Our societies have mostly been organized to maximize capitalist accumulation for the benefit and privilege of elites and corporations, through the commodification of Nature and our territories, the control over women and their bodies and the appropriation of women’s and workers’ labour force.
This historical and ongoing exploitation is possible through the reproduction of mutually reinforcing structures of oppression: patriarchy, capitalism, class oppression, racism, (neo)colonialism and heteronormativity.
Patriarchy is the system that benefits men as a social group through the oppressions and exploitation of women that is founded, to a large extent, on the sexual division of labour and nurtured by the biological determinism of socially constructed gender roles.
“I understand Patriarchy to mean a social system in which males hold primary power and dominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. The system of patriarchal domination supports sexually defined roles, and women in particular are confined to the domestic sphere while men dominant in the public arena.”
Peruth, NAPE / Friends of the Earth Uganda
The sexual division of labour organizes women’s work in the private sphere (home) and also in agricultural and urban production and markets. Women workers are concentrated in areas of work that are an extension of care work (such as health and education) and that are low paid, precarious and informal, or for which they are paid less than men for the same work.
Women’s work and Nature
In the parallel exploitation of women’s work and Nature, both are seen as infinite and elastic resources – free, readily available, to be appropriated without resistance. At the same time, patriarchy relies on women’s time, energy and (re)productive capacities to ‘make up’ for the destruction and privatization of Nature.
This is especially true in times of crises and austerity, when women’s unpaid physical and emotional labour is essential for family and community, and when Nature and the commons are commodified, privatized and extracted on a scale that is catastrophic to the environment, natural cycles and ecological functions, and the communities whose livelihoods depend on it.
In the same way that transnational corporations, industrial agriculture and dirty energy systems control and exploit Nature and our territories, so women’s rights over their bodies, lives and work are controlled by regressive laws, traditional practices and societal institutions (including education, family, religion and the judiciary).
Due to their perceived “natural” role, women are disproportionately affected by social and environmental injustice and the multiple interconnected crisis, such as climate change and hunger. This is especially so for women of color, peasant and indigenous women, migrants, working class and LBTQ women. We have to work harder and longer hours to produce sufficient food, maintain livelihoods, and protect our territories. And yet we often don’t even have the right to own the land we work. Women’s wisdom and identities as food producers and practitioners of agroecology are attacked and denied by the capitalist system.
Despite this, women are fighters, not victims. Largely as a consequence of our historical connection to the production and reproduction of life in the territories in which we live and struggle, women are collectively taking the lead in grassroots environmental justice struggles to challenge the unjust economic model, and standing at the front lines of resistance and defense of Nature. Women are protagonists in the defense of our territories and the fight for autonomy over our bodies – our primary territory –, lives and work.
“Working together in solidarity, the women environmentalists in my country and the region face the double challenge of defending their territories and defending themselves against patriarchy. This is two sides of the same coin: the destruction of the environment and the attack against women, that becomes more vicious the more we defend ourselves.”
Dismantling patriarchy, delivering justice
For Friends of the Earth International, the fight to dismantle patriarchy and all structures of oppression within our own organizations, structures and societies is crucial to the system change needed to face the current deep-rooted and interconnected social and environmental crises affecting climate, food and biodiversity.
System change means creating societies based on peoples’ sovereignty and environmental, social, economic and gender justice
We seek freedom from patriarchy and all forms of oppression that exploit and devalue women, peoples and the environment, towards a radical transformation of our societies, of relationships between people, and of the relationship between people and Nature.
And we believe that grassroots, anti-capitalist feminism is key to this transformation, both as a conceptual-ideological-political framework and as collective praxis and movement.
We aim to show in practice that feminism can and is constructed from the grassroots up, that it is relevant to all women and men who resist oppression, and that it is representative of regional diversity and different realities. Our grassroots, anti-capitalist feminism has a class perspective and is rooted in women’s collective experiences in societies in which our bodies are marked by mutually reinforcing oppressions.
We have a strong and holistic political vision of justice and system change, and we build solutions together as women, as peoples, as an international federation and with our allies, including La Vía Campesina and World March of Women who, like us, are fighting for system change. We are proactively supporting women’s leadership and protagonism in our structures, as well as spaces for women to build their collective power.
We believe that dismantling patriarchy internally and in the wider world is only possible if we build a shared understanding of its nature and how it operates with other structural oppressions to organize society. Feminist and gender justice capacity building and political formation at all levels of the federation are key to this.
We are integrating Gender Justice Dismantling Patriarchy (GJDP) analysis and practice into our work on Human Rights Defenders / Defenders of territories (focused on prevention of violations, protection of defenders and bringing perpetrators to justice) and our international programs and actions. To advocate a relationship of harmony and respect with Nature and ecosystems is politically incoherent with distorted power relations based on gender, sex, race/ethnicity, class and other structures of oppression within our communities and societies. The huge burden of care work on women or violence against women is contrary to the values of peoples’ sovereignty, agroecology, climate justice and community forest management. Without gender justice, there is no environmental justice.
How and why we continue our fight
We are challenging the power structures in a world where violence and the threat of violence are used to control women who challenge their socially constructed (but promoted as biologically determined) responsibility for unpaid, invisible care and domestic work. In this same world, women’s productive work remains invisible, undervalued and lower paid, and women’s millennial knowledge of ecological cycles, of seeds, of medicinal plants, of how to nurture biodiversity and the forests is unrecognized and ignored.
“Friends of the Earth International is committed to system change, fundamental to which is the fight for gender justice and the dismantling of patriarchy. We are demanding an end to the exploitation of women’s bodies and work. The only way to achieve this is through recognizing women as political subjects, ending violence against women and the denial of their rights and deconstructing the sexual division of labor, which constitutes the material basis of patriarchal exploitation and domination.”
Karin Nansen, Friends of the Earth International Chair
We are challenging ourselves and supporting each other to collectively recognize the power relations that we reproduce and, in this way, to transform our federation and our societies together with our allies. We are fighting together for a just world on a living planet.
A version of this article was originally published by The Ecologist