climate crisis on the region such as drought that impacts the agriculture sector and access to drinking water, and heavy rainfall that destroys crops and livelihoods, she said.
“Even if it wasn't called ecofeminism, just that relationship that women have had with the environment, with being protectors of the environment — I think that has always been the case, especially in Indigenous and communities of color,” Tomlinson said.
Female farmers who cultivate coffee in Jamaica’s Blue Mountain region are a prime example of this.
“They are pickers, they grow, they reap. They do everything within the space. But I also recognize that for many of them, they don't even see it as contributing to the preservation of resources,” she said. “Many ecofeminists don't even identify as ecofeminist because they just see it as doing their responsibilities or duties, or they're doing something that they would have seen their mothers and grandmothers before them do.”
Part of Tomlinson’s work is to advocate for the inclusion and recognition of women in areas where they require or deserve more attention. At the local, community, and household levels, women are leading but do not regularly receive appreciation for their contributions.
Recognition for women’s efforts could promote continued work and a sense of ownership, Tomlinson explained.
“I have a responsibility to make sure that other women who are doing the work and making sure that things are being maintained and [are] kept in order, receive attention for the work that they're doing,” she said.
Giving credit where credit is due is necessary to propel the climate justice movement, Tomlinson said.
“Where individuals can be recognized for their efforts, it only promotes more positive behavior that only promotes increased collaboration.”