In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ecofeminism and International Law

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Origins of Ecofeminism
  • The Main Critiques of Early Ecofeminism

International Law Ecofeminism and International Law
Karen Morrow
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0237


Ecofeminism as a philosophical framing for critique of social praxis has the potential to be applied in many contexts, and given its antecedents in feminist theory and ecology, international environmental law is a particularly fruitful area of inquiry in this regard. The synergies generated by a base of inquiry that attends to women’s chronic under-representation in decision-making and over-representation among the poor, who bear the brunt of the environmental degradation that is prompted by gendered, hierarchical, social practices, coupled with an understanding that the environment itself is adversely affected by the latter, are hugely interesting in the context of environmental law at all levels, not least the international (more broadly see the article “Feminist Approaches to International Law” in Oxford Bibliographies in International Law). In the international law context ecofeminism is germane to the examination of the intersections between environmental degradation and human inequality. Use of the term ecofeminism, however, erroneously suggests a unity of approach: accounts of development in the area demonstrate significant diversity across essentialist, through cultural/liberal, to socialist ecofeminisms. Briefly, essentialist/affinity ecofeminisms, rooted in radical feminism, emerged from the work of theologians and artists in the United States and use biology and/or spirituality to argue for an inherent affinity between women and the environment on a personal level. Cultural ecofeminism shares some elements with essentialist ecofeminism, but centrally promotes a form of structural reversal, promoting the valorization of the devalued, in this case women and nature. In seeking recognition and accommodation of equality/difference within current societal values, cultural ecofeminism is a manifestation of equality-oriented liberal feminism. Socialist ecofeminisms, also rooted in radical feminism, came to the forefront of ecofeminism as it developed, and are based the idea of a socially constructed special relationship between women and the environment. Ecofeminisms have also developed over time to embrace intersectional analysis, accommodating gender alongside race, ethnicity, class, age, and ableism and the links between them through compound disadvantage. Socialist ecofeminisms promote societal re-ordering, dismantling dualism and patriarchy, replacing them with egalitarianism applied to both non-gendered humanity and nature. While ecofeminisms have always been diverse, they share core elements, tending to combine theory and activism (the latter valuing the role of lived experience); and focus on hierarchical dualism, as applied to both women and nature, as variously expressed in “othering,” oppression, and exploitation. Ecofeminisms have also, facilitated by embracing intersectionality to address the complexity of compound oppression, often sought to forge coalitions and alliances with other areas of activism.

General Overviews

Of the several works that provide an overview of the emergence of ecofeminism, Mellor 1997 offers a strong and detailed account of the emergence of ecofeminism and the various strands that comprise it. For a concise overview that gives a good introduction to key developments in the area see Twine 2001. Buckingham 2002, and Adams and Gruen 2014, provide overviews with particular emphasis on activist ecofeminism, representing an important strand of ecofeminist thought and praxis. Latterly, as indicated by Glazebrook 2021, it is apparent that ecofeminism can and should look to areas of commonality with other areas of traditional and indigenous thought, in a shared rejection of Enlightenment-dominated worldviews and their perpetuation in postmodern scholarship. Another emerging strand of ecofeminist thought sees the application of explicitly interdisciplinary approaches, evidenced in Iniesta-Arandia, et al. 2016 reflecting broader developments in the academy and chiming with the eclectic roots of ecofeminist activism and scholarship. Membership of the international legal community has shifted, not least in the wake of the adoption of sustainable development under the auspices of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, bridging the gap between traditional state-centric, top-down international law and civil society focused on bottom-up activism. The ecofeminist blend of theory and activism offers a valuable tool for responding to this change. Suresh 2021 illustrates the syntheses of ecofeminist theory with fieldwork interrogating grass roots NGO activity, specifically in a Global South setting.

  • Adams, Carole J., and Lori Gruen, eds. Ecofeminism: Feminist Intersections with Other Animals and the Earth. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.

    This is an introductory textbook level compilation of the work of a diverse range of ecofeminist authors, drawing together key elements of ecofeminism in a user-friendly, cross-disciplinary setting, and adopting intersectional coverage of historical, activist, and theoretical perspectives of ecofeminism.

  • Buckingham, Susan. “Ecofeminism in the Twenty-First Century.” Geographical Journal 170.2 (2002): 146–154.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0016-7398.2004.00116.x

    This paper reviews two decades of ecofeminist thought and activism, focusing on socially constructed ecofeminism and considers its incremental impact on policy in the United Kingdom and Europe. The paper concludes by examining future directions of travel on issues linking feminist and environment concerns.

  • Glazebrook, Tricia. “What Is Worth Knowing? Science, Knowledge, and Gendered and Indigenous Knowledge-Systems.” Axiomathes 31 (2021): 727–741.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10516-021-09597-w

    This article considers the impoverishing role of the philosophy of science in ascribing primacy to post-Enlightenment, ostensibly objective, scientific knowledge, while devaluing situated indigenous, traditional, and gendered knowledges. The piece examines the possibilities of retrieving a viable position for alternative knowledges in the context of ecosystems services. The observations made are however broadly applicable to prevailing technocentric treatment of environmental issues in environmental law at all levels, including the international.

  • Iniesta-Arandia, Irene, Frederica Ravera, Stephanie Buechler, et al. “A Synthesis of Convergent Reflections, Tensions and Silences in Linking Gender and Global Environmental Change Research.” In Special Issue: Gender perspectives in resilience, vulnerability and adaptation to global environmental change, Ambio 45 (Suppl. 3) (2016): S383–S393.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13280-016-0843-0

    This synthesis article introduces a journal special edition that brings together authors from across disciplines and the globe. It develops a reflective dialogue on gender and feminist approaches to research on responses to global environmental change—key concerns for international law. It discusses important themes, including methodology, embedded power relations, intersectionality, and resilience and introduces broad-ranging empirical research from case studies drawn from both Global North and South.

  • Mellor, Mary. Feminism and Ecology. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 1997.

    In this text, which provides an excellent introduction to the pluralism of ecofeminisms, Mellor explores the roots of the broad range of early ecofeminist thinking, ranging across various forms of essentialist (cultural/spiritual/affinity) through liberal to materialist/socialist/Marxist incarnations. Mellor points to ecofeminisms’ important accommodation of both common interest and difference and to the centrality of embodiment (reflecting biological existence) and embeddedness (within the surrounding ecosystem) to it.

  • Suresh, Lavanya. “Understanding the Relationship Between Sustainability and Ecofeminism in an Indian Context.” Journal of Developing Societies 37.1 (2021): 116–135.

    DOI: 10.1177/0169796X211001648

    This article, founded in part on Agarwal’s work (see Agarwal 1992 under The Main Critiques of Early Ecofeminism) applies the main strands of ecofeminist thought to the friction between sustainability and the treatment of gender under the Sustainable Development Goals. It deploys a case study to interrogate the tensions between local non-governmental organizations’ delivery of gains for sustainability, while reinforcing existing patriarchal power relations and failing on gender equality.

  • Twine, Richard T. “Ecofeminisms in Process.” e-Journal, 2001.

    This article provides a very well referenced, concise, and accessible introduction to the emergence and development of ecofeminism, offering the author’s view of its origins and evolution and providing a useful account of key strands of theory and topics of debate in the field. It is of particular value in eschewing the idea of a singular, hegemonic “ecofeminism,” pointing instead to the existence of many and diverse “ecofeminisms.”

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