Biodiversity | Women’s Indigenous Knowledge

It is no secret that across many cultures women are subordinate to men and are often expected to take the lowly role of the housewife. According to Dr. Vandana Shiva, it is the knowledge and background work of indigenous women that is responsible for the preservation of biodiversity in a patriarchal world that destroys biodiversity. She says that diversity as women’s expertise, which is why men have taken over fields of constants (such as various sciences and mathematics.)

The constant women are accredited for is maintaining the biodiversity through the years that technology has could have easily wiped away.  This is how women have earned the title of “custodians of biodiversity.” The women have passed down knowledge of countless farming techniques and strategies. They have preserved types of seeds of plants despite the fact that have begun to be seen as useless. These indigenous women have served as a backbone in the agriculture industry of their lands and a means to fill the gaps where men missed as they drove society forward with their technology.  In addition to agriculture, women have served in this “custodian” role in areas including forestry, dairying, and areas of ecological concern.

Shiva says that “women produce through biodiversity, whereas corporate scientists (men) produce through uniformity.”  The shift from biodiversity to a more systemic and efficient production of food has given birth to a new form of food sourcing that may prove to be detrimental to the health of humans in generations to come. The foods consumed in much of America today are a product of biotechnology which contain what are known as genetically engineered foods. These genetically engineered foods are legal although the United States Food and Drug and Administrations acknowledges that these foods have negative effects on the health of consumers.  Some of these negative effects include diminished nutritional value, altered composition of food, potential new protein based allergens, and potential harm to domestic animals and wildlife. The government considers these foods to be “natural” and “safe” even being aware of the potential damages that it may cause to the people of the nation.

Shiva makes some decent comments regarding women as preserving biodiversity in their societies, but I feel that she does not adequately explain or connect her different points.  I did not know much information about any of the topics she wrote about previous to reading this, aside from the bit on genetically modified foods, and I cannot say that I have learned much more or have been inspired to learn any more.

In regard to the genetically engineered food, I feel that her points started off strong and connected to her other topics of discussion, but drifted away quickly.  It was interesting to read President Bush’s comments on the matter and the precautionary statements made by the FDA, but I do not think that these points can be held as totally valid.  It has been not only years but decades since those statements were published.  Although I would not particularly say that I am a supporter of genetically engineered food, I have learned in other classes and in independent research that studies on animals have shown that they have no negative effect on the health of the subjects.  Researchers would most likely run into some issues if they tested genetically modified organisms on humans so there is no sufficient proof of a positive or negative effect, but it is hard to say whether or not they truly have negative effects on human health based on the data that Shiva had access to when writing this piece.

Here is a link to a collection of more information on this topic.  I could not find Dr. Shiva’s original piece online, but this pamphlet give a large variety of information!

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