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A Women's Congress for Future Generations: Women's Voices as an Ecological Matter

By Carolyn Raffensperger In almost every field of influence in the United States men hold more positions of power and often by significant percentage points. Women’s voices are silenced in most political spheres. The question is what difference does that make? On occasion I have been told that I should take a back seat to my male counterparts because they are more credible spokespeople on the environment than I am as a woman. If so, then my stepping back is a service to the Earth and future generations. On the other hand, what if I and other women have something to be said that is different than men and what if that voice is necessary in some way for the protection of the Earth?

The emerging field of acoustic ecology has shown that a healthy ecology has a full and complete symphony of sound. A damaged ecosystem has holes and gaps in the vast sonogram. From coral reefs to prairies to forests, healthy ecosystems are full of sound that varies by time of day and season.

Imagine that the health of the political ecology is also measured by sound. If that is true, we know what is missing: women’s voices. By any indicator women’s voices are missing in media, higher education, science and the environmental movement.

Most of the time the absence of women’s voices is described in political terms like patriarchy, feminism, inequality. But it is also an ecological matter. A woman’s voice in those higher octaves has a different place and function in the cultural landscape. The lullabies, warnings, songs, joys, are different than those of our beloved male friends, family and allies.

At the Women’s Congress for Future Generations (cosponsored by SEHN) we believe we can help restore the ecology of the Earth and of the culture by restoring women’s voices. We believe men and women are both necessary, and equally so. Equality is a central theme in social justice work of all flavors. But equality doesn’t mean "the same".  The planning team of the Women’s Congress is running an experiment. What if women have a unique responsibility as the first environment, the sanctuary, for future generations? Can we speak out of that authority?  We believe that women claiming that authority and acting out of it on behalf of future generations is to assert a power on behalf of future generations of women and men, of nature, of future generations. It is to fill that ecological niche that is uniquely and beautifully women’s.

We have invited men to participate in this experiment by being sacred witnesses. We seek a fierce and elegant equality that allows all voices at the table.

The implications of this are not just about the things that women say, but the things that women do. Can the preparation, serving and eating of food be integral to the very fabric of the Congress? Traditionally cooking has been separate from the rest of valued work in large part because it is women’s work. Can every ripe tomato and every ear of corn be offered with the same respect as the next legal idea? We know at a visceral level that food is sacred. It is harder to see the law as sacred. What would the law look like if it was born out of that authority of women speaking as the first environment for future generations? Similarly, if women put their bodies on the line in direct action, would that look different than the kind of direct action that has been used in the civil rights movement and the climate justice movement?

We don’t know the answers to these questions yet. But we believe that a civil rights movement for future generations will be galvanized by finding answers. Our male allies in the social justice movement have voices that are so deep and so beautiful. We are thrilled by the possibility of having women’s voices soar with the descant that only they can sing. We will work together in concert for a whole and health world.

A coda.

My friend Ilene Evans, historian, singer, storyteller, told me that at the time of the Civil War women said that the soul of the nation was at stake.  Women were not able to vote.  They couldn't own property.  They were disenfranchised.  But women presided over the dinner table.  They saw that every child, black or white, needed enough to eat.  It was the conversations over those meals that changed the politics of the day.

The soul of the nation and the fate of the Earth is again at stake.