Environment ~ Women ~ Peace

Around the globe, many are concerned with issues of environmental degradation. Others fight for gender equality and an end to violence and discrimination against women. Still others are peace activists–or simply pacifists. (I think of my Amish and Mennonite heritage as an example of the latter…and my Quaker ancestors as the former.)

Is there a connection to be made?

The concept of Deep Ecology draws a line between (or perhaps, a circle around) environmental preservation and peace, in terms of the interdependence of all living creatures. A simple explanation: if we hold a deep reverence for nature, eradicating any sense of separateness or distinction from the natural world, then by extension we will also embrace peace and reject violence.

Ecofeminism associates women’s issues and gender equality with protection of our environment. Its central theme is one of a relationship between women’s suppression and ecological disregard, the reverse also presumed to be valid.

Some have further connected the concepts of Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism. Jeju Island, where I have the good fortune to reside, is the embodiment of these ideas.

Jeju’s indigenous peoples have inhabited the island for many thousands of years. Nature has until recently represented challenge and adversity to the people of Jeju; they often died at sea, and had difficulty growing food in the rocky soil and windy climate. Yet their relationship with the natural world is an extremely close one of interdependence, as evidenced by their mythology and animistic spiritual tradition, adaptive methods of making a living from both land and sea, and concept of afterlife as a beautiful paradise island on the distant horizon.

At present, Jeju is one of only 28 finalists (from an original 440 nominees) in the international competition to become one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It is also the only place on earth which has received all three UNESCO designations: biosphere reserve, world natural heritage site, and geopark. Current multiple development projects, however, threaten Jeju’s once-bucolic natural environment, and there is a concern that more protection — and a remembrance of the earlier deeply felt relationship — is needed.

Jeju also has a longstanding matrifocal society. The term ‘matriarchy’ doesn’t apply, as women have not held equal positions of authority in the society or its leadership due primarily to the Korean legacy of Confucianism. Nevertheless, women have taken an economic lead and developed a strong collective character throughout centuries, based on a foundation of a mythology rich in goddess imagery — including a grandmother goddess as creator. Numerous efforts are underway today to achieve gender equality in Jeju society, though there is still much room for progress.

Officially referred to as an “Island of Peace” since 2005, Jeju has a strong focus on peace initiatives. Emerging from centuries of repression by early Korean dynasties, Mongolian and Japanese occupation, and 20th century military dictatorships of peninsular Korea, Jeju’s society has simply had enough of violence and suppression. This island culture now strives to not only maintain its own peace and further the healing from earlier trauma, but to share this message with the world through a variety of international peace initiatives.

The Peace Institute on Jeju (http://www.peaceisland.asia/) strives to connect these three areas of concern. Its efforts include a World Environment and Peace summer program, Peace Forum (http://jejupeaceforum.jpi.or.kr/eng/index.html), Global Peace Tribunal based on Jeju women’s traditions of economic community, Island-20 initiative, and Peace Island publication,¬†among others. ¬†The Institute has the support of both Jeju National University and the Jeju Provincial Government.

Environment ~ Women ~ Peace. The connection must be made — for individual and collective health.

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