Global environmental activist Dr Vandana Shiva supports Tower Hamlets’ Women’s Environment Network food justice forum

International scholar and ecofeminist Dr Vandana Shiva showed her support for the Tower Hamlets’ food and ecological justice community in a discussion with the Women’s Environmental Network.

Delhi-based Dr Vandana Shiva spoke to Shaheda Aziz, a Co-ordinator at the Women’s Environmental Network (Wen). The video call was broadcast at Wen’s February forum as part of a wider panel addressing how ecological justice is paramount to achieve food security in Tower Hamlets.

Known as the ‘Ghandi of grain’, Dr Shiva has gained global recognition for her work supporting food sovereignty. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technological and Ecology and in 1987, she initiated Navdanya, providing for the preservation of indigenous seed species, traditional farming practices and sustainable food production across India. 

Dr Shiva’s fierce opposition to the utilization of fertilisers and monoculture has gained a global platform, having addressed the World Trade Organization summit in 1999, and the World Economic Forum in Melbourne in 2000. In 1993, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, otherwise known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”.

Her research is prolific, having published over 20 books including The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics and Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. In 2022, Dr Shiva released her documentary; ‘The Seeds of Vandana Shiva’ which follows her opposition to the monoculture imposed by international corporations.

The conversation with Dr Shiva was broadcast at Wen’s forum in February as part of a broader discussion about the role of ecological justice in our food system. Wen is a Bethnal Green-based charity working to achieve environmental justice through an intersectional feminist lens. 

Dr Shiva spoke with Shaheda Aziz in the call, a co-ordinator for several of Wen’s projects, notably the Limborough Food Hub – a community garden, kitchen and workshop space in Poplar.

Aziz told Bethnal Green LDN the importance of Dr Shiva’s call to the food and ecological justice movement in Tower Hamlets was “to make climate change accessible as it’s not something that people can easily identify with… the terminology and language…people have so many other things to stress and worry about it”.

Wen advocates that environmental and food justice can only be achieved through gender equality. Across their diverse projects including community kitchens, therapeutic gardening and menstrual campaigns, Wen advocate for women in positions of leadership, decision-making, and knowledge-building. 

In the discussion, Dr Shiva uplifts the role of women in the food justice movement, exclaiming that ‘women-centered food and agriculture systems are able to draw out so much carbon because [women] grow so much biodiversity on small pieces of land, which is where real food comes from’.

In addition, Dr Shiva bolstered the role of local action, giving the example that the women, communities and growers she supports are achieving resilience to the climate crisis through ‘saving the seeds that can tolerate the soils that come from the cyclone, the floods that come with incessant rain’. 

Tower Hamlets experiences food insecurity acutely; over half the children in Tower Hamlets are food insecure – the highest of any London borough. Wen’s forum brought together residents, home-growers, food co-operatives, environmental organisations and local campaigners as part of their ongoing mission to imagine and produce a food system in Tower Hamlets – and nationally – in which access to environmentally friendly food is equitable. 

The conversation closed with Dr Shiva sharing that she sources her courage to advocate for food sovereignty from her ‘love for life, love for freedom, love for the biodiversity that makes our life. And absolute intolerance to untruth, falsehood, especially that comes from powerful corporations and powerful people’.

Aziz said that the call ignites understanding as to ‘why there’s hope and there is justice if we try and seek it”. Dr Shiva’s teachings are about “sharing and making things more equitable… and finding joy while doing that.’ 

Aziz emphasised that at Wen, joy is a key element that is created through all their projects; in their community gardens, cooking workshops, seasonal gatherings and food justice campaigns.

You can find out more about Wen’s work on their website, and watch a recording of Dr Vandana Shiva’s conversation with Wen here.

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