Ecofeminism and Social Care: on Activist Potentials and Opportunities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Jasmina Husanović

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, in all fields of action and in our everyday lives, we have been witnessing and resisting cascading crises for decades, whose dynamics are caused by both extreme and slow violence[1], including wartime and post-war, “post-Dayton” violence. However, its population, its people, are clear that war is not the only disaster that has befallen us, but it is the ethno-capitalist rule where life is governed through constant production of acute insecurity[2], through identity politics of fear behind which are human and social traumas, expropriations, and impoverishments. We can certainly agree with Nancy Fraser’s assertion that the order of things she calls “cannibal capitalism” which devours democracy, care, and the planet has brought us, like the whole world, to this point.[3]

Capitalism is not merely an economic system based on private ownership and free market, wage labor, and profit-oriented production. It is a social order that has a completely anti-social logic[4] because it allows the profit-oriented economy to stalk, hunt, and devour as its main prey: “the wealth we extract from nature and subordinate populations; numerous forms of care work that we constantly undervalue if we notice it at all; public goods and authorities that are necessary for capital, which it constantly seeks to diminish and cut back; the energy and creativity of the working people.”[5] Ethno-capitalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina is essentially a cannibal, and its logic has been exposed by numerous activists who are fighting for ecological justice throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the effects of extractivism and the new wave of capital accumulation and privatization of remaining resources (mostly related to energy policy and green transition) are increasingly felt, while nationalism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and exponential growth persist

On the other hand, when you start asking profound questions about creative resistance to extractivism in Bosnia and Herzegovina today, the answers lead you to the work of women’s groups, community leaders, and the work of artists. Let’s look around Kruščica, Vareš, and Konjic, Mostar, Vlasenica, and Tuzla, groups that fight against devastating practices of building mini-hydropower plants, green mining, illegal dumping of toxic waste, waste incinerators, polluted air… Also, around the world, including in BiH, we see how where women lead resistance in the community, important conceptual connections develop between women’s bodily autonomy and defense against violence.[6] Such connections have their important histories and temporalities in the field of community activism from war to today, where important conceptual connections are born between women’s bodies, reproductive labor, and care work, with the defense of natural and social resources such as territories, water, and air, as noted by numerous ecofeminist activists and theorists.

Therefore, it is extremely important to note that a large number of them have recognized the platform for ecofeminist action, EKOFEM BiH, established in 2022, after two years of (Covid-19-induced) online conversations and gatherings, as what connects them with its principles and actions. And what are those principles and values? Let’s list them:

“EKOFEM BiH disrupts patriarchal, ethno-capitalist relations of power, labor, and ownership in which natural and societal resources are depleted and alienated. This particularly affects women and all subordinate social groups.”

What do we start with in this common struggle for change – for the good of all of us? :

  1. Violent theft of natural resources has the same logic as patriarchal violence during and after war.
  2. The politics of social care must replace the fragmentation and reduction of people and nature to the level of commodities.
  3. All forms of violence and inequality operate on the same principles. We must abolish them.
  4. Constant violence wounds and impoverishes us and the society in which we live.

Various struggles for the social good are waged against this violence. EKOFEM BiH connects these struggles and establishes: justice, equality, care, perseverance, courage, solidarity, sociability, trust. Solidarity begins with this.”[7]

Generally speaking, ecofeminisms consist of approaches to organizing, living, and creating a world that recognizes the crucial connection between the destruction of ecosystems and the oppression of women, minorities, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups. It reveals how these forms of domination and destruction are symbolically, historically, and experientially interconnected.[8] Ecofeminism as a concept encompasses a wide range of practices and perspectives and is not a homogeneous movement or theory, with some approaches closely aligned with Marxist ideas and advocating for material and institutional changes, while others focus on spiritual and cultural transformations. However, due to its focus on gender equality and ecological sustainability, various ecofeminist approaches tend to be both antipatriarchal and anticapitalist.[9]

The ecofeminist ethics of the EKOFEM BiH platform, centered on the politics of social care, namely the reproductive labor of care and provisioning necessary for life in situations of acute Unsicherheita (uncertainty) around us, is based on insights and perspectives from recent reflections within decolonial, socialist, and Marxist feminisms. As those who integrate activism, academia, and art into their work, Bosnian activists are well positioned to assess both the structural patterns of inequality and oppression, as well as individual and collective forms of action, and to identify spaces and gaps where opportunities for changes in the paradigm of political action emerge. Through EKOFEM BiH, precisely such a decolonial ecofeminist ethics of care has emerged, which can provide a compass for addressing numerous crises – economic, political, ecological – we face, both at the local and transnational levels, as well as opportunities for recovery and provisioning of life that struggles against the structural violence of capitalism, coloniality/colonialism, and patriarchy.

