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Deborah Madsen, professeure ordinaire de littérature et civilisation américaine à l’Université de Genève et experte en écoféminisme

Deborah Madsen, full professor of American literature and civilization at the University of Geneva and expert in ecofeminism.                            Guillaume Megevand

Ecofeminism, a movement of converging struggles, is more than a simple juxtaposition of ecology and feminism. The term has been around for almost 50 years, tackling the structural causes of systems of domination in order to solve the ecological crisis and end gender oppression. This movement, which has seen a resurgence in recent years, aims to offer constructive solutions and is now very much in the news.

“The ecological drama stems directly from the origins of the patriarchal system”.

wrote French intellectual and activist Françoise d’Eaubonne in Le féminisme ou la mort in 1974. This pioneer of the feminist movement was the first to coin the term “ecofeminism”, a neologism for the common denominator between the oppression of women and the exploitation of nature, namely patriarchal capitalism.
According to Deborah Madsen, full professor of American literature and civilization at the University of Geneva and an expert in the field, this trend is “an optic, a way of analyzing power relations in the world and how these relations are gendered, in order to incorporate every aspect of the environment, oromnisphere “.
“It’s a whole range of different interpretations of the perception that women and the environment are exploited, attacked and assaulted through the same mechanisms that articulate patriarchy or masculinist violence,” she explains.
From the Pentagon to Greenham Common: ecofeminists on the front line 
Although the term was coined by d’Eaubonne, the movement really took off in the United States, when environmental awareness was heightened by the nuclear threat. The first major ecofeminist event was the Women’s Pentagon Action in November 1980. Several thousand women then marched through Arlington Military Cemetery and formed a circle around the Pentagon, chanting “Take the toys away from the boys “. Deborah Madsen postulates that these women were very explicit about their ecofeminist motivations:
“There was a very clear opposition between these women and this military-industrial complex. It was the first and perhaps the most important ecofeminist demonstration.
Women’s Pentagon Action, Arlington, November 17, 1980
Another major ecofeminist action is the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, a pacifist protest and civil disobedience encampment against the installation of nuclear missiles on the Royal Air Force base in Berkshire, which lasted for almost two decades, between 1981 and 2000, the year of its final dismantling. Once again, the images are powerful, as on December 12, 1981, when some 30,000 women held hands and formed a human chain on the site of the military base. “They held this demonstration against all kinds of opposition and intervention by the authorities, and they succeeded,” explains Deborah Madsen.

Greenham Common women’s demonstration, December 12, 1982 © Copyright


Today, one of the circles in which ecofeminism is perhaps most active is that of indigenous activism.
“Globally, but particularly in North America, the convergence of violence against indigenous women and the environment has been in the news, particularly in opposition to the fossil fuel industry and pipeline construction – a movement largely led by women,” recounts Deborah Madsen.
Indigenous women seem to be at the forefront of the fight against the climate crisis. In 2019, young Wiikwemkoong First Nation environmental activist Autumn Peltier addresses hundreds of people at United Nations (UN) headquarters, where she proclaims this landmark phrase:

“You can’t eat money, you can’t drink oil”.

Another notorious example of aboriginal activism is that of Josephine Mandamin, a grandmother of Anishinabe origin, who walked some 25,000 km around the shores of North America’s Great Lakes carrying a bucket of water, to raise awareness of water pollution.

Autumn Peltier speaking at the Global Landscapes Forum at the UN, September 28, 2019

Are women the first victims of climate change? 
According to the UN, women are “disproportionately” exposed
to the consequences of environmental disasters
. For example, droughts, floods and storms kill more women than men due to structural inequalities between the sexes. According to UNESCO, women and children are 14 times more likely to die during a disaster than men. During the 2004 tsunami in one Indonesian province, over 70% of those who lost their lives were women. In addition, natural disasters significantly increase
the risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence
and impact on women’s reproductive health in the form of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and reproductive complications. 
For Deborah Madsen, there’s no doubt that women are the first to be affected by climate change, whether “from the point of view of everyday health or from the point of view of the type of role women have to play”. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, 80 percent of food production is based on a family model, mostly run by women. They are also mainly in charge of the household and domestic chores, including access to water and food.

So what are ecofeminism’s methods of action? This protean and unstructured movement aims to bring a constructive and creative angle to struggles through collective action. There is a plurality of approaches, and Professor Deborah Madsen points out that we tend to speak of ecofeminisms. ” It’s not a monolithic movement,” she says.
La Bise
an ecofeminist collective formed in 2018 by Myriam Roth, Sarah Gremaud and Mathilde Hofert, “everyone makes the concept their own”. 
Mathilde Hofert explains that the aim is to reflect on the links between the exploitation of human beings and animals, as well as gender discrimination. 

“It’s about questioning where these problems come from, looking at the heart of the capitalist system. For example, there’s a hierarchy between humans and other animals, so we exploit the land and the animals. There’s a hierarchy between cis men and other genders, and as a result, there’s gender discrimination. Being an ecofeminist means making these connections and criticizing them.” 

