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African women decry activities of extractive industries in host communities

Emem Okon, executive director Kebetkache Women Development  and Recourse Center leads the African women march to the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt to demand Climate Justice on Tuesday September  29 in solidarity with the global  Women Day of Action for Climate Justice.

african,women, extractive industries ,fossil fuel,energy, climate, justice,women rights

Photo: Emem Okon, executive director Kebetkache Women Development  and Recourse Center leads the African women march to the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt to demand Climate Justice on Tuesday September  29 in solidarity with the global  Women Day of Action for Climate Justice. 

*Call for shift in government policies on oil, environment*

Chidi Sam-Walson

As part of synergy and in pursuance of better living standard for the rural women in Africa, the Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in collaboration with the WOMIN Trust Alliance USA, Tuesday, September 26 commenced a one week meeting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.

The meeting which featured deliberations on issues affecting women ended on Friday, October 3, 2015.  It had attendance women from African countries where fossil fuels and coal are being explored and extracted and included Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.

Focus was on the Impact of Extractive Industries on Fossil Fuel Energy, Climate, Justice and Women Rights with a view to providing recommendations as well draw government’s attention to the needs and aspirations of women while designing policies.

In her welcome address, the Executive Director of Kebetkache Women Development Center, Emem Okon, commended participants on their zeal and described the meeting as the best thing that has happened to women in Africa to unite to seek a way forward on issues that are relatively affecting them.

 She said the impact of climate change occasioned by the activities of extractive industries called for urgent attention of both the industries and governments in the affected countries as well as the women in the host communities where the extractions are taking place. She stressed that climate change if not properly checked would turn a global disaster.

Samantha Hargreaves, regional director of WOMIN Trust Alliance, a coalition of African women organizations from the extractive industry, stressed the need to recognize women’s rights. She posited that the climate issue affecting African women should be addressed with seriousness as reports indicate the continent is heading for disaster if necessary action is not put in place to stem climate change.

The associate professor in the University South Africa, said fossil fuels rather than improve the lives of host communities, impoverishes the people the more enriching only the corporations who carry out the extraction.

According to her, studies have shown that hosts to fossil fuel all over remain poor and are mainly blacks noting that even in the US local communities where oil is found are displaced and pauperized.

Hargreaves said there is need for a shift towards alternative cleaner renewable energy which she said should be democratic to include women and affordable to all rather than a project controlled by a few and more favourable to the rich.

Apart from the oil and coal impacted countries, a participant from the USA, Ms Aileen Zuckerman from Gender Action, GAP, was also in attendance in solidarity with the African women in the struggle.

Highlights of the five-day meeting included a climate justice match to the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt in commemoration of the global Day of Action for Women Against Climate Change, WECAN , with handover of the Climate Declaration to the governor, Chief Nyesom Ezebunwo Wike, visit to Bodo and Goi communities in Ogoni as well as powerful presentations on climate change, food sovereignty, political economy of oil, all geared towards organizing a common front to end climate abuse.  

Theme of the exchange and strategy meeting was, ‘Women Uniting for Energy, Food and Climate Justice’.

Speaking to journalists, the women who narrated their ordeals with great passion decried the activities of the extractive industries, saying: “women are most vulnerable”. They lamented that the impact of climate change has left African women in abject poverty with the extractive industries unperturbed even as they decried government’s inability to design policies to improve women’s living condition. 

One of the women from the affected communities in Uganda, Shillar Kyomugsha, disclosed that women in Uganda are presently suffering untold hardship in their areas.

According to her, women in Uganda’s oil communities are devastated thanks to the activities of the miners in the host communities. Shillar said the women of Uganda are calling the attention of the government to their plight, requesting that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the extractive industries entered with the government should include the women in the compensation.

 She averred that the only means of livelihood available to the women is being denied them and that restrictions no longer allow women to go to fetch firewood from the milling areas.

Speaking on oil exploration impact on Nigeria, Constance Meju, a woman activist harped on the need for Nigerian government to put the interest of women into consideration in policy designs and a check on the recklessness of oil giants in the country.

