Influential Ecofeminists

Written by Juliette Roussel

  • Françoise d’Eaubonne (France)

Françoise d’Eaubonne is a very important figure of feminist movements in France. She was born in 1920 and died in 2005. First, she’s well known as a talented self-taught roman writer since she stopped her education at the baccalaureate. During the Second World War, she joined the Resistance and the Communist Party after the war for a short time. Later, she was strongly opposed to the war in Algeria. In addition to her famous novels, she wrote several essays in accordance with her militantism. When, Simone de Beauvoir’s book Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) is published in 1949, Françoise d’Eaubonne supports de Beauvoir’s ideas and even complete her arguments Le Complexe de Diane (Diane’s complexe). While trying to explain the reason why women have been excluded from power she starts to connect feminist struggles with class struggles and she starts to explain that the revolutions are connected to women’s conditions. In the 70s, she started to engage herself more and more by writing about homosexuality and women and men’s emancipation… She was a more marginalised figure of feminism in France as she was staying more with organisations of gay men. With some friends, she even created the “Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire” (FHAR) (Revolutionary Action of Homosexual Front). A friend from this organisation started to raise her awareness on the environmental issues which launched her theorisation of ecofeminism in her book Le Féminisme ou la Mort (Feminism or death). She explains the relation between the environmental struggle and the fight against patriarchy. This new theorisation follows the path of her previous theories on the convergence of the struggles. In 1978, she created the organisation “Ecologie-Féminisme” but it was not a big success in France. However, in the U.S.A. and Australia, the questions of ecofeminism interested the scholars, and she was even invited to some conferences in the U.S.A. 

  • Vandana Shiva (India)

Vandana Shiva is an anti-globalization author, as well as an Indian academic, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and one of the most famous ecofeminists in the world. She is an important figure of the anti-globalization movement and a figurehead in the opposition against GMOs and has promoted organic agriculture and biodiversity’s importance for a long time. She was born in 1952, in Dehradun, in India. Her mother was a farmer and her father a forester. She studied physics at the University of Panjab. In the 1970s, when she was still in her early twenties, Vandana Shiva joined the nonviolent women’s group “Chipko”, to fight deforestation in northern India’s highlands. Chipko women would embrace trees and form circles around them to protect the forests. Thus, she became a “tree-hugger,” following in the footsteps of Amrita Devi, who three centuries earlier, in 1730, hugged a tree to prevent soldiers sent by the Raja of Jaipur from chopping it down along with the rest of the forest that the Bishnoi tribe called home. Later, she created the organisation called Navdanya to fight the use of GMOs in India which prevented the big companies from patenting their GMO innovations. 

Regarding gender issues, the book ‘Staying Alive’ (1988) was significant in changing people’s perceptions about Third World women. She wrote on how Indian rural women’s experiences of environmental damage were essential to comprehending environmental issues. She, thus, wrote an ecofeminist book by taking a feminist lens to look at environmental issues. Vandana Shiva established the gender unit at Kathmandu’s International Centre for Mountain Development (ICMOD). She was also a key member of the Women Environment and Development Organization‘s founding committee. She also created the international Diverse Women for Diversity organization, which is the gender programme of her organisation Navdanya to encourage women’s involvement in food and agriculture. In 1993, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, known as an “alternative Nobel Prize.” She established Bija Vidyapeeth, or the Earth University, an international college in 2004 where she holds meetings on organic agricultural practices and natural pesticides, among other things.

The Earth University teaches Earth Democracy, which is the freedom for all species to evolve within the web of life, and the freedom and responsibility of humans, as members of the Earth family, to recognize, protect, and respect the rights of other species. Earth Democracy is a shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. And since we all depend on the Earth, Earth Democracy translates into human rights to food and water, to freedom from hunger and thirst.”

In September 2019, the published book, One Earth, One Humanity vs. the 1%, in which she looks at major figures in the global economy such as the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. She denounces the destructive impact of the model of economic development pursued by the multinationals they have created – an impact as much social as political and ecological, under what she calls “philanthrocapitalism”.

  • Starhawk (USA)

Starhawk is a significant voice in modern ecofeminism, as well as an author, activist, philosopher, permaculture designer, and teacher. She was born on June 17th, 1951 under the name of Miriam Simos. Starhawk won the Samuel Goldwyn Creative Writing Award while a graduate student in Film at U.C.L.A. In 1982, she graduated from Antioch University West with an M.A. in Psychology with a focus on Feminist Therapy. She has taught at John F. Kennedy University, Antioch West, and the Institute of Culture and Technology in the Bay Area (USA) and was also a psychotherapist in San Francisco. In addition, she is known as an anti-nuclear, alter-globalist and anti-military activist. She also works on the power of language and how it can manipulate people. However, she declares herself to be a witch instead of a philosopher or psychotherapist that is why she is also a spiritual figure. She practices “Wicca,” a modern Pagan religion, that she sees as a feminist religion. Starhawk delved into the origins of the Wiccan renaissance in prehistory, relating witchcraft to tribal, shamanic activities rather than patriarchal world religions. She linked the persecution of indigenous European, nature-based faiths to medieval mass witch hunts. She uses these words because she argues that these words “magic”, “witch” or “goddess” connect her more to nature. Furthermore, she explains that what is seen as ridiculous must be re-appropriated to break the power structure of language. In this manner, she empowers herself by breaking the norms. In 1981, with her famous “Don Diablo Canyon blockade” in California, she succeeded in preventing the opening of a nuclear power station by singing and invoking divinities with a group of witches called Matrix. The action gathers more than 2000 people and many activists are arrested including Starhawk. While detained with the others arrested, Starhawk and some others decide to start a ritual which is followed by the rest of the people there. As soon as they are released, they go back to the nuclear power station to do another ritual. Some days later, the engineers realised that the security conditions were not good enough to open it. The opening was delayed by a few years. Starhawk does not claim to cause supernatural phenomena but she explains that it is due to the change of a consciousness state. During the 1990s, Starhawk’s Wicca evangelicalism was maintained by teaching week-long “Witch Camps” and campaigning for the Covenant of the Goddess, a legally recognized Church since 1975. She also took part in protests against the clear-cutting of old-growth redwoods. Starhawk built a home page on the Internet to keep up with the computer era, including information on her appearances and witch camps.

