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Editor’s Note: This month, that is June 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Environment, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront while interacting with our natural as well as social surroundings. If you’d like to share your article, email us at pragya@feminisminindia.com. 


Posted by Namrata K

As feminist theories evolve over the years, newer concepts and definitions enter the mainstream discourse. While the term “Ecofeminism” was coined in 1974 by the French feminist author and civil rights activist, Françoise d´Eaubonne, in her book, Le Féminisme ou la Mort to describe the intricate relationship between women and the environment, it wasn’t until recent times that the term entered common parlance in India, even though Indian women have been active in environmental issues for long. 

Ecofeminism is a philosophical, political, and academic movement that studies the intersection of feminism and environmentalism, drawing parallels between the systemic oppression of women and the degradation of nature, both of which result from male domination of society. It is a broad field with several overlapping branches that study the various ways in which feminist issues intersect with environmental concerns. 

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Ecofeminism & Speciesism 

University of Wisconsin-River Falls professor and ecofeminist writer and activist, Greta Gaard believes that alongside the intersections of feminism with ecology, nationality, race, class and gender identity, animal rights also fall under the purview of ecofeminism. She is the curator of the anthology, Ecofeminism: Women, Animals, Nature.

The belief that “meat-eating is a form of patriarchal domination” is pervasive among many ecofeminists who aim to include the oppression of nonhuman animals in ecofeminism as there is a strong correlation between the oppression of women, nonhuman animals,] and the environment. Speciesism—the assumption of human superiority that justifies exploitation of animals based on species membership—is a form of oppression central to the ecofeminist concept. 

The belief that “meat-eating is a form of patriarchal domination” is pervasive among many ecofeminists who aim to include the oppression of nonhuman animals in ecofeminism as there is a strong correlation between the oppression of women, nonhuman animals,] and the environment. Speciesism—the assumption of human superiority that justifies exploitation of animals based on species membership—is a form of oppression central to the ecofeminist concept. 

Animal Rights: An Ecofeminist Issue?

American writer, feminist, and animal rights advocate Carol J. Adams believes that animal rights is a feminist issue. According to her, there is an inherent link between the oppression of women and the oppression of nonhuman animals. “We oppress animals by associating them with women’s lesser status,” she says. Also, the entire animal industry is based on the exploitation of the female reproductive system. While both male and female animals are abused and killed in the meat, egg and dairy industries, it is the female cows and hens whose bodies—and their potential for motherhood—are repeatedly exploited for the production of milk and eggs. 

Also read: ‘Mother Earth’— Is Nature Gendered To Make Men Feel Superior?

Just like women are objectified in the society, nonhuman animals are too. This objectification allows humans to subject mice, guinea pigs, monkeys, rabbits, pigs and other nonhuman species to systems of violence under the guise of “scientific testing” in several industries. The abuse of animals for the amusement of humans in entertainment industries is another example. According to Shira Hertzano, spokeswoman for the group Anonymous for Animal Rights, “The woman is measured by the value the man gets out of her, the animal is measured according to the value humans get out of it.

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In her book, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Adams discusses the connections between feminism, patriarchy and how animals are treated by humans. She draws parallels between gender inequalities in patriarchal human societies and species inequalities in the relationship between humans and animals, both of which have strong connotations of male domination. The sense of entitlement humans feel over animals is similar to the sense of entitlement men feel over women. She feels that “female oppression and sexual violence has a direct tie to the way humans mistreat other species.” The justification of the exploitation of nonhuman animals by humans validates the oppression of women by men. Ecofeminist animal advocates state that as long as “humans are violent toward animals, they often are violent toward one another.” Speciesism is not only linked to sexism, but also racism, classism, casteism and other forms of oppression in human society.

Just like women are objectified in the society, nonhuman animals are too. This objectification allows humans to subject mice, guinea pigs, monkeys, rabbits, pigs and other nonhuman species to systems of violence under the guise of “scientific testing” in several industries. The abuse of animals for the amusement of humans in entertainment industries is another example. According to Shira Hertzano, spokeswoman for the group Anonymous for Animal Rights, “The woman is measured by the value the man gets out of her, the animal is measured according to the value humans get out of it.

Animal Agriculture & Ecology

Animal agriculture is an industry that has devastating effects on the ecology. It is the second-largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (after fossil fuels). Animal agriculture is a major cause of deforestation and rainforest destruction as trees are rapidly being cut down to create space for agricultural land and livestock ranches. Rearing animals for meat, eggs and dairy creates a huge carbon footprint in the form of biodiversity loss, and water and air pollution. Runoff from animal farms discharge antibiotics, pesticides and heavy metals into the water systems. 

Animal Agriculture & Pandemics 

Infectious diseases originating from the industrial use of animals are a major threat to global animal and human health. A disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals is called a zoonosis or a zoonotic disease. As the world continues to reel under the effects of the zoonotic COVID-19 pandemic, experts from the UN and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) point out that industrial animal farming has caused most new infectious diseases in the past few years. Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that the risk of new diseases from animals is amplified as the world’s demand for meat and dairy rises. In addition to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, a few other examples of zoonotic viruses are the Nipah virus, Hanta viruses, Ebola, and Marburg viruses. It is estimated that zoonoses lead to around 1 billion cases of human illness and millions of human deaths annually across the globe. 

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What Can We Do? 

When faced with issues of such a massive magnitude, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and helpless. As individuals, we don’t have the power to change the world. However, we do have the power to change ourselves! One step we can take is to shift to a plant-based diet and reduce the consumption of animal-derived products like meat, eggs, dairy and honey. It is however important to point out that such animal cruelty free dietary plans demand caste and class privilege, which in a country like India, it is difficult to achieve. Most marginalised people are underfed and often find it hard to access basic food and shelter for themselves. Hence, whenever such discussions around animal rights and protection take place, one must keep in mind the deplorable conditions of food security in India across the caste and class hierarchies.

Further, we can also choose not to support zoos, circuses, and other such industries where animals are commodified and abused. Instead of buying clothes and accessories made of leather or silk, we can go for more eco-friendly plant-based alternatives. 

Also read: Ecofeminism And COVID-19: Prejudices Of A Hindu Brahminical Society

As more information on the harmful effects of animal agriculture on the environment and human health becomes available, shifting to a affordable vegan lifestyle seems to be the next logical move. As an added benefit, a well-planned vegan diet can boost your heart health, cut down your cancer risk, and help to maintain a healthy body weight. Plenty of online resources are available for those considering going vegan. By choosing to remove animal-derived products from our food and lifestyle, we can do our small bit for the environment!  

References:

  1. Britannica
  2. The Vegan Rainbow
  3. Carol J. Adams
  4. Down To Earth
  5. Independent UK
  6. Climate Nexus
  7. Down To Earth

Namrata is a freelance writer + vegan blogger + intersectional feminist. Against all forms of oppression, she’s on a constant journey of unlearning her internalized misogyny. You can find her on Blog and Instagram.

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