Meju gave instances from the Niger Delta region where Nigerian oil, the main economy, is being produced lamenting that despite the trillions of dollars oil revenue from over 50 years exploration, the region is still largely underdeveloped and inhabitants in the host communities are still wallowing in abject poverty and ill-health.

She said rural women from the area have been deprived of their means of livelihood as oil exploration has destroyed the land rendering it infertile. She pointed out that fishing which is the main occupation of the people is no longer yielding fruit and is being forced out due to pollution of the waters as a result of oil spillage which wipes out aquatic life and destroys farm lands. 

Meju also said that the women from areas where oil activities are taking place need to be compensated lamenting that the oil bearing communities in Nigeria are largely underdeveloped. She posited that the government should make development visible in the host communities, giving instance with the Olobiri community in Bayelsa where oil was first found, Bodo and Goi communities in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers state which have experienced devastating oil-spills that forced Goi people to be evacuated from their ancestral homes.

Emem Okon, executive director Kebetkache Women Development and Recourse Center leads the African women march to the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt to demand Climate Justice on Tuesday September 29 in solidarity with the global Women Day of A

 

South African, Ugandan, Nigerian and Democratic Republic of Congo women at the Global March for Gender Justice

*The DR Congo Connection to Port Harcourt 2015*

By Jim Pressman

Four strong grassroots women activists including Secretary General of the umbrella group FEJE (Femmes et Justice Economique / Women United for Economic Justice) Scholastique Atadra Sura took part in the just-concluded week-long African Women Uniting for Energy, Food and Climate Justice Exchange Meeting in Port Harcourt Nigeria. 

The group from DR Congo did not just stand out because they were the only French-speaking delegation they often held up discussions for their need to ensure that the Translators could help them carry on by guiding them a-right through the proceedings conducted mostly in English. Their uniqueness came out in their natural ability to laugh even at themselves and to make others laugh, in the face of the very serious situations brought up for discussion. Using simple but impactful solidarity songs, they also had a knack for energizing the participants just when they began to look bored or tired and were beginning to lose interest.

Women in their country, they were quick to point out, are not new to activism or to attempts to establish mass Women – driven movements. In fact, they recall how under Mobutu Sesse Seko, the dictatorial Emperor insisted that anyone who attacked women had attacked his imperial majesty himself. So he did encourage activities of women groups speaking out for the rights of people. 

Ironically however, the local culture in DRC, they revealed, has many in-built gender inequalities. Some of these can be as ridiculous as having to reserve certain food items as delicacies regarded as the exclusive preserve of the men. Yet, as is common in most African families, women there produce and prepare the foods for their families. Especially to Niger Delta women, it was strange to learn that in the DRC, snails – incidentally called Congo meat in Nigeria – are only eaten by men.

In Nigeria as in the other countries represented, women groups have long been fragmented, underscoring the new needed drive to create large, national and continental African Women Movements and to conquer the divisive tendencies which fractionalize and weaken the women. That new level in African women development efforts was set in motion at the Port Harcourt meeting and meant a whole lot to the DRC delegation. And the DRC delegation had, all along, been vocal in their interventions as to the need for greater African sisterhood in solidarity, which will underline the new massive movement needed to drive a new phase of the arduous fight for Climate Justice – which is impossible without Gender Justice.

As the meeting drew to a close and the Declaration being put together, another major concern for the DRC team popped up. All along they had expressed worries about what would happen if the clamour for fossil fuels to be left henceforth under the ground is adhered to. As Scholastique Atadra Sura asked many times, “even though we stopped the INGA Dam III project because of the devastating effects on land and water ownerships, we in DRC depend largely on revenue from exploitation of our extractable resources, so what becomes of us in DRC if the extractive industries are all put out of business?”

Much as each delegation displayed their countries cultural dresses and fabrics, the DRC delegation did not also get left behind in the frenzy to go shopping for Nigerian materials after lunch at the end of the last session. Echoes of their “Viva Africa and we are together, we are one”, would reverberate still in the ears of all participants as they bade each other farewell until they meet again soon to resume the mass movement project – largely thanks to the DRC delegation, who left their mark on the Port Harcourt meeting.

From Chidi Sam-Walson

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