Portrait of Vandana Shiva

Social activist, scientist and ecofeminist

Author: Claudia Nussbaumer
Category: Ecology

Vandana Shiva (* November 5, 1952 in Dehradun) is a scientist, social activist and globalization critic, as well as author of numerous books. She has received several awards for her commitment to environmental protection, biodiversity, women’s rights and sustainability. She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award – unofficially also called the Alternative Nobel Prize – in 1993 for placing the issues of feminism and ecology at the center of the discourse on modern development policy. She is a member of the Club of Rome and the International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS), among others. Furthermore, she is a member of the World Future Council.


Part of her work is ecofeminism, on which she published a book of the same name in 1993. Together with Maria Miles, she examined the connection between patriarchal society and environmental degradation. In doing so, they emphasize that it is important to view the value of nature not in terms of financial values, as some male representatives of industry do, but as fundamentally important. In doing so, they define masculinized values and the extent to which they lead to ecological destruction, exploitation, and militarism. Furthermore, feminine ecological values are also defined in turn. According to the theory of ecofeminism, the millennia-old patriarchal society is based on hierarchies and competition. Success is measured by the extent of individual gain, not by the general common good.

Shiva calls genetic engineering ‘colonialism of plants, animals and people’ as multinational corporations increasingly seize control of life. She attributes this process to patriarchal values. The male-centered concept of power needs to be reinvented and given a different definition.

The previous meaning of power, oriented towards dominance, control and domination, must be changed into an inner power that opposes all forms of oppression, encourages and does not enrich itself at the expense of others.

Critics of ecofeminism view Shiva and Mies’ assumption that there is a special privileged relationship between women and nature and that women’s relationship to nature is one of the necessary qualities of women as essentialist from a poststructuralist viewpoint. In her book “Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India (2003),” Meera Nanda criticized the equation of nature with a nurturing mother as ignoring the oppression of women through this image.



Vandana Shiva is particularly committed to opposing the advancing monopoly of transnational corporations, especially those that seek to have an increasing influence on Indian agriculture. She sees the farmers who engage with her as followers of the anti-imperialist tradition of Mahatma Gandhi. This is visible through the continued use of the slogan ‘Quit India’, which was originally directed at the English colonizers, but is now directed at genetic engineering companies such as Monsanto and Recetec. She also criticizes the patent thinking of these corporations, which is now being applied to developing countries and leading to the patenting of traditional and indigenous plants. She sees their supposed motive to satisfy world hunger through genetic engineering as a pretext for world market economy. Based on this criticism, she managed, with the help of her institute The Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture and other movements, to raise an objection at the European Patent Office (EPO) against the granting of a patent on the oil of the neem tree seed to the Grace company. In 2005, the patenting was finally rejected by the EPO.

In addition, she developed an alternative to neoliberal globalization, which she calls ‘Earth Democracy’. It is based on ten principles that are essentially based on the ‘intrinsic common value’ of all species, peoples and cultures, which must be respected.
Vandana Shiva is also an active participant in the public debate on the climate crisis. She co-signed an open letter calling for joining movements such as Extinction Rebellion and for consumerism. In addition, it addresses the fact that politics has failed so far to come up with sufficient measures to combat the climate crisis.



Another area of interest for Shiva is agriculture. She began primarily with her criticism of the ‘Green Revolution’ in India, which had a strategy of bringing farmers in developing countries into the world market for fertilizers, seeds and pesticides. However, in Shiva’s opinion, this led to ecological and cultural uprooting, i.e. the fragility of the peasants’ connection to the soil and the community. This can be seen firstly in the religious uprisings in the state of Punjab, which resulted in numerous deaths, and secondly in the Bhopal disaster, in which a chemical factory owned by the U.S. company Union Carbide, which produced pesticides and released several tons of poison gas, killed several thousand people. She directed further criticism against the accompanying commercialization of agriculture and the disintegration that goes with it. Consequences of this include disease-prone monocultures and hybrid crops.

Shiva’s goals are to keep indigenous seeds freely available to village communities, not to use chemicals, and to locate agriculture locally, that is, to consider it a community property. Multinational corporations should not own agriculture.

Multinational corporations should not own agriculture.

These were not bad intentions, but they were criticized by Liberty Institute India for their opposition to genetic engineering in agriculture and defense of traditional organic forms of agriculture. The latter, until the beginning of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, had regularly led to famine for a tenth of India’s population.

Another aspect of Shiva’s socio-agricultural position was criticized when she expressed the view that transgenic cotton, with its higher price and annual repurchase of seeds, led to the indebtedness of thousands of farmers and their suicide. She spoke of a ‘genocide’ of 270,000 Indian farmers. However, according to political scientist Ronald Herring1 , it spread misinformation in this context. The suicide rate among peasants remained relatively constant during the relevant period from 1997 to 2009, declining steadily from the initial 18000 to 12000 suicides per year in 2016.

Despite these criticisms, Shiva was awarded Time magazine’s “Hero of the Green Century” title in 2002, specifically for her advocacy of independent seeds.


Criticism of multinational corporations

In several interviews, Vandana Shiva calls for a fight against the top one percent of people to stop climate change and advocate for social justice. This includes her criticism of multinational corporations, arguing that they often have no home, loyalty or responsibility to citizens and operate in tax havens.

She developed the concept of the ‘money machine’ through which money is created and accumulated by these corporations. Property rights and patents are central to this, as they function like a rent collection system. Corporations use their growing power to support politicians who represent their values and thus lobby for change in the tax system to obtain tax exemptions for them.



In 1991, she founded the organization Navdanya, which means “nine states” or “nine seeds.” Symbolically, this name wants to refer to the diversity and protection of biological seeds. The network consists of several local communities and Indian organizations. It works to protect and preserve regional and traditional seeds by collecting seeds and growing them on an experimental farm. In doing so, they intend to protect these varieties from extinction, promote organic farming practices, protect farmers from dependence on patented seeds, and provide food for the local population by strengthening local markets. To this end, Navdanya established forty seed libraries in thirteen Indian states and offers parallel courses on organic farming practices for farmers. 70,000 farmers are members of the organization.

In 2001, Shiva also founded the Bija Vidyapeeth school and farm, which offers courses on topics such as biodiversity and organic farming. In addition, the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and human rights in the face of growing globalization are addressed.

This article has also been published on the German Website: Portrait of Vandana Shiva

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