Conversation with Starhawk:

Her website: 

  • Maria Mies (Germany)

Maria Mies was born in Germany in 1931. She was a German and English teacher who decided to travel by working at the Goethe Instituts in South East Asia. She travelled to India where she discovered the important patriarchal system established there. She came back to Germany and started to study Sociology. She wrote her PHD in Cologne about Indian women between patriarchy and equality of chance: conflict of roles between students and working women. She also started to participate in various protests such as against the war in Vietnam, the emergency laws, the oppressive norms installed by the church. She thus started to see the religions as very oppressive for women. In Cologne, she created a women’s house for women victims of men’s violence. She went back to India in 1978 to do some research about women’s production of subsistence. Throughout this research, she realised that another huge problem faced by women was capitalism. In 1980, when the movement of ecofeminism became popular in the USA, she started to be interested in writing a book about this topic. She convinced Vandana Shiva to write this book with her in which they explain the similarities between violence done against women and violence done against nature. In the 1990s, she stood against liberalism, privatisation and globalisation and joined some organisations campaigning against this. 

  • Wangari Maathai (Kenya)

Wangari Maathai was an environmental and human rights activist as well as a Kenyan academic. She was born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940 and died in 2011. She obtained a doctorate in biology in the USA for which she became the first woman in East, Central Africa to have a PhD. Later, she continued her research in Germany and Nairobi and then became a professor in Nairobi. In 1970, she created the Green Belt Movement to empower women and fight for the environment at the same time and improve people’s living conditions by planting trees. This organisation developed a pan-African environmental movement encouraging people to be interested in this approach. Maathai emphasized the strong link between African feminism and African ecological activism, which fight both patriarchal and neocolonial institutions weakening the continent, as the first environmentalist to earn the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was also elected to the Kenyan parliament in 2002 and became second-in-command at the minister for the Environment and Natural Resources of Kenya.

  • Ruth Nyambura (Kenya)

Ruth Nyambura is an environmentalist and Marxist Kenyan activist and scholar making all her battles one. As a member of the African EcoFeminist Collective, she draws on radical and African feminist traditions to question authority, challenge multinational capitalism, and reimagine a more equitable society. Her research focuses on food policies in Africa. She advocates for a trans-national as well as a regional work of feminists for the environment. With the Global Forest Coalition (GFC), she launched the #OurNatureIsNotYourSolution with which she criticises the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for allowing environmentally damaging monoculture tree plantations to be classified as “planted forests.” This is a purposeful mislabeling that allows the tree plantation business to get desperately needed and severely restricted climate money while simultaneously making it easier to compensate for deforestation through plantation development. In this way, she explains that it is a danger for the biodiversity and indigenous people who are ejected from their land. She wants to draw attention to how the environment and biodiversity are being privatized. She also highlights the perspectives and regenerative solutions of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and women who are on the frontlines of the current biodiversity and climate crises.

  • Mariama Sonko (Senegal)

Mariama has been a movement leader since 1990, working diligently to empower indigenous women and regain agricultural autonomy in West Africa by campaigning for agricultural and land ownership rights. Daughter of rural farmers, Mariam Sonko grew up in the countryside of Senegal where she learned a lot about cultivating the land, agroecology. At a young age, she understood how important the role of food production was in the environment. In an interview, she explains that women take the lead in her community by selecting the best seeds. When her husband was at work she was organising the women of the village to discuss some development projects for the village. In 1999, she was appointed District Chairperson of Naguis (Senegal) Women’s Advancement Groups, a position she still holds today. In 2001, during the General Assembly of the Association of Young Farmers of Casamance (AJAC), she was appointed general treasurer. She was also working as a facilitator of meetings focused on peace, crafts, microcredit and agriculture. In addition, she was cultivating but in an ecological way since she was using chemical products. Later, she stopped using chemical products to practice agroecology with the help of the traditional practices which she taught to other women. She has established a movement based on mobilizing local women to solve many of the problems they confront, including integrating women’s leadership and participation in democracy, sexual and reproductive rights, and the abolition of female genital mutilation (FGM). Mariama is an ecofeminist because she focused on organizing rural women throughout her region and country, as well as the link between organizing for sustainable agricultural practices and the role of women in democratic decision-making, control over their livelihoods, lands, and bodies, as they began to address FGM and sexual and reproductive health rights, political rights.

Interesting Ted talks to go deeper:

Ted talk by Vandana Shiva:

Ted talk by Julia Mason:

Ted talk by Heidi Hutner: 

Interview of Emilie Hache:

Interview of Vandana Shiva: