In this day and age, it is time to move beyond our human-centric world and consider the well-being of the entire planet. As I’ve previously mentioned, the concept of rights of nature is a worthwhile measure to consider in our attempts to improve the environment. Rights of nature is the recognition that trees, oceans, animals, and mountains have rights just as human beings have rights.
Focusing on India, the country is a biodiversity hotspot, home to a beautiful array of flora and fauna. Yet is racing against a population soon to be the most numerous in the world, not to mention its burgeoning economic development. Tigers, kingfishers, and elephants compete with people for land that is becoming degraded and scarce for all.
I would like to see India take a serious look at what Ecuador is doing in regard to its biodiversity. In 2008, Ecuador passed a rights of nature clause into its constitution, becoming the first country to do so. This grants nature the “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution” and mandates that the government take “precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.” And Bolivia too, is set to pass an even more far-reaching right into its constitution, granting all nature equal rights to humans.
I think India is a prime country for passing similar legislation. It is the world’s largest democracy blessed with gorgeous geography and nature. But what makes India stand out, in my opinion, is its rural population, especially farmers. Make that especially women. In India, nearly 72% of employed Indian women are in the agriculture sector. Women the world over have intimate knowledge of food systems and organic farming, and are the traditional keepers of seeds and protectors of biodiversity. Women know the lands they work and often implement best practices for the regions in which they live. Furthermore, economist Bina Agarwal states that in areas where women are the decision-makers within community forests in India (and Nepal), the forests are greener, firewood needs are better satisfied and women are more empowered.
Society must promote and preserve the knowledge women, and men, have in nurturing the land before they too, decide to leave it behind and get on the global consumption bandwagon. Empowering women, and linking the rights of women with the rights of nature, is a winning formula for protecting communities and the planet. Granting rights to the natural world (how human-centric is that?) may seem radical or too “out there” for some people, but it could be the way, or at least one way, of preserving what we’ve got before it’s too late.