In order to confront the injustices underlying the current crises and the brutal rule of life and death, the approach to ecofeminist ethics of care must be decolonial. How then can we activate decolonial ecofeminist ethics of care, in the face of the multiple challenges of extraction, expropriation, and alienation upon us, demanding fairer and more sustainable ways of existence? As François Verges demonstrates, “colonization was a condition for the rise of global capitalism. Coloniality, structural and embedded global power relations that persisted after the elimination of many, though not all, forms of direct colonization, remains a condition for the continuation of capitalism. Colonial theft of labor, land, and life laid the groundwork for global capitalism; it would not be possible without the appropriation of land and resources, without the enslavement of millions of racialized persons, without the creation of a white social structure, European domination. In its current form, capitalism continues to grow and expand through the hyper-exploitation of racialized people, the appropriation of land and resources, debt management – both individual and national, imposition of structural adjustment and political governance through capitalist intergovernmental organizations such as the IMF and World Bank, impunity of large multinational corporations for their ultimate brutality towards life – both human and non-human.”[10]

The ecofeminist ethic of care is thus against ethno-capitalism and neoliberalism in all its forms and performances by domestic and international elites; it must be decolonial because the global economy depends on the promise of endless extraction of natural resources, a dynamic that rests on modern ideas of infinite growth and progress that prioritize humans above other beings and their environment. This extraction occurs disproportionately in our region, as we are Southeast Europe where aspects of colonial geography are constantly perpetuated. As long as the most powerful nations, international organizations, and corporations continue to reproduce unequal distribution of means for living and working in the global economy, ruthless extractivism will continue to operate here, directly destroying ecosystems and the lives of communities such as Kaknja, Vareš, Lopare, Vlasenica, Tuzla, Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka. A decolonial approach therefore means acknowledging the prevailing colonial and colonizing logic in our relationship with nature, in the global economy, and in the distribution of ecological impacts, resulting in forms of identity violence. It also means actively addressing such issues when mobilizing against ecological violence, for economic changes, against the rise of the extreme right, and for addressing social problems such as femicide.

Moreover, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is not only marginalized populations and women who are disproportionately affected by extractive projects, as various levels of domestic authorities, the international community, and corporations systematically fail to protect the rights of all citizens of BiH. Environmental classism is at work, affecting all “constituent peoples” and “others,” with predominantly poor areas exposed to higher levels of deliberate pollution and neglect, and poorer citizens are more unable to fight and care for their health endangered by this pollution and neglect by various levels of authorities, with no clear indicators of mortality and the impact on public health of the ecological disaster unfolding before us.

Ultimately, the ethic of care is not a question of political theory, but rather deals with our acts of care on a daily basis. This has been evident in all previous collaborations and gatherings within EKOFEM BiH. The first step is always to recognize, celebrate, and nurture forms of care in which we have already been involved, as well as those that arise whenever exceptional times of need occur, demonstrating people’s ability to build networks of care. Despite the fragmentation and rupture we experience in all aspects of our society, our communities are still capable of extensive networks of mutual aid, as we have a history and tradition of basic care networks that are a response to ongoing and new crises.

The second step is organizing on a larger scale. It is necessary to horizontally unite within BiH, as well as regionally and internationally, guided by ecological, feminist, anti-nationalist, and decolonial principles. Perhaps here is also a call for an eco-social pact of this neglected/sacrificed part of Southeast Europe (similar to the Pacto Ecosocial del Sur[11], initiated by academic workers, activists, community leaders in June 2020, building on proposals that have been emerging in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent decades). Such a social, ecological, economic, and intercultural pact for BiH aimed at ecological, economic, and political recovery from cannibalistic ethno-capitalist governance is needed for us to position ourselves towards the Green New Deal in its current Eurocentric, colonial, and neoliberal performance.

We must open all channels for horizontal action, that is, a movement dedicated to decolonization and ending unequal, extractive economic relations among nations. The world around us constantly reminds us of interdependence and the fragility of life, and how our vulnerability is rapidly exacerbated by overlapping forms of oppression. A collective movement based on decolonial, ecofeminist ethics of social care can enable us to build alternative ways of existence, which include crucial work in fighting against various structural forms of oppression and violence. Such an approach would allow us to overcome apolitical forms of green-oriented action in the civil sector and to move towards a critical movement that recognizes the histories, perspectives, and demands of different communities, representing a collection of multiple, situated struggles of ecological and social activists throughout BiH.

[1] The concept of slow violence refers to “violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed through time and space, exhausting violence that we typically do not even see as violence at all” (Nixon, Rob (2013). Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, p. 2).

[2] According to Zygmunt Bauman, it is a political condition described by the word Unsicherheit, which simultaneously connotes uncertainty, insecurity, and unreliability, and refers to “the loss of income, means of livelihood, social belonging rights, position in society, and human dignity” (Bauman, Z. (1999). In Search of Politics. Cambridge: Polity, p. 29).

[3] Fraser, N. (2022). Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System is Devouring Democracy, Care and the Planet. London: Verso.

[4] Tomšič, S. (2023). The Antisociality of Capitalism (Some Preliminary Reflections). Special lecture by Same Tomšič held in September 2023 in Sarajevo, organized by the Freedom Front Tuzla and with the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

[5] Fraser, N. (2022), p. Xiv.

[6] Šehabović, Š. (2020). “Women, Body, Rivers”. Earth-Water-Air: Platform for Ecological Humanism, https://zemljavodazrak.com/view-more/zene-tijelo-rijeke/96, accessed March 29, 2024.

[7] Husanović, J. and Arsenijević, D. (2022). Ecofem BiH – Principles and Values, https://ekofembih.ba/principi-i-vrijednosti, accessed March 29, 2024.

[8] Warren, K. (1990). ‘The promise and power of ecofeminism’, Environmental Ethics 12, pp. 125-146.

[9] Đurđević, G. and Marjanović, S., eds. (2021). Ecofeminism – Between Women’s and Green Studies. Zagreb: Durieux.

[10] Verges, F. (2021). Decolonial Feminism. London: Pluto Press. Sarajevo: TPO Fondacija, p. 15.

[11] See more on the Eco-Social Pact of the South at https://pactoecosocialdelsur.com/