Ecofeminism in the Transition to Sustainability
Transition is change, the passage from one mode of being or state to another. In Western society, we have already made many transitions. We are the product of all these variations that have led us to a crossroads between development and sustainability of life. It is vital for humanity (less so for the planet) that our next transition faithfully recognises our current situation, but above that it recognises all of our mistakes as a civilisation, in order to be able to imagine the new horizon. At the individual level, what is needed is a willingness to recognise the paradigms of the current system that are also within us, and to take action to change them. In the backdrop, and deeply rooted in our Western culture, is our main misconception, that of the Euro-androcentric idea, that we are something other than nature and, deriving from this, the false entitlement that gives us carte blanche to dominate and exploit it. This human-culture-nature dichotomy is the great underlying error beneath the ecosocial crisis (Puig, 2016).
Women have also suffered the weight of dichotomies and share the trampled step of the natural, the emotional, the wild, under the weight of men, reason, the civilised… (Pascual Rodríguez & Herrero López, 2010). From the recognition of this parallelism, between the exploitation of nature and the exploitation of women, comes ecofeminism, or rather ecofeminisms1In this text we use ecofeminisms in the plural to take into account the diversity of existing ecofeminisms as a whole (Puleo, 2011): classical, culturalist, essentialist, spiritual and constructivist, among others, although among these groups there are important differences in what concerns us herein, which is their practical application, the plural is more accurate since their forms of action are similar. (or territorial feminisms as they are called in Latin America, where perhaps they do not need to remind themselves so much that they are nature). They are a stream of thought, but they are also political practice and activism, composed of diverse groups that share the idea that the subjugation of nature and of women have gone hand in hand in the recent history of industrial societies and that the sustainability of life depends on assuming the biophysical limitations, our eco- and inter-dependence.
On the other hand, the transition to sustainability is another stream of thought held by various environmental movements such as the transition movement, which share with ecofeminisms, in essence, the idea of the planet’s limited resources and the idea of eco- and inter-dependence. The question is, then, do the two movements share a common horizon, and what does it look like? To imagine this, it is first necessary to ask: what is the transition towards, and under what paradigm? How does the transition take place? Where did each person transition from? are all individuals, women, men and different peoples, on the same level from which to transition?
Within the transition movement, its objectives converge with ecofeminism in responding to the social and ecological crisis by promoting a culture of community resilience, cooperation, feminism, self-sufficiency, solidarity and democracy, for the creation of sustainable living alternatives that reject the conventional system of production and consumption(Cassanet & Red de Transición, 2020).
From an ecofeminist point of view, Yayo Herrero, citing Ramón Fernández Durán, points to a transition horizon towards “anti-patriarchal, ecological, socialist and joyful” societies (Herrero et al., 2014, p. 111).
In any case, the transition must be diverse and inclusive, embracing different starting points, territories, situations, genders and bodies. There is thus no single model or process of transition, but ecofeminism and the transition movement do agree that their mission is to build real solutions to eco-social challenges and not bogus technological solutions (the very technology that has brought us to where we are) that serve as a fruitless rush to the future. Nature is not a giant clock, the transition cannot propose solutions based on mechanistic logic, which has already proven to be useless in explaining the complexities of life, the very large or the very small. The actions must be linked to the territory and the people of each area (“local scale”) that take a step back to the origin of the situation, to ask ourselves where we are and how we got here, not wearing the androcentric glasses of modern futurists like Elon Musk, but with bifocal glasses for short-sighted people who need to see the near future better in order be able to really see the long-term future.
Another common and crucial horizon for both perspectives is the recovery of the community. Today’s Western culture strives for individualism and a false sense of independence (enabled by a quasi-total monetisation of services and resources, accessible from individual finances) outside the natural limits of the planet, against the sustainability of life, bonds and relationships, and thus against several of the fundamental characteristics that unite ecofeminism and transitional movements: the link to and dependence on nature (eco-dependence), the acceptance of biophysical limits over technological advancement, the necessary relationships between people due to our vulnerability and capacity for mutual aid (interdependence), community bonding and collective action.