As Myriam Roth points out, they generally avoid giving a definition of ecofeminism. “Everyone has their own vision of things, their own way of life, their own ecofeminism, without us giving a preconceived formula. Our way of seeing things and living our commitment is also evolving”, she explains.
The collective, which sees ecofeminism as a way of “front door to tackle societal struggles, regularly organizes meetings on themes linking ecology and feminism, and has also set up an ecofeminist library at the Terrain Gurzelen in Biel, where comic books rub shoulders with political essays, as well as novels, children’s books and films. Sarah Gremaud asserts that it is precisely through reading that they have deconstructed themselves. “It was important to us to create this space, to bring the place to life.”
Ecofeminist library of the collective La Bise au Terrain Gurzelen, Biel
According to Emilie Langlade, science journalist, presenter of the Xenius science disclosure program for Arte and co-founder of the Franco-German ecofeminist matrix
Positive Lab Berlin
with entrepreneur Axelle Vergès,
“there’s nothing like a book as a tool for transformation. Our structure is first and foremost a citizens’ initiative. The first step is to spread the word about ecofeminism, to inspire, to mobilize and to show that we can change the way we see the world and the systems in place”.
The Positive Lab features a reading circle, the Œcoféminothek, which offers creative workshops and exchanges, such as the 2021 conference on the notion of care and ecofeminism with Fatima Ouassak, political scientist and author of the book La puissance des mère. The Matrix also set up a collaborative writing workshop where screenwriters were invited to write a pitch for a film or series about a more sustainable and desirable world. “We love to mobilize imaginations and narratives. The stories we tell have an impact on the way we see the world,” explains Emilie Langlade.

Conference “Dreaming of another world where Care is at the heart of the economy” by Positive Lab, at the Institut Français de Berlin, June 3, 2021

Is there a risk of essentialism? 
One of the criticisms of ecofeminism lies in its approach, which is sometimes considered too spiritual or essentialist. Essentialism is the idea that there is an inherently feminine nature, a point of view that Deborah Madsen questions.

“This notion that women have a deep spiritual connection to the earth is problematic from my point of view.”

The founders of La Bise explain that their approach is far from essentialist. For them, ecofeminism is simply a way of linking struggles, and this also includes anti-racism and anti-capitalism. “We’ve decided that our two entry points are ecology and feminism. It’s not to exclude other struggles,” explains Mathilde Hofert.
Emilie Langlade also rejects this criticism of essentialism:
“Today, we’re very good at articulating the fact that when we talk about women, we’re talking about an inheritance, a social structure. It’s not us ‘biological women’ – it’s us ‘women of social construction’. It’s sufficiently open and intersectional. It’s also a movement that has integrated a lot of queer thinking. Everyone can be an ecofeminist.
According to Deborah Madsen, the question of gender discourses is particularly relevant when it comes to ecofeminism. She explains this link to the way language is gendered and, in turn, its capacity to construct the reality of gender. 
“The way language is used creates the feminine and the masculine. This binary opposition is constructed, where the masculine is always privileged over the feminine. The masculine is subject while the feminine is object,” she posits. 
While the body and nature are seen as feminine, for example, the mind and civilization are seen as masculine. She adds that our worldview is conditioned by this binary opposition, but points out that these perceptions are beginning to be weakened by the incursion of queer theories and LGBTIQ+ activism. ” But progress is slow,” she laments.

The future of ecofeminism
In 1974, in Le féminisme ou la mort (Feminism or Death), Françoise d’Eaubonne wrote that the aim of women’s movements is “the disappearance of wage-earning, competitive hierarchies and the family”, and this begins with the overthrow of the existing productive and reproductive systems. Deborah Madsen echoes this sentiment, explaining that ecofeminism is a form of political activism that imagines a world where it no longer needs to exist:
“Ecofeminism challenges the current organization of gender in relation to the environment and the power relations that structure our existence in the world, with the aim of designing a future where we coexist with respect for the environment.”
Françoise d’Eaubonne at 68, February 1988 Copyright Eaubonne 
Emilie Langlade stresses the importance of a constructive approach. “Ecofeminism is very often about grassroots experience. With Positive Lab, we want to inspire and then encourage action.” The matrix also offers support to companies, giving them guidelines for “moving from greenwashing to greenacting, and inviting them to become activists”.
Mathilde Hofert of the La Bise collective warns, however, that “it could become increasingly complicated to take more radical positions, including ecofeminist positions. I think we’re in a major phase of repression.” 
At a time when the Doomsday Clock (Doomsday Clock) reads 100 seconds to midnight, the ecological emergency is stronger than ever. Against this backdrop, the ecofeminist movement is making a strong comeback – with leading figures such as the Indian essayist and activist
Vandana Shiva
or candidate
Sandrine Rousseau
who is forcing ecofeminism into the second round of the ecologist primary in France – and proposes building new models, along the lines of what Françoise d’Eaubonne proposed:

“The values of the feminine, so long scorned because they are attributed to the inferior sex, remain the last chance of survival for man himself. But we need to move fast; even more than revolution, we need mutation.

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