Feminist Political Ecology and Environmental Justice Perspectives

Feminist Political Ecology and Environmental Justice Perspectives


At the end of 20th century, the problem of non-uniform distribution of the ecological benefits and risks among different population groups became the matter of public concern. The formation of groups and organizations proclaiming the main objective struggle for ecological justice became the society’s response to this disproportionality. The movement of supporters of ecological justice was the spiritual successor of two most influential social movements of 20th century. The environment-oriented movement became the first source of its ideology, while the second one included the movement for the social justice, appearing against discrimination on racial, ethnic, sexual, class and other signs. At present, the environmental risks (“dirty” productions, the burials of toxic wastes, etc.) are concentrated in the areas of ethnic minorities’ residence and people with low income. In this regard, the problem of ecological justice, integrating the questions of social equality and environmental protection, as well as the political ecology, supported by the representatives of feminist movements acquire the special relevance in the modern society.

Feminist Political Ecology

Political ecology is the interdisciplinary area of research, engaged in relations of a society and nature, and also relations in society directly or indirectly connected to the environmental issues. The political ecology was formed in the 1970s on a joint of the ecological sub disciplines of social sciences and political economy. Different social and philosophical currents had an impact on its formation. A modern political ecology is represented by the political ecology of the second generation, which includes the transdisciplinary research direction, using the methods and data obtained by a set of disciplines and scientific directions, including geography, anthropology, ecology, environment economy, environmental history and development researches (Ross, 1997, p. 21).

According to Rocheleau, Thomas-Slayter, and Wangari (1996), the formation of political ecology of the second generation was greatly influenced by liberalism, Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, post-colonialism and phenomenology (Rocheleau et al., 1996). Feminist political ecology is a social movement and philosophy, connecting the purposes of feminism and political ecology. It appeared in 1974 when the French researcher Francoise d’Eaubonne arose women for ecological revolution to save the life on the globe. She tried to prove that the male control over the production and female sexuality leads to the double crisis: environmental destruction and demographic crisis (Ross, 1997, p. 23)

Feminist political ecology draws a parallel between the nature and a woman in the western patriarchal society, emphasizing on their philosophical unity. The main goal of the movement consists in bringing the world into the original harmony by the suppression of discrimination against women. The feminist political ecology is urged to pay more attention to the “reality”, but not to the theoretical disputes, to be guided by the ontological, but not by the epistemological questions. The most urgent issues of the feminist political ecology include the relations between women and environment, development and social movements; production, power and environment; sex, race and nature; scientific knowledge and wildlife conservation; economic assessment; population, nature-and land-use; technology, biology and policy (Rocheleau et al., 1996). Thus, there are three main problems for the political ecology: the limitation of resources and their non-uniform distribution; the correlation between industrialization and a load of environment; and, at last, pollution and production wastes. All the three problems are interconnected and determine each other.

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Environmental Justice

The lower layers of society have more chances to be affected by the harmful substances, as they have no financial possibilities to move away from the polluted zones, to buy environmentally friendly products or to rest regularly. They are, as a rule, not capable of refusing the “harmful” work because of the fear to lose a workplace. Moreover, due to the low level of education and poor knowledge, they know very little about ecological dangers and methods of their minimization.

Environmental justice assumes the increase of awareness level of population about the political process, an access of minorities and population with a low income to the information of an ecological character, the provision of the rights for an independent choice of the way of life to all groups, etc. (Downey & Hawkins, 2008, p. 762). The critics of the environmental justice often pay attention to the fact that from the point of view of expenses and profits, the risks from living in the close proximity to a dump of dangerous wastes can be lower than from the risks from the life in the conditions of unemployment and poverty. They bring forward the argument that minorities and people with a low income often select the polluted regions for living because of the privileges and cheap housing, and a state should not be blamed for the conscious discrimination activities (Bullard, Mohai, Saha, & Wright, 2007). Nevertheless, if to consider these actions in a wider perspective, it becomes obvious that the lowest classes have no choice. In fact, they are forced to choose out of two evils, and the fact that one of them can be a little more favorable than another one does not change the general diagram of discrimination.

Bullard et al. (2007) wrote that “the breakthrough to the ecological justice includes the spread of the civil rights movement, the main forces of which include a direct confrontation and policy of protest.” The history of civil movements, in general, is inscribed into the logic of shifts from the emotional to the social recognition. It is shown on the example of the most important form of social justice movement – the struggle against racial discrimination (Bullard et al., 2007).

The Ecologic Leadership Summit in Washington (1992), the delegates of which tried to inform their requirements to the whole world, became an example of the involvement of the representatives of racial minorities into the political ecology and environmental justice. They were not restricted to the narrow understanding of the environment as nature. From their point of view, environment includes “all integrity of the life conditions of a human community: air and water, safe work for the worthy reward, housing, education, medical attendance, humane penal system, equality and justice” (Buechler & Hanson, 2015). Proceeding from the broad and multi-aspect understanding of environment, the participants of the summit formulated a row of recommendations to the state and business concerning the questions of distribution and redistribution of ecological benefits. Despite their insufficient systematicity, all principles can be considered to be one of the most noticeable attempts of the discriminated groups about the involvement into decision-making process connected to ecology.

The environmental justice requires the state policy to be based on the universal respect and fair attitude to all people and was free from discrimination or bias. Also, it requires the right of involvement of males and females as equal partners at each level of decision-making, including an assessment of needs, planning, implementation, monitoring and the analysis of results. Environmental justice requires a strict observance of the principles of the informed consent, calls for the formation of the present and future generations which will focus their attention on the social and environmental issues, based on the experience and appreciation of the variety of cultural perspectives (Downey & Hawkins, 2008, p. 771).

Another example of the feminist political ecology and environmental justice is represented by the achievements of the activist Majora Carter, known for the project of gardening of the South Bronx in New York. She is one of the leaders of American movement for equality and justice in the sphere of environmental protection. Carter received a grant in the amount of $10,000 from the Park Department for the purchase of seeds for the greening of the coastal part of the city. While walking with a dog, she came across the thrown place at the river, looking like a dump. Later, the place became Hunts Point Riverside Park, the first for 60 years in the South Bronx. Instead of $10,000, Carter received $3 million (Buechler & Hanson, 2015).

In her work, Carter operates with the term “environmental justice.” It means that any region should have more environmental pressure or less financial assignments for the ecological needs than the others. However, racial and gender discrimination extend on the ecological sphere, the same like on the social and cultural spheres. On the Carter’s opinion, there is a high probability that the Afro-Americans will live in the ecologically unsafe region.


Gender and race have an impact on the environmental issues. Discrimination and inequality by these two characteristics lead to the environmental conservation and degradation. The environmental justice is a complex concept in which absolutely different elements are tightly interconnected: the philosophical theory of justice and collective political struggle; movement in the environment protection and movement for social justice; involvement, recognition, and distribution. The environmental justice is realized on a joint of three different spheres: political, economic and cultural and at the same time transforms these spheres. Moreover, it does not only warn about possible dangers, but also outlines the future circuits: moral economy, non-anthropocentric culture and global policy. The racial and gender equality became open in all goals of a sustainable development, and also the independent purpose for the achievement of the racial and gender equality and a full implementation of human rights of women and racial minorities, it will promote the redistribution of the present concentration of power, welfare, and resources.

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