Staying alive : women, ecology, and survival in India

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Development thus, is equivalent to maldevelopment, a development bereft of the feminine, the conservation, the ecological principle. The neglect of nature's work in renewing herself, and women's work in producing sustenance in the form of basic, vital needs is an essential part of the paradigm of maldevelopment, which sees all work that does not produce profits and capital as non or unproductive work. As Maria Mies 6 has pointed out, this concept of surplus has a patriarchal bias because, from the point of view of nature and women, it is not based on material surplus produced over and above the requirements of the community: it is stolen and appropriated through violent modes from nature who needs a share of her produce to reproduce herself and from women who need a share of nature's produce to produce sustenance and ensure survival.


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From the perspective of Third World women, productivity is a measure of producing life and sustenance; that this kind of productivity has been rendered invisible does not reduce its centrality to survival - it merely reflects the domination of modern patriarchal economic categories which see only profits, not life.

Maldevelopment as the death of the feminine principle In this analysis, maldevelopment becomes a new source of male female inequality.

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Alice Schlegel 7 has shown that under conditions of subsistence, the interdependence and co of work is the characteristic mode, based on diversity, not inequality. Maldevelopment militates against equality in diversity, and superimposes the ideologically constructed category of western technological man as a uniform measure of the worth of classes, cultures and genders. Dominant modes of perception based on reductionism, duality and linearity are unable to cope with equality in diversity, with forms and activities that are significant and valid, even though different.

The reductionist mind superimposes the roles and forms of power of western male-oriented concepts on women, all non-western peoples and even on nature, rendering all three 'deficient', and in need of 'development'. Diversity, and unity and harmony in diversity, become epistemologically unattainable in the context of maldevelopment, which then becomes synonym- ous with women's underdevelopment increasing sexist domination , and nature's depletion deepening ecological crises.

Commodities have grown, but 4 nature has shrunk. The poverty crisis of the south arises from the growing scarcity of water, food, fodder and fuel, associated with increasing maldevelopment and ecological destruction. This poverty crisis touches women most severely, first because they are the poorest among the poor, and then because, with nature, they are the primary sustainers of society.

Maldevelopment is the violation of the integrity of organic, interconnected and interdependent systems, that sets in motion a process of exploitation, inequality, injustice and violence. It is blind to the fact that a recognition of nature's harmony and action to maintain it are preconditions for distributive justice.

Staying alive : women, ecology, and survival in India

This is why Mahatma Gandhi said, 'There is enough in the world for everyone's need, but not for some people's greed. In practice, this fragmented, reductionist, dualist perspective violates the integrity and harmony of man in nature, and the harmony between men and women. It ruptures the co-operative unity of masculine and feminine, and places man, shorn of the feminine principle, above nature and women, and separated from both.

The violence to nature as symptomatised by the ecological crisis, and the violence to women, as symptomatised by their subjugation and exploitation arise from this subjugation of the feminine principle. In it, both are viewed as the 'other', the passive non-self.

Activity, productivity, creativity which were associated with the feminine principle are expropriated as qualities of nature and women, and transformed into the exclusive qualities of man. Nature and women are turned into passive objects, to be used and exploited for the uncontrolled and uncontrollable desires of alienated man. Two kinds of growth, two kinds of productivity Maldevelopment is usually called 'economic growth', measured by the Gross National Product.

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Even conventional economists admit that the hey-day Of GNP is over, for the simple reason that as a measure of progress, it's more or less useless. GNP measures the lot, all the goods and services produced in the money 5 economy. Many of these goods and services are not beneficial to people, but rather a measure of just how much is going wrong; increased spending on crime, on pollution, on the many human casualties of our society, increased spending because of waste or planned obsolescence, increased I spending because of growing bureaucracies: it's all counted.

Among these hidden costs are the new burdens created by ecological devastation, costs that are invariably heavier for women, both in the North and South. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that as GNP rises, it does not necessarily mean that either wealth or welfare increase proportionately. When commodity production as the prime economic activity is introduced as development, it destroys the potential of nature and women to produce life and goods and services for basic needs.

More commodities and more cash mean less life - in nature through ecological destruction and in society through denial of basic needs. Women are devalued first, because their work cooperates with nature's processes, and second, because work which satisfies needs and ensures sustenance is devalued in general.

Precisely because more growth in maldevelopment has meant less sustenance of life and life-support systems, it is now imperative to recover the feminine principle as the basis for development which conserves and is ecological. Feminism as ecology, and ecology as the revival of Prakriti, the source of all life, become the decentred powers of political and economic transformation and restructuring. This involves, first, a recognition that categories of 'productivity' and growth which have been taken to be positive, progressive and universal are, in reality, restricted patriarchal categories.

