ECOLOGICAL RECOVERY AND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE

PCDForum Column #50,  Release Date June 25, 1993

by Vandana Shiva

While gender subordination and patriarchy are the oldest of oppressions, they have taken on new and more violent forms through the project of development. Through its appropriation and destruction of the natural resource base this project has systematically removed from women's management and control the land, water and forest resources from which they produced the sustenance on which the survival of their families depended. This has simultaneously impaired both women's productivity and the productivity and renewability of nature itself.

Patriarchal categories have defined the active as masculine and the passive as feminine, valuing the former and denigrating the latter. Thus resource destruction, being active, has been positively valued as a productive activity, while more passive, less intrusive participation in life's regenerative processes has been denigrated as feminine and unproductive. The activities of women, nature, and life itself thus have been denied value, resulting in modes of maldevelopment that have further exacerbated male-female inequality.

This bias is deeply imbedded in a reductionist economics that assumes only paid labor produces value. Thus man's dependence on the natural world is ignored and women's work in producing sustenance is deprecated, even as that work provides the very basis of survival and well-being. When Third World women provide their families with water, fodder, and wood from the free commons that nature provides, neither their work nor the natural product that sustains their families is assigned economic value.

In premodern subsistence economies, the separate male and female domains of work are interdependent and complementary, based on diversity not inequality. Dominant modes of perception based on reductionism, duality and linearity are unable to cope with the concept of equality within a diversity of forms and activities that are all significant and valid, even though different.

Almost everywhere in the world, rural people, both peasants and tribals, who live in and derive sustenance from nature, have a systematic and deep knowledge of nature's processes of reproducing wealth. Their lives and culture embody and balance the feminine and masculine principles. Women's roles as carriers of the feminine principle of respect for life in nature and society are recognized and respected.

The metaphors and concepts produced by minds deprived of the feminine principle fail to embrace "life" as the central concern in organizing human society. They thus become a threat to life itself.

It now appears that the future of our ecologically devastated world may depend on recovery of the feminine principle, by men as well as women, in the North as well as the South. Thus we find that the intellectual heritage for ecological survival lies with those who are experts in survival, the women whose lives most embody the feminine principle and whose economic contributions have been most disparaged.

In the world-view personified by the Chipko women's movement in India, nature is Prakriti, the creator and source of wealth. The struggles of such women for survival through the protection of nature are showing us that nature is the very basis and matrix of economic life. They are showing that production of sustenance is basic to survival itself and cannot be deleted from economic calculations. If production of life cannot be reckoned with in money terms, then it is economic models and not women's work in producing sustenance and life, that must be sacrificed.

While Third World women have privileged access to survival expertise, their knowledge is inclusive, not exclusive. The ecological categories with which they think and act can become the categories of liberation for all, for men as well as for women, for the West as well as the non-West, and for the human as well as the non-human elements of the earth.

The intellectual recovery of the feminine principle creates new conditions for women and non-Western cultures to become principal actors in establishing a democracy of all life, as Third World women bring the concern with living and survival back to centre-stage in human history. In recovering the chances for the survival of all life, they are laying the foundations for the recovery of the feminine principle in nature and society, and through it the recovery of the earth as sustainer and provider.


Vandana Shiva is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy, 105 Rajpur Road, Dehra Dun, Uttar Pradesh 248001, India and a contributing editor of the People-Centered Development Forum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on her series "Science, Violence and Gender in Third World Resurgence Issue #27.

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