The works we read this week showed us many different aspects of how environmental degradation can affect those of lower economic status and, specifically, how they can affect women at a higher rate. The reading The Chipko Movement addresses this issue directly as it discusses the 1970s movement in India. After being denied the right to use wood from part of the local forest for tools, villagers in the Alakananda valley were angry when they learned that the government implemented other plans for the land in that area. Instead of using the forest’s resources for something useful for their village, the government put the area to use as grounds for a sports company. Women that lived in the area protested, and were able to save the land from being razed, but not without a new term being coined in the process.
When the protests like these became popular, it birthed the term ‘tree hugger’, due to people forming circles around the trees in order to save them. Language such as this is meant to be derogatory, which discredits those in the movement – women, in these cases – in order for the ones using it to be taken more seriously. Not only did the Indian government in this example think it was ok to use the land to their own arguably selfish advantage, they thought it would be ok to risk the livelihood of the women and children who depended on it, as well.
A similar sentiment is brought up in the article “Speak Truth to Power” by Wangari Maathai, as it shows women’s innate connection to nature. Since they are the primary food and water source for their families, they are the first to “notice when the food they feed their family is tainted with pollutants or impurities” (Maathai, 2000). The health of the earth is manifested in the health of the children that ingest these resources – when water and crops are bad, their children become ill and sickly. Editor Kerry Kennedy explains the work Wangari Maathai did in order to ensure women in Africa had seedlings to grown trees to help “stop soil erosion, provide shade, and create a source of lumber and firewood” (Maathai, 2000). Maathai came up with a plan to plant millions of trees throughout Africa and the rest of the world. She called this the Green Belt Movement.
This plan not only motivated countess women throughout Africa, it gave them confidence in their abilities and encouraged other women and neighbors to become involved. The movement grew, but came to a head when oppressive forces decided they wanted to transform a piece of land that community members accessed for free. The Nairobi government attempted to build a large building in this public space in Uhuru Park, but Maathai and those helping her in this mission protested against it. Just like the government wanted to oppress nature by way of this public park, they decided to oppress these women as well, when they had a valid opposition to it. They attempted many things in attempts to embarrass and dismiss them, but seemingly nothing in the way of bringing in a valid counter-argument.
All of this being said, I do agree with the question of material deprivations relating to deeper issues of disempowerment. Men and those in power are threatened by strong, capable, outspoken women. They resort to childish tactics of name calling and bullying instead of joining the fight with integrity, facts and intelligence. President Moi’s “ruling party parliamentarians threatened to mutilate her genitals in order to force Maathai to behave ‘like women should’’ (Maathai, 2000). I’ve learned that when things like this happen, this is how you know you’re right in your argument…but that it is also an unwinnable one. Though I do believe this is true on both sides of the coin. I think when people resort to this style of fighting, they know they don’t have very solid ground to stand on, so they try to ruin one’s credibility, and embarrass and stress them out enough that they will eventually back down. As she said in the article, “Parliament was just being mean, chauvinistic, and downright dirty…I know I was right, and they were wrong” (Maathai, 2000). Actions like this are an unbelievable overreaction. There will likely always be people with too much power that wish to wield that on others to ensure they always stay in control. Without help from our governments, and without our oppressors realizing we are all on the same side, with no one person being more important than the next, we will have a long route to go until we are all equal.