Feminist Spotlight: Vandana Shiva

shiva(image unattributed)

If you don’t know who Vandana Shiva is you should, or more importantly, you should rush to the library or South End Press and pick up some of her books.

Women were, really, in my view, the ones who domesticated plants, created agriculture. And as long as women were controlling agriculture, agriculture produced real food. Agriculture was based on [women’s learned and passed on] knowledge. A Women’s centered agriculture never created scarcity. As long as women controlled the food system you did not have a billion people going without food and you didn’t have 2 billion going obese and w/diabetes. This is the magic of patriarchy having taken over the food system. Earlier, patriarchy left food to women, modern patriarchy wants to control food . . . women’s knowledge has been removed from agriculture . . .we can only have a secure food culture if women come back into agriculture. – Shiva Interview

Shiva works on environmental feminism and social justice. Her’s is a philosophy devoid of the kind of cultural appropriation that often typifies the genre. As part of a new, or newly recognized, cadre of feminist environmentalists that includes Winona LaDuke, Arhundati Roy, and the like, Shiva offers people committed to a decolonized feminist praxis a way of understanding the active part that the environment plays in social justice work.

Her efforts to stop corporations like Mansanto and Coca Cola from destroying seed and water has helped her leed non-violent protests, public intellectual engagement, and the formation of both formal and informal global networks of women and their allies for a sustainable world. Shiva is a founding board member of the International Forum on Globalization and the founder of Navdanya International, a science and policy research center, which includes Diverse Women for Diversity, which seeks to honor all women’s knowledge and center all women’s needs in a sustainable future. She has won several international awards for her work, including from the UN. In 1993, she won the Right Livelihood award, known as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize, “for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern discourse.” (see RLA) She has also sponsored women’s seminars on environmentalism and encouraged what she once referred to as the “grandmother’s college” to encourage younger women to learn the knowledge that older women posess but that has been shoved out or devalued in favor of modern/masculine ways of knowing.

Her books include:

  • Biopiracy – in which she documents the use of patents by the U.S., Canada, Britian, and others to literally claim ownership of indigenous lives and lifestyles as well as ownership of flora and fauna that has grown or been cultivated by “third world” people since before colonialism.
  • Earth Democracy – which outlines the disconnect between a philosophy of “the commons,” or things held in common good, and privatization or global capitalism. She outlines some of the histories of commons based societies, including in the West, and how we can get back to those if we choose people over profit.
  • Stolen Harvest – a well researched and impassioned piece on the impact of genetic engineering and corporate farming on the safety of our food and the livelihood of our farmers.
  • Water Wars – focusing on water this time she unveils the multiple ways in which global capitalism and MNCs are eroding or polluting water resources around the world and the impact that both is having on people, communities, economies, and the world. She indicts several specific and popular companies for stealing water until there is none left and what it means to consume their products.

Her discussion of water in particular, connected the issues of environmentalism to women’s labor, health, and safety from violence. She has been asked to speak on multiple documentaries on the issue because of how salient the issue of women’s rights and environmentalism actually are in a world in which women are the last to eat, the first to be depended on to maintain household needs under stress, and seen as imminently violatable, rapeable, when they are walking for water.

(ADB Water Doc. outlines connections, since Shiva water comments not available on youtube)

I regularly teach both Earth Democracy and Water Wars as well as chapters from Biopiracy. Very few other books on my regular teaching list motivate my students more to ask questions about inequality, economy, and accountability. Even fewer help them to do so while making clear and present links to feminism and women’s rights.

In the segment below Shiva connects “Free” Trade Agreements, The War on Terror, and Environmentalism in ways that show how easy it is to make these connections when you are dealing with a global feminist social justice mindframe:

As much as women as water providers stretch their energies, walk miles . . . there is a limit beyond which one cannot walk – Shiva in One Water Documentary

Her books are short, most under 175 pages, and written with the lay person in mind. Most of my students report reading them in 1-2 days when getting them to read a 10 page article often takes the strength of thousands. In keeping with Southend Press’ feminist commitment to making social justice texts affordable and readily available, Shiva’s books never cost more than $20 and are often between $10-$15 which is great for universities such as mine where the cost of books can mean the difference between taking or not taking a class.

She recently edited a “manual for sustainability” called Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed as well.

If you are interested in hearing a much longer discussion of her work by Shiva herself, click here. (video is 1 hour 15 min)

If anyone is interested in doing a blog-a-round on any of these texts, or preferrably several of them, please let me know. I think it would be great to have a multi-blog conversation about these texts as a key example of doing feminism from a decolonized, radical, social justice perspective. Rather than continuing to fight over what that means, why don’t we follow in the footsteps of the seed movement, typified by communal meetings and sharing of feminist voices like Shiva’s and LaDuke’s, and actual show each other the work in the hopes of bring each other along?

Even if you don’t want to discuss her work in the public space of blogging, here are a few of her essays on women and ecology to get you started on your own thinking about what she has to say and what it means to feminism this Women’s History Month:

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