Why do we need to hear more from women in permaculture?

How patriarchy makes us blind to healthy sisterhood, and how to reclaim it back with women in permaculture.

How patriarchy makes us blind to healthy sisterhood, and how to reclaim it back with women in permaculture.

by Luiza Oliveira

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Photo by Luiza Oliveira at Giardino dei Tarocchi, Art made by Niki del Saint Phalle.

Recently a few male friends asked me what I found in the Permaculture Women’s group and Permaculture Women Guild courses that I couldn’t find in other permaculture groups. My answer was straightforward:

The double certificate design course with Permaculture Women’s Guild (PWG) was the only PDC and permaculture group that I felt profoundly represented and celebrated, in the permaculture environment. Not only as a woman but as a Latina queer woman coming from a violently colonized sexist country living in a Europe.

Unfortunately, to talk about gender inequality, queer representation, racism, LGBTQIA+-phobias, migration, are rarely discussed in many permaculture discussion spaces that I had experienced before. And this is why I was so glad to find out about a permaculture group lead by women, not only because there are women from various backgrounds and countries, but also because these subjects are addressed in the group and in the courses. Otherwise, how can we design inclusive permaculture projects if we don’t think and talk openly about these issues?

The thing is, we are embedded in a patriarchal society, and still today, many people have a hard time to understand how deep these toxic power dynamics are affecting our lenses in the way of how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive the world around us, including in many permacultural environments.

So I am here to give you a personal example related to sisterhood and how Permaculture Women is an important group in my permaculture designer path.

It is sad to think that the meaning of sisterhood was something that I had a hard time to grasp as a teenager or as a young adult. Even though it was always there, next to me, around me, within me, but I couldn’t really see it, or recognized it as sisterhood.

I grew up having both nurturing and toxic female role models in my family, as most of the families, I believe. But it took me a long time to understand the role of patriarchy in making me blind to understand what sisterhood meant.

Do you believe that the word Patriarchy was a word that I only learned after leaving university? The first time I heard it was when I learned about femicide, two years after I finished medical school. Isn’t that shocking? It was very shocking for me that in 6 years of medical school I had never heard the word feminicide or discussed it during those years.

Today I understand the environment that makes these crimes invisible, is the same environment that allows them to happen, otherwise, you could easily identify them, name them and report them.

Only when I started to live abroad from the country that I was born and raised that I really understood that I grew up in very a patriarchal country (Brazil) with high rates of femicide (1,2). Only when I started to look for the root causes of the high rates of why women and girls are killed because of their gender, that I started to comprehend the direct consequences of patriarchy and how these dynamics are perpetuated.

These crimes continue to exist because they are made invisible by the local society. I lost the count of how many women I know (including myself) that had to “normalize” sexist violent behavior in working spaces in order to cope and continue working at some period of their lives.

Besides that keeping such topics as a taboo, or a secret, doesn’t allow language to be created around it. If there is no common language to talk about it, it is much harder to identify it, making even more difficult to report them to the close community or to the police (3,4). Let alone to develop public policies or community strategies to protect girls and women from it.

How patriarchy makes us blind to sisterhood

Let’s start by defining what patriarchy means. Patriarchy is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “Social organizations marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line. Broadly: control by men of a disproportionately large share of power.” (5)

This disproportionate power dynamic supports the idea that women and girls could be considered as less valued, allowing other people to decide their lives for them. This disproportionate power dynamic creates the idea that women and girls could be seen as an object and/or property of their closest male figure such as their father, brother, uncle, grandfather or partner.

Adding the social taboo created of not being able to talk about family issues or couples issues around oneself, makes it even harder to identify abusive dynamics (being the emotional, psychological or physical) around your couple and/or family environment. Adding an extra layer of difficulty to find or create a support system to protect oneself, like a healthy sisterhood.

In addition to all mention before, the creation of this power hierarchy of men over women, create by consequence a hierarchy between women too. Making women believe that their personal value depends on 1. The attention they draw from men, or 2. How much power can they impose over other women (white women vs women of colour, rich women vs poor women, more educated women vs less educated women, heterosexual women vs queer women, cis women vs trans women, skinny women vs plus size women, young women vs old women, married women vs single women and so on). Perpetuating these toxic dynamics, only amplifies these abusive dynamics, making any kind of system where power is shared equally sound like a fairy tale.

