WHAT WE DO TO THE ENVIRONMENT DOUBLY AFFECTS WOMEN.
BY VANDANA SHIVA
The future of humanity hangs in the balance of how we act now to protect mother earth. Women, the main providers of food and water to their families, know this well. That’s one of the reasons why Global Fund for Women invests in grantees developing women leaders working to preserve and protect the environment. One thought leader whose vision guides us is Vandana Shiva, world-renowned eco-feminist, activist and thinker from India. Vandana is an acclaimed author of many books, including Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development.
In the early 1970s, I saw the deep connection between the women’s movement in India and the protection of the environment through the very inspiring movement called Chipko, which means to hug. It was a movement that practiced the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled. Women protested, “You can’t cut these forests. These forests protect our soil, our water. They’re not timber mines.” It took ten years for the government to eventually recognize that the Himalayan forests’ primary function is to provide a stable water supply to avoid floods and drought, not the value of its timber.
“Since Monsanto entered the seed market, 270,000 Indian farmers who couldn’t repay the debt have committed suicide. It’s genocide. And every farmer who commits suicide leaves behind a widow. For me, this is a prime example of violence against women through violent economic means.” Vandana Shiva
I also saw the deep connection between women and the environment 26 years ago when I started Navdanya, the movement for seed saving in India, after learning how corporations wanted to patent life. For instance, in India, Monsanto controls 95 percent of the cottonseed supply. Farmers are indebted because the price of seed jumped 8,000 percent. There are no other options, except ones we are creating through Navdanya by saving open-pollinated seed. Since Monsanto entered the seed market, 270,000 Indian farmers who couldn’t repay the debt have committed suicide. It’s genocide. And every farmer who commits suicide leaves behind a widow. For me, this is a prime example of violence against women through violent economic means.
We are living in a very violent economic order to which war has become essential — war against the earth, women’s bodies, local economies and democracy. This violent economic order can only function as war against people and the earth, and in that war, rape against women is a very, very commonly used instrument of war. To protect the dignity of women, we must see the connections — the multiple wars against the earth must end, and we must recognize we are part of the earth.
Most of the indigenous, non-industrialized and non-Western cultures of the world live in the consciousness that we are part of nature and the earth is a mother. For example, we are now fighting against dams on the Ganges River and central to this struggle is a very real discourse that the Ganges is a divine mother. She has her own standing. The government cannot block her flow. She has a right to flow free. That’s the basis of fighting the dams, not only the environmental impact in terms of displacement.
The liberation of the earth, of women, of all humanity is the next step of freedom we need to work for. To achieve this, a paradigm shift led by movements for ecological sustainability, social justice and deep democracy is desperately needed. Their paradigm is centered on the rights of mother earth, the rights of future generations, of women, indigenous communities and farmers. It is this epic contest between a destructive and dying outmoded paradigm and a life enhancing emergent paradigm. The outcome of this contest will determine the future of humanity and will be fought in every country, in every village and town, every farm and workplace, every home and street.
For 25 years, the Global Fund for Women has given crucial support to thousands of women’s groups mobilizing for their human rights and earth’s rights. From indigenous women facing rape and death to prevent the loss of their ancient rainforests to women farmers organizing against pesticides that harm their health and their children’s, the Global Fund’s support is vital to continue the courageous work of these women to advance their own rights and protect mother earth.