Women, Ecology, and Development
A common term in contemporary society is “development.” According to Shiva (1988), the term is more of a post-colonial project as it became more commonly used in the period following the widespread colonization of countries around the world. The post-colonial period was marked with the development of industries and infrastructure with most of the colonies gaining independence on finding their own way of development. It was also in the post-colonial era that development became accepted as a model of progress in which the entire world remade itself. Third-world counties embraced or adopted this model of progress from the colonizing modern west. Despite the numerous benefits that came with development, one of its biggest shortcomings was ecological destruction. The problem of ecological destruction triggered the involvement of a number of women around the world who were committed to restoring and conserving the natural environment.
Shiva (1988) argues that there was a period referred to as “the UN Decade for Women” that was largely based on the assumption that women’s economic position could automatically through an expansion as well as diffusion of the development process. However, at the end of the UN Decade for Women, it became evident that development was one of the biggest problems that the world ever encountered. It was as a result of development that issues such as development exclusivity and dispossession became more rampant and widespread than before. Also, development was accompanied by economic growth that drained away resources from communities and populations that were in dire need of the same. There was increased exploitation of resources thanks to the availability of powerful technologies of appropriation and destruction. Shiva (1988) emphasizes the role of women in ecological restoration and conservation. It is in this perspective, that the name of Wangari Maathai, a strong and enthusiastic environmentalist from Kenya comes up. The works of Wangari Maathai parallel the ideas about women and ecology as outlined by Shiva (1988 in various ways.
One of the ways Maathai’s work parallel the ideas about women and ecology as outlined by Shiva (1988) is her reconnection with rural women with whom she had grown up and championing for the plantation of trees. The film “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai” reveals that Wangari Maathai began her discovery of her life’s work when through reconnection rural women with whom he grew up. During their growth, Maathai and her peers faced numerous challenges in life including having to walk long distances in search for firewood. Other challenges they encountered included scarcity of clean water, disappearance of soil from their farms, and malnourished children. It was amidst these challenges that Maathai resorted to planting trees and later discovered that the planting of trees had a significant impact as far as empowering change was concerned. Together with the rural women she grew up with, Wangari Maathai fought against deforestation, ignorance, poverty, violent political oppression, and embedded economic interests. Maathai’s spirited fight against deforestation highlights how here works parallel the ideas about women and ecology as outline by Shiva (1988).
An outstanding contribution of Wangari Maathai in the conservation of the environment was the establishment of the Green Belt Movement of Kenya in 1977. This was an environmental non-governmental organization whose primary focus was on championing for the plantation of trees, protection of the rights of women, and conservation of the environment. The organization’s mission was to mobilize the consciousness of the community for justice, self-determination, conservation of environment, reduction of poverty, and equity through the use of trees as the entry point (Maathai & Green Belt Movement, 2003). The organization also aims at stopping soil erosion, restoration of community main cooking sources, combating deforestation, and planting trees. Since the establishment of the organization in 1977, more than 51 million trees have been planted thus strengthening Shiva’s idea and opinion about the need to prevent ecological destruction.
According to “Taking Root” film, Wangari Maathai was involved in numerous dramatic confrontations in the 1980s and’90s that were strongly against the abuse of human rights and environmental degradation (Prévot & Fronty, 2015). She is largely acknowledged for developing tree nurseries from which she obtained tree seedlings and distributed to communities in various parts of Kenya. Through this, she not only brought to life the confidence and joy of people working to improve their own lives but also contributed to the prevention of ecological destruction. Her commitment to confronting environmental degradation are in line with the ideas about women and ecology emphasized by Shiva (1988).
In sum, Wangari Maathai remains a prominent woman figure in the fight against environmental degradation and destruction that can be mainly attributed to the aspect of development. The work of Wangari Maathai parallels the ideas about women and ecology outlined in Shiva’s writing through her reconnection with rural women with whom she had grown and championing for the plantation of trees, the establishment of the Green Belt Movement, and her confrontations that were strongly against the abuse of human rights and environmental degradation.
Maathai, W., & Green Belt Movement (Society: Kenya). (2003). The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the approach and the experience. New York: Lantern Books.
Nyumbani. (2008, September 25). Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5GX6JktJZg
Prévot, F., & Fronty, A. (2015). Wangari Maathai: The woman who planted millions of trees. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Shiva, V. (1988). Staying alive: Women, ecology, and development. London: Zed Books.