UT researcher studies the intersectionality of feminism, environmentalism practiced in communities

Katy Nelson, News Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the November 19 flipbook. 

A UT researcher examined how two communities incorporate feminism and environmental ideas in their everyday lives to better develop solidarity between the movements. 

The Twin Oaks Intentional Community in Virginia and Navdanya’s Biodiversity Conservation Farm in northern India are considered ecologically intentional communities because of how they attempt to meld feminist and environmental ideals into practice. 

In an article published Oct. 30, researcher Monica Bhatia studied how these groups understood the connection between gender equality and environmental sustainability. The article found that the groups addressed unpaid domestic work, such as cleaning or caring for children, in their efforts for environmental sustainability.

“For Navdanya, it’s this idea that women are keepers of ecological knowledge and that if we empower women, then that will create more sustainable communities,” graduate student Bhatia said. “At Twin Oaks, their approach is more thinking about how the nuclear family is unsustainable because it’s dependent on (the) unpaid and underpaid work of women.”

Bhatia said Navdanya focuses on supporting women and sustainable indigenous practices as opposed to large agricultural businesses. Bhatia said during her time in the community, she learned how Navdanya has a large seed bank where they preserve varieties of indigenous plants.

“As our agricultural systems become more monoculture and more chemicalized and more corporatized, then we are ending up with everyone using the exact same variety of seeds that have been genetically modified,” Bhatia said. “In that process, you lose all of the different local varieties that are adapted to their environment.”

While at Twin Oaks, Bhatia said the community focused on the effects of consumerism and individualism and how that impacts the environment.

Valerie Renwick, outreach manager at the Twin Oaks Intentional Community, said everyone in the community shares resources such as cars and living spaces to reduce their ecological footprint.

“Everyone here has equal access both to decision making power and … to our financial resources,” Renwick said. “Traditionally, women’s work like cleaning and child care, that’s all valued equally here, unlike in the mainstream, where you have to work a fulltime job and then … do unpaid labor on top of their paid labor; none of that is an issue here.”

Renwick said people at Twin Oaks pay for domestic labor typically assigned to women in contrast to the outside world where women usually take on a full-time job in addition to unpaid domestic work.

“We have much more equitable gender labor roles here,” Renwick said. “We have women working by cutting down trees with a chainsaw and men changing diapers and women changing diapers and men with the chainsaw and non-binary people and trans people doing all those things as well.”

Bhatia said she hopes the study causes people to think about intersectionality and how different forms of oppression may be connected. 

“I’m hoping to just be able to move the needle a little bit in terms of these sustainability solutions to be thinking about how those solutions impact people who have different positions in society,” Bhatia said.