Women at the Fore On Environmental Issues

WHETHER they are ``tree huggers'' in India, camped out at a missile site on Britain's Greenham Common, or heading the fight to save Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, women are likely to be in the front of any fight for the environment. ``Ecofeminism'' traces its roots to the back-to-back publication of Rachel Carson's ``Silent Spring'' (1962) and Betty Friedan's ``The Feminine Mystique'' (1963). ``In the 1970s, women and ecologists began to see the connections between the two strands of activism,'' explains Prof. Carolyn Merchant of University of California at Berkeley. As many as 75 percent of grass-roots environmentalists are women, she says.

Some women see their role in the sciences - forestry, wildlife management, biology, etc., Dr. Merchant says. Others focus on restructuring local community life. Still others urge economic change away from what they see as exploitative capitalism.

Irene Diamond, who teaches political science at the University of Oregon, asserts that women ``more often than not are the victims of environmental atrocities.'' She represents an aspect of ecofeminism that emphasizes women's reproductive role as a model for nurturing rather than dominating nature. Such attitudes take concrete form, as in India where women threw themselves around trees to prevent logging.

``For women, nature is the means of life in very clear terms,'' says Vandana Shiva, coordinator of India's Research Foundation for Science and Ecology. ``What they're usually fighting for is the sacred in nature....''

Ecofeminism, says Dr. Diamond, is ``no fixed `ism.'''

``It's not merely a joining together of women's rights and environmentalism,'' she says, ``It poses fundamental challenges to our understanding of ourselves, our understanding of home.''

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