Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She accomplished incredible things throughout her life, even though her road was sometimes challenging. She was born in rural Kenya in 1940, and her childhood was marked by difficulties like the obstacles faced by girls to access formal education. She escaped the Mau Mau uprising war and had to part ways with her family from an early age.
Upon returning to her hometown and seeing that women’s streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel, she understood she needed to use her voice and position to help these rural communities. She founded the Green Belt Movement, “an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods” (The Green Belt Movement). To this day, they do amazing work, and it is one of the most influential and well-known grassroots organizations addressing the problem of global deforestation.
After centuries of being denied access to many spaces, practices, conversations, and occupations, women have increasingly claimed their rightful place in the world by doing all types of things. In different fields, women have shown why they deserve the space they have earned by proving their worth through fantastic work and dedication. This doesn’t mean that things are now fully equal or that the gender inequality challenges have been solved. It also doesn’t mean that all women live more freely now; the sad reality is that millions of women are still denied fundamental rights and privileges. In many places, they still face unimaginable challenges. But it is true that efforts and work put in the right direction have taken us one step closer to the goal.
What? A real-life superpower?
Women have fought against too many old, restrictive rules defined by stereotypes and false foundations for a very long time. This exhaustive fight that continues to be fought has led to the opening of many possibilities: fundamental human rights that were denied in former times, career opportunities of all types, access to education, and above all, the possibility of choice. The choice over one’s body, mind, beliefs, and actions.
Being able to hold the power of decision-making over your own life is one of the most valuable things to have. The possibility of choice is a real-life superpower, and a person who can make decisions for themselves is a free person. Autonomy is directly built on the possibility of choice for oneself. Thus, whenever women can make decisions for themselves, they hold a superpower.
The fact that women have had the power of choice withheld from them over so many generations is exactly the reason to use it wisely and consciously now that many of us have claimed it back. Since making choices was not permitted to us for so long, we can decide to see our opportunity of making choices as a gift, not in the way of something given to us by somebody else, but as something that rightfully belongs to us and still has a fresh, new feeling to it. This way, it allows space for reflection.
Let me propose an example to be more clear: If you´ve had a particular thing for a very long time, or even since you can remember, then it is more likely that you never stop to think about it. Say a kid has a green ball, this ball was passed down from his father and along with the ball, came the instructions for the game that is to be played with it: tag. One day, the boy meets a neighbor his age. The neighbor has some other toys but has never had a ball. When the kid shows the ball to his new neighbor, the neighbor starts thinking of countless ways to play with the green ball. The newness of the green ball brings with it so many options, it allows for creativity; until, that is, it becomes old.
When we think of our power to make choices, we should think of it as the green ball from the neighbor’s point of view: we should never take it for granted, for this way, we allow it to feel fresh, and therefore, we create the space to reflect about how we can use it. Our super power is activated when we exercise our right to make choices and choose to take up space, make ourselves heard, open doors for ourselves and other women and consider that our choices have impact.
The bond between women and nature
It is widely said that women hold some sort of special relationship with the natural world. Different takes and theories on this relationship make up a variety of tendencies within the ecofeminist community.
Some authors, like Françoise d’Eaubonne (1920-2005), state this relationship is a direct result of the submission under which the patriarchal system has historically held both women and nature. D’Eaubonne was the author who first proposed the term “ecofeminism.”
- Classical essentialist ecofeminism
In this current, it is believed that women’s cyclic and reproductive biological traits are similar to those seen in the non-human natural world, like the menstrual cycle and the moon cycle; hence that is what links them to the natural world more closely.
- Constructivist ecofeminism
This theory argues that the gender roles that have been assigned and reproduced systematically over time -mainly referring to the sexual division of labour- have put women in places that are in close touch with nature. For example: In regions with no running water, women are primarily responsible for fetching it and carrying it back to their homes. Therefore, women are the first to be in contact with water sources. Other traditionally sexually-divided activities like food making, laundry, gardening, etc., also require women to have close contact with nature.
- Animalist or vegan ecofeminism
This view states that women and animals have been subjects of domination and exploitation by parallel logics and that is where the link between women and nature rests.
Whatever the bond between women and nature may be due to, one thing is for certain: we are linked to the natural world and we cannot think of women as independent from nature.
Let’s save both
If we accept that there is a bond between women and the natural world, and we also accept that whenever we have the power of choice, we also hold a great responsibility, then we have reasons to believe that we must use our power to fight not only for our own rights and benefit, but also for the sake of nature. In defending ourselves from oppressive systems, it is possible -and urgent- to defend our planet and its great biodiversity. This also works the other way around: since we are a part of nature, we experience everything that happens to it. This way, when we defend and protect nature, we are defending and protecting ourselves.
Our bond with the natural world keeps us close to the environment and its elements. We depend on nature both directly and indirectly. The food we eat, the water we drink and use, the air we breathe, the materials we need for building… the list goes on. When the planet suffers damage, humans experience the consequences. Furthermore, women who are more closely related and in contact with nature first-hand are the first to feel the results of environmental destruction. When a water source is polluted by toxic chemicals and hazardous particles, women and girls responsible for fetching water are the first people to fall ill and develop serious health conditions.
When we care for the planet and its elements and ecosystems, we are also caring for us humans, and especially for women. When we fight for our planet´s wellbeing, we are also fighting for ourselves. When we keep our water sources clean, our soil healthy and our air fresh, we are helping women and girls. It is our responsibility to choose to care both for the planet and for ourselves.
We must choose to speak up, show up, and fight for our beloved planet. It is in our power to become healers for the Earth. On every step we take, every new place we enter, every word we say, every single choice we make, each one of us from our own standing place, we hold the power to make a change. Women can do anything we put our minds to, and in every woman and every girl on Earth lies a powerful possibility to be the change we want to see in the world. The only thing we need to do, the very first step is to use our superpower and choose to be the change. Try it for yourself, say it out loud “I choose to be the change” and notice how you feel, embrace your determination, blossom in your power. You can be the change our planet needs, we all can be, and that’s why we will make it.