Materialising the Transformation
How does a stream of thought, a social movement with a transformative vocation, materialise? Ecofeminisms share a double intentionality with the transition movement; thought and action, word and process (of transformation) but, above all, working in, from, for, and Ecologistas en acción. The transition movement2Born in 2005 in the UK, it has expanded rapidly. You can find more information at: https://transitionnetwork.org/ and https://www.reddetransicion.org/ is a current of global action that is characterised by the proactive, the positive, by local collective action that has an eye on the global. Its wide range of projects around the world3A mapping of initiatives in Spain is available at: https://www.reddetransicion.org/donde/ and worldwide at https://municipalitiesintransition.org/about-the-case-studies/case-studies/ and at https://transitiongroups.org/es/ mainly cover topics such as agriculture and food, health, environmental and social awareness, care, renewable energies, community work, education and economics, among other things (Cassanet & Red de Transición, 2020) in line with ecofeminisms4For a list of Spanish ecofeminist projects, see the mapping carried out by Ecologists in actsion, at: https://www.ecologistasenaccion.org/mapas/mapeoecofem/. As they are local projects, adapted to the territory and its people, their degree of impact can be considered anecdotal. This false dichotomy between acting on a large or local scale discredits the small scale when both are unavoidable (Herrero, 2013). Participation in small initiatives —which are, in many cases, political exercises better adapted to the territory than to the politics of large institutions— is absolutely essential to recover valuable community links and to put interdependence and care into practice. The sense of being able to change something in our environment, which is facilitated by acting on a small scale, is crucial for the survival of these movements and the appreciation of collective action. Collectively practising self-reflection, debate, dialogue, consensus and renunciation enables and empowers us to deal with things on a big scale when the time comes. This is not a matter of one thing or the other, rather multiple ideas that are complementary to one another.
Talking about ecofeminism from within the transition movement means looking for examples of its practical application. We find hints of this approach in projects that put life and community at the centre, rather than the reproduction of capital like so many co-operatives (such as the Bristol Energy Cooperative5https://bristolenergy.coop/) and anti-extractivist movements. The organisation of the initiatives itself also pays attention to the care and the internal transition and resilience of its members, although attention to care is only represents 50% of the initiatives (Cassanet & Red de Transición, 2020, p. 16) with a special focus on emotions in the group (known colloquially as emotion guardianship). Other clues are the adoption of consensus-based decision-making methods such as Sociocracy 3.0, the promotion of resilience and family reconciliation, attention to the celebrations and mourning that the group goes through, taking care of the collective so as not to overwhelm the core group, assuming that their relief is necessary due to the wear and tear and vulnerability of the bodies and minds that are in need of care. This is not to say that every transition project is an ecofeminist project. Many do not pay attention to inequity or social justice, nor are they so mindful of putting life at the centre. In fact, it is difficult to find transition groups that are also willing to identify as ecofeminist, as is the case of Butroi Bizirik6https://butroientransicion.org/ in the Basque Country, which are listed both in the Transition Network and in the mapping of ecofeminist projects by Ecologists in action. On the contrary, not all ecofeminist projects are transitional, since it is essential for this movement to progress to real action on a local scale (agro-ecology and the creation of urban gardens, energy cooperatives, repair workshops, consumer groups, education and awareness-raising, water management, etc.), which does not always manifest as ecofeminist projects that go beyond meetings, talks and debates, and they do not transform the environment. Many ecofeminist projects that would serve as a perfect example of transition, since they meet the characteristics, such as the anti-extractivist movement, ignore or disregard this label, and the Transition Network itself; the situation is also true vice-versa.
It must be considered that labels and categories always start from somewhere, from a concrete vision of the world that has its limits, its prejudices and its starting point of view, they are not neutral. Labels are often rejected out of ignorance in many cases, mistrust in others, confusion of meanings, fear of rejection by others, or because they are considered unnecessary. This refusal to self-classify is common in both the feminist and transitional movements. This makes it all the more difficult to follow the ecofeminist trail in a movement in which the vast majority of projects do not call themselves transitional and are not included in the mapping. It is necessary to read between the lines, to ascribe labels on the basis of criteria from the outside, to know on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, on the contrary, identification with one’s own movement, with the name that the person or group has given itself, is such that it is equally difficult to build bridges with other very similar ideologies, but with a different name or label, even though they are basically frameworks of thought that feed back on each other, as is the case with ecofeminism and transition.
