Eve Ensler is famous for her development of The Vagina Monologues, which has become a worldwide sensation performed in dozens of languages, but she’s more than just a playwright. She’s also an activist who’s passionately concerned about violence against women, and recently, she turned her sights to environmental devastation and the connections between harming the environment and hurting women. Is she going to take up nature as her next critical cause?
Ensler sees a parallel between the treatment of women and that of the environment, echoing observations and rhetoric made for decades. Just like women, nature is considered lesser when contrasted with men (as representatives of development and culture), and women are exploited, abused and discarded just as natural resources are. Sometimes these links are even more explicit, as Ensler points out with her work in the Congo, where women are deliberately made targets of violence to destabilize communities, making it easier for mining companies to take advantage of their resources.
Her observations are reminiscent of some of the core ideals of ecofeminism, a social movement that also explicitly links violence against women with violence against the environment, seeing both as a consequence of patriarchy. By reducing both women and nature to raw resources for capitalist exploitation, ecofeminists argue, patriarchal society has created a world of subjugation and abuse. While ecofeminism has been criticized for failing to consider real-world conditions for women, and for leaning heavily on rhetoric linking women with traditionally gendered tasks, the movement has provoked fascinating discussion about how people interact with women and the environment.
It is women who tend to suffer more in the wake of environmental devastation caused by exploitation of resources and related activities. Not just because women can be on the front lines of violence related to these activities, such as rising rape and domestic violence rates in mining towns, but also because women are often tasked with coping with the costs of climate change and environmental destruction. They’re the ones forced to go further afield to find water, fuel, and food to support their families, for example, while also performing routine household tasks. They’re also more likely to be living in poverty, which means they have decreased access to resources that might help them adapt.
By explicitly identifying conservation issues, and climate change in particular, as women’s issues as well as environmental ones, Ensler is making an important point, and it’s one people may listen to thanks to her high profile. Women are disproportionately affected by environmental destruction, and yet don’t receive support or assistance to help them survive, whether that’s in the form of counseling for victims of domestic violence or assistance with locating clean-burning fuels.
Fighting violence against women should also include addressing environmental issues, and vice versa, argue Ensler and many of those who share her sentiments. They argue that the treatment of women and the earth reflects a specific mindset that needs to be countered in order to achieve the goal of a safer and more peaceful society, and while this is only part of a much larger puzzle, it’s definitely a contributor to global issues that could benefit from a fresh take. Conservation and fighting violence against women aren’t just about changing routines and making new policies, but also about shifting mindsets.
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