“I first became an environmentalist, and then a feminist. Then, as I was finishing my Master’s at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the 1990s, I discovered the ecofeminist approach, which almost perfectly unites my two research interests,” explains Annie Rochette. Currently a director for the Law Society of British Columbia, before taking this position she was a professor in the Department of Legal Sciences at Université du Québec à Montréal.
After obtaining her PhD in law from McGill University in 2011 Rochette returned to UQAM to pursue research in environmental law, applying ecofeminist and feminist approaches. She was then recruited by the Réseau des femmes en environnement (RQFE) to lead research on the integration of gender in government policies to combat climate change in Québec, becoming the first researcher in the province to work on the link between gender and climate change. This research led to a grant from the MELS, in partnership with the RQFE, the Réseau québécois des groupes écologistes (RQGE) and Relais-Femmes, through UQAM Community Services, to create pamphlets and organize workshops to raise awareness among social movements.
“Ecofeminism establishes conceptual links between the exploitation of the environment and the oppression of women, racialized and poor people and indigenous communities, by showing that the same institutions and the same systems are at work in both cases,” summarizes Rochette. “Feminists have long been suspicious of ecofeminism because of the links it makes between nature and women. It would be easy to slip into a sort of “essentialism” that affirms that, by nature, women are like this and men are like that. That type of biological view is actually extremely marginal in the ecofeminist literature, which focuses more on socioeconomic issues. In studies on gender and climate change, there are now as many ecofeminists as feminists.”
A political and social impact
The research carried out for the RQFE and the awareness workshops have influenced certain political positions. According to Rochette, the feminist movement increasingly sees environmental questions as feminist issues. She gives the example of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), which recently recognized the link between the exploitation of natural resources and that of women, and integrated it into its main lines of action. The researcher has played an active role in workshops on the subject offered to FFQ members, and by presenting lectures to unions, among others.
The problem of communication between ecofeminism theoreticians and climate change researchers remains to be resolved. The vast majority of the latter come from pure science fields and have relatively little interest in socioeconomic issues. The question of gender is not really on their radar.
As a result, the two groups work in silos. “Yet ecofeminism and feminism are interesting theoretical frameworks for reflecting on these questions and getting at their root causes, by identifying the real mechanisms behind climate change,” concludes Annie Rochette.