In this piece, Raakhee Suryaprakash makes a compelling case for preventing violence against the environment as a feminist action, as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.
The way society and its systems exploit the environment is a reflection of how it subjugates those not of cis-male gender. The environment – both the planet we inhabit and its nature that sustains life – has been attributed a feminine gender. Mother Earth and Mother Nature – reinforcing the patriarchy, our economic systems have sought to subjugate these sacred feminine entities. Between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (VAW) – November 25 – and Human Rights Day – December 10, we observe the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) annually. It is a time to examine the security and status of women and those who identify in the LGBTQI spectrum.
How to ensure their safety from GBV and VAW is an important focus of these 16 Days. Patriarchy and the status quo systems that reinforce it underpin GBV, this in turn hinders Gender Equality (SDG5). Hence, it is essential to look at the larger implications of the inequality and insecurity engendered by the status quo. Gender justice, social justice, environmental justice and climate justice are all deeply intertwined. To heal society we need to ensure that there is no gender inequality or social inequality and that development occurs keeping Mother Earth’s and Mother Nature’s rights front and centre, i.e., sustainable development.
Economic development is touted as the be all and end all. The environment till date loses out to the mighty machinery of the economy, even under the global “sustainable development goals” (SDGs) regime. India’s most prominent eco-feminist Vandana Shiva has been vocal in highlighting the fact that exploiting and poisoning water, air and soil through the extraction and use of fossil fuels and petrochemical-based fertilizers and pesticides is violence against Mother Nature. The economy and agriculture’s dependence on fossil fuel is creating “fossilized minds” that promotes a careless society with a throw-away culture – disposable things, people and societies. The refugee crisis itself is rooted in this sense of disposability as lands and its people are bombed out of existence. Ms. Shiva most succinctly says, “when we make peace with the soil, we make peace among people.”
While Vandana Shiva made this statement in the year 2015 which was observed as the Year of the Soil, there is synchrony in the fact that December 5 – right in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism – has been observed as World Soil Day since 2012. War and bombing is perhaps the most direct violence against Mother Earth and her most vulnerable peoples. During war, natural disaster and in the grip of poverty, non-cis-males are most vulnerable.
Preventing Violence against the Environment: Protecting Mother Earth & Mother Nature!
Only if we treat Mother Earth and Mother Nature with respect can the human race evolve into a more peaceful species abjuring all forms of violence, especially VAW and GBV. Being respectful of our environment means curbing acts that perpetrate violence against our earth and nature. Humans constitute only 0.01 per cent of life on earth yet as a species, our exploitation of our planet’s natural resources has led to the destruction of 83 per cent of all wild mammals.
As Dr S. Janakarajan, retired professor of the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) and current president of SaciWATERs (South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies), Hyderabad highlighted, the answer lies in finding ways to “stimulate climate resilient and sustainable pathways in order to promote sustainable growth.” To live lightly and drastically reduce our carbon footprint, our water footprint and our ecological footprint will automatically lead to a more secure Mother Earth, Mother Nature and therefore a secure environment free of exploitation.
Moving towards ecological agriculture – organic regenerative farming and intensive mixed farming that shuns petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides will improve the health of the soil and reduce costs and water requirement of cultivation. Using recycled grey-water for agricultural purposes instead of sucking dry our water table will further reduce agriculture’s water, carbon and ecological footprints. As the industry that accounts for 40 per cent of carbon emissions, earth-, nature- and environment-friendly agriculture will be most effective in moving our species away from committing violence. Agriculture feeds the human race and employs a significant portion of its population.
A gender just and climate just method of cultivation will thus lead to social justice and increased human security. Sustainable development is vital to prevent violence against the environment. A culture that truly values Mother Earth and Mother Nature is essential to transform a society into respecting all its members – eschewing GBV and VAW. Perhaps in this year’s observance of 16 Days of Activism, we will understand the need to be gentle with the environment in order to be a gentler human race.
S. Janakarajan, “Degradation Leading to Depletion of Our Biosphere: Would SDGs Help Nourishing the Biosphere,” MMA-ORF Leader Speaks Series, https://www.facebook.com/mmachennai/videos/539994196594656/ December 6, 2019.
Vandana Shiva, “We are nothing without living soil” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EAVbQNBpq4 2015.
Vandana Shiva, Who Really Feeds the World (Women Unlimited, 2017).
Vandana Shiva and Kartikey Shiva, Oneness vs. The 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom (Women Unlimited, 2018).
Henry A. Smith (Trans.), Chief Seattle’s Speech, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Chief_Seattle%27s_Speech 1887.
Raakhee Suryaprakash, https://sunshine-millennium.blogspot.com/2019/12/curb-soil-erosion-to-curb-environmental.html December 4, 2019.