It is no accident that the modern, efficient and productive technologies created within the context of growth in market economic terms are associated with heavy ecological costs, borne largely by women. The resource and energy intensive production processes they give rise to demand ever increasing resource withdrawals from the ecosystem.

These withdrawals disrupt essential ecological processes and convert renewable resources into non-renewable ones. A forest for example, 6 provides inexhaustible supplies of diverse biomass over time if its capital stock is maintained and it is harvested on a sustained yield basis. The heavy and uncontrolled demand for industrial and commercial wood, however, requires the continuous overfelling of trees which exceeds the regenerative capacity of the forest ecosystem, and eventually converts the forests into non-renewable resources.

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Women's work in the collection of water, fodder and fuel is thus rendered more energy and time-consuming. In Garhwal, for example, I have seen women who originally collected fodder and fuel in a few hours, now travel- ling long distances by Puck to collect grass and leaves in a task that might take up to two days.

Thus the excessive overfelling of trees in the catchment areas of streams and rivers destroys not only forest resources, but also renewable supplies of water, through hydrological destabilisation. Resource intensive industries disrupt essential ecological processes not only by their excessive demands for raw material, but by their pollution of air and water and soil. Often such destruction is caused by the resource demands of non-vital industrial products.

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Inspite of severe ecological crises, this paradigm continues to operate because for the North and for the elites of the South, resources continue to be available, even now. The lack of recognition of nature's processes for survival as factors in the process of economic development shrouds the political issues arising from resource transfer and resource destruction, and creates an ideological weapon for increased control over natural resources in the conven- tionally employed notion of productivity.

Staying alive: Women, ecology & survival in India

All other costs of the economic process consequently become invisible. The forces which contribute to the increased 'productivity' of a modern farmer or factory worker for instance, come from the increased use of natural resources. Lovins has described this as the amount of I slave' labour presently at work in the world.

Man's global energy conversion from all sources wood, fossil fuel, hydroelectric power, nuclear is currently approximately 8xl0 12 watts. The 'productivity' of the western male compared to women or Third World peasants is not intrinsically superior; it is based on the average inhabitant of the 7 USA for example has times more 1 slaves' than the average Nigerian.

What patriarchy sees as productive work, is, in ecological terms highly destructive production. The second law of thermodynamics predicts that resource intensive and resource wasteful economic development must become a threat to the survival of the human species in the long run. Political struggles based on ecology in industrially advanced countries are rooted in this conflict between long term survival options and short term over-production and over-consumption.

Political struggles of women, peasants and tribals based on ecology in countries like India are far more acute and urgent since they are rooted in the immediate threat to the options for survival for the vast majority of the people, posed by resource intensive and resource wasteful economic growth for the benefit of a minority. In the market economy, the organising principle for natural resource use is the maximisation of profits and capital accumulation.

Nature and human needs are managed through market mechanisms. Demands for natural resources are restricted to those demands registering on the market; the ideology of development is in large part based on a vision of bringing all natural resources into the market economy for commodity production. When these resources are already being used by nature to maintain her production of renewable resources and by women for sustenance and livelihood, their diversion to the market economy generates a scarcity condition for ecological stability and creates new forms of poverty for women.

Two kinds of poverty In a book entitled Poverty: the Wealth of the People 10 an African writer draws a distinction between poverty as subsistence, and misery as deprivation. It is useful to separate a cultural conception of subsistence living as poverty from the material experience of poverty that is a result of dispossession and deprivation.


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Culturally perceived poverty need not be real material poverty: subsistence economics which satisfy basic needs through self-provisioning are not poor in the sense of being deprived. Yet the ideology of development declares them so because they do not participate overwhelmingly in the market economy, and do not consume commodities produced for and distributed through the market even though they might be satisfying those needs through self provisioning mechanisms. People are perceived as poor if they eat millets grown by women rather than commercially produced and distributed processed foods sold by global agri-business.

They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from natural material like bamboo and mud rather than in cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear handmade garments of natural fibre rather than synthetics.


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Subsistence, as culturally perceived poverty, does not necessarily imply a low physical quality of life. On the contrary, millets are nutritionally far superior to processed foods, houses built with local materials are far superior, being better adapted to the local climate and ecology, natural fibres are preferable to man-made fibres in most cases, and certainly more affordable.

This cultural perception of prudent subsistence living as poverty has provided the legitimisation for the development process as a poverty removal project.

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As a culturally biased project it destroys wholesome and sustainable lifestyles and creates real material poverty, or misery, by the denial of survival needs themselves, through the diversion of resources to resource intensive commodity production. Cash crop production and food processing take land and water resources away from sustenance needs, and exclude increasingly large numbers of people from their entitlements to food.

There are several reasons why the high-technology-export-crop model increases hunger. Scarce land, credit, water and technology are pre-empted for the export market.

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