The Ecofeminist Transition
So, is an ecofeminist transition necessary? What does the ecofeminist perspective bring to the transition? The Western world is an oil society that puts labour and debt at the centre. When the consequences of this are on our doorstep, as in the so-called sacrifice zones in Chile or in other regions suffering from extractivism, the links between the deterioration of the biosphere and human lives (especially those of women) become obvious. In places where the extractivism, preference for male work, masculinisation of the territory, prostitution-relegation of women to the domestic sphere, degradation of land, air, water, soil-loss of agricultural and livestock, work-disappearance begins of the diversified economy exercised by women, underestimation of the role of women in society, pollution and health conditions, dependence on the extractive company, more extractivism, and back to square one, the degradation of the environment is clearly manifested in parallel to the degradation of the role of women. In these cases, territorial feminisms fully embody the goals of the transition to sustainability by transcending labels to initiate women-led resistance movements. There, even more than in affluent European societies, it is clear that just transition cannot happen without the ecofeminist vision, without equity, without the recognition of the value of life over capitalist accumulation, without attention to care whether in the family, at work or in the transition group, without collective work and equal rights and opportunities – all essential ecofeminist values. As Herrero puts it: “The culture of care will have to be rescued and serve as a central inspiration for a socially and ecologically sustainable society” (Pascual Rodríguez & Herrero López, 2010, p. 7).
Cassanet, L. y Red de Transición. (2020). El movimiento de Transición en el Estado español. Actualización del mapa de iniciativas locales de Transición (2014-2017).
Herrero, Y. (2013). Yayo Herrero: Propuestas ecofeministas para transitar a un mundo justo y sostenible.
Herrero, Y., FUHEM y Ecologistas en acción. (2014). Retos del movimiento ecologista ante la crisis global. Revista Andaluza de Antropología, 6 (Los movimientos sociales y la contestación al orden global.), 99–119.
Pascual Rodríguez, M. y Herrero López, Y. (2010). Ecofeminismo, una propuesta para repensar el presente y construir el futuro. Boletín ECOS FUHEM CIP Ecosocial, 10, 1–8.
Puig, F. (2016). Usted no se lo cree. 12/10/2016.
Puleo, A. H. (2011). Ecofeminismo para otro mundo posible. Ediciones Cátedra.
Nuria Sánchez León – Biography
Nuria Sánchez Léon, La Línea de la Concepción, 1980. Environmentalist and artist, PhD in Fine Arts from the Universitat Polytechnic University of Valencia and lecturer at the Faculty of Education at the University of Zaragoza. She also teaches part of the postgraduate Diploma in Sustainability, Ecological Ethics and Environmental Education (UPV-UAM), having collaborated in its implementation. She is a member of the R&D team for Ecological Humanities and Ecosocial Transitions. Ethical, aesthetic and pedagogical proposals for the Anthropocene (2020-22). She focuses her research on artistic resources as empathy enhancers in processes of transition to sustainability and scientific learning. Her artistic career is linked to sustainability, and especially to painting and collaborative art. She has collaborated with the Transition Network, with the European Sustainable Communities Day and has published several articles and chapters in national journals, conferences and books such as Humanidades ambientales. Arte pensamiento y relatos para el siglo de la gran prueba (Catarata, 2018), Arte transicional para el Capitaloceno (Art and Identity Policies Magazine, 2019) and is co-editor of the EMIG collection (Multidisciplinary Education for Gender Equality ) from the UPV publishing house (2017, 2019 and 2022).
- 1In this text we use ecofeminisms in the plural to take into account the diversity of existing ecofeminisms as a whole (Puleo, 2011): classical, culturalist, essentialist, spiritual and constructivist, among others, although among these groups there are important differences in what concerns us herein, which is their practical application, the plural is more accurate since their forms of action are similar.
- 3A mapping of initiatives in Spain is available at: https://www.reddetransicion.org/donde/ and worldwide at https://municipalitiesintransition.org/about-the-case-studies/case-studies/ and at https://transitiongroups.org/es/
- 4For a list of Spanish ecofeminist projects, see the mapping carried out by Ecologists in actsion, at: https://www.ecologistasenaccion.org/mapas/mapeoecofem/