If this is the first time you are reading about these subjects together, it can be a lot to digest and integrate. So, take your time, observe and interact, talk with other people around you, talk about the subject.

Here I made a shorter list to make it easier to see how these aspects interact together. It might be an oversimplification, but I think it helps to start to understand how they connect:

  • Patriarchy is a disproportionate share of power controlled by men over women,
  • Patriarchy culturally creates the belief that women and girls are not able or allowed to make their own decisions, and seen as properties of their closer male figures,
  • Patriarchy cultivates the cultural taboo around itself. Making it harder to talk about family’s or couple’s issues making more challenging to identify abusive and toxic dynamic, or making harder to create a support system to protect women and girls from those relationships,
  • Patriarchy’s power-over dynamic between men and women, allow some women to believe that in order to have value in this society they depend on how attention they can draw from men, or how much they can impose their power over other women (acting like a toxic male figure).

How to reclaim sisterhood?

First, recognizing what patriarchy means and its consequences in your life (in your personal story, and in your relationship, all your relationships).

Remember, since these toxic power dynamics are embedded in many layers of society, it takes time to see them entirely and their branches. So, do research about the topic, talk about it with other people, look for safe spaces to discuss it in depth. Give yourself time to grieve.

Then, start to identify the relationships around you that do not replicate these toxic patterns. Look for relationships around you that you feel valued and loved by who you are, without having to feel that you need to be compared with someone else in order to have more or less value.

Find women around you that understand and support each other fully, loving you in a nonjudgmental way. In these spaces, to support each other create authentic connections. To allow each other to be vulnerable help and support each other in creating mutual trust, making space to show each other’s blind spots. It is so empowering and so relieving.

Find your inner strength, learn to love yourself, pump your confidence, practice to speak up using your own voice.

Learn to identify abusive relationships around you and learn how to report them, and how to protect yourself from them.

To report abusive relationships can be quite difficult to do. To overcome personal fears and internalized judgments about it, but here is a list of good reasons to do it from Jennifer M. Greenberg (I informally translated from french) about the importance of reporting an aggressor.

“To report an aggressor does not ruin his life. He does it himself.

To report an aggressor does not spoil his reputation. It just becomes more clear to see it.

To report an aggressor does not harm his family. It protects them from his violence.

To report an aggressor is not about gossiping. It is about integrity.”


We can use permaculture principles to create a checklist for reclaiming healthy sisterhood:

  • Identify patriarchal dynamics in your personal story and how they affected your life and the ones around you. Take your time(Observe and interact / Small and slow solutions),
  • Give yourself some time to grief about the violence that you didn’t realize that you suffered, or that you know but you had to endure over them and never allow yourself to cry about it. Let them compost(Integrate rather than segregate / Create no waste),
  • Look for nurturing relationships around you where you feel free to be yourself fully (Value diversity / Catch and store energy ),
  • Cultivate nonjudgmental and authentic relationships where you feel safe to be who you are and present to hold the space for each other and learn from each other’s experience (Value your margins / apply self-regulation).

This is why to know Permaculture Women Guild and do their double -PDC was important for me. Not only because I felt safe in it, but because there is space to talk about these topics (sexism, colonialism, racism) and they are mentioned in the process of learning of the permaculture design.

Remember, the best way to disrupt an abusive system is by starting with ourselves and the closest areas around us. Learn how to live in a way that makes the abusive system senseless, thinking about Buckminster Fuller used to say about changing a model. Instead of losing our energy in becoming more like “men” to have our voice heard, we need to empower ourselves to feel free and safe to be the women we didn’t dare to be, making this power over women dynamic obsolete.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller.

Sisterhood is about women learning to free themselves to be happy and supporting other women in finding their own path to be who they are. Let’s make Patriarchy out of use.

Learn to free yourself, dare to love you by who you are.

Look for support in your area. As Toni Morrison wrote, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” Because cooperation is the key to a healthier and regenerative society.https://www.permaculturewomen.com/media/4fbe4425887d22377595eeb24edacc89Gif from @libbyvanderploeg


  1. Brazil: New research on open data and cases of femicide
  2. What do we mean by femicide?
  3. Standardisation of femicide data: key lessons
  4. Definition of Patriarchy by Merriam-Webster dictionary
  5. Feminicide Watch
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