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Who is Vandana Shiva?

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  • Written By: Caitlin Kenney
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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Dr. Vandana Shiva is a feminist, physicist, author and environmental activist and policy advocate. Born in Dehradun, India on 5 November 1952, Shiva currently continues her work from her home in Delhi.

Raised by a forest conservationist father and farming mother, Shiva began her work in science at St. Mary’s School in Nainital and the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Dehradun. Shiva acquired her Bachelor's degree in physics and then moved on to achieve her Master's degree in philosophy at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. In 1979, the University of Western Ontario awarded Vandana Shiva a PhD in Quantum Theory Physics, after which point Shiva returned to India to conduct interdisciplinary research on environmental policy and the ecological impacts of technology at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

In 1982, Vandana Shiva founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), which aimed to conserve biodiversity. Later, in 1991, Vandana Shiva founded Navdanya, translated “nine seeds,” an institution protecting the diversity of indigenous seeds. Both foundations offer encouragement and support to farmers seeking to evade political and economic pressure to adopt farming practices that might impair biodiversity, especially genetic engineering. Vandana Shiva and her organizations also promote the accepted use of Indian traditional knowledge.

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In these two organizations, through her writing, and in other grassroots organizations and movements she has allied herself with, Vandana Shiva has focused her arguments primarily on agriculture, food, biodiversity, and water rights. In the 1970s, Shiva took part in the nonviolent Chipko movement where participants, primarily women, hugged trees in order to prevent them from being cut down.

Shiva has also lent her intellectual weight to the Green movement, which works globally against genetic engineering under the belief that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) create hybrid super-pests and super-weeds, degrade the genetic pool, and foster dependency of farmers on monopolistic seed companies. This belief also caused her to speak out against the 1970s Green Revolution, which espoused the introduction of western agricultural technology to alleviate hunger in India.

Vandana Shiva is also highly connected with the Ecofeminist movement, which advocates that empowering women through traditional women-centered farming practices will benefit agricultural sustainability and food security. Her prolific and well-read writings, especially her book Staying Alive, have contributed to the heightening awareness of the conditions of Third World women.

Shiva currently serves as an adviser to the Indian government as well as other governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. At the International Forum on Globalization, she takes a leading role along with other environmental figures, including Ralph Nader and Jerry Mander. Vandana Shiva has penned thirteen books and over 300 published papers, appeared in several documentaries, including Flow: For Love of Water, and The Corporation, and won several awards, including the Right Livelihood Award and the Global 500 Award for her work in the fields of feminism and ecology.

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