As the Conference of Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Egypt draws apace, there is an increasing effort to strengthen and unify women-led struggle against destructive large-scale climate projects, false solutions to climate crisis and offer a powerful platform for women to propose and shine a light on the REAL development that Africa and their communities need to survive now and into the future. African women are at the frontlines of Climate Crisis.
To amplify women’s voices and show women at the front line of the crisis, WoMIN African Alliance in collaboration with Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre organised a Women’s Climate Assembly which took place from the 17th -20th of October 2022, at the Port Harcourt Diocesan Pastoral Centre in Rivers state, Nigeria.
The gathering was aimed at offering African women a space to share experience and organize strategies, learn from each other, deepen their knowledge, build solidarity, and define women’s position ahead of COP27. A first of its kind, the assembly represents the start of a permanent assembly of African women for Climate and Development justice.
Over 150 women activists including young people from 14 countries across West and Central Africa were in attendance. Represented countries include Guinea Conakry, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Niger and Nigeria. The struggle of African women against Climate Change, forced evictions, extractive industry, industrial agriculture, and to protect their lands, territories, seed, and breeds are all struggles for Climate Justice.
All over Africa, most especially the oil producing Niger Delta, floods ravage, pipelines spill on and gas is still flared. We are in danger of annihilation..and yet, for decades, African women, who have done the least in creating the climate problem continue to suffer the worst burdens of the crisis. They carry the costs of extractive activities including ill-health, violence, hunger, and displacement so that the world’s most powerful corporations, the wealthy and middle class in the global North can enjoy unlimited energy supplies and development possibilities. Given the division of labour which assigns women the primary responsibility for household food production and preparation, water and energy harvesting, care for the elderly, the young and the sick, women suffer the brunt of climate impact even more than men. They represent the majority of the world’s poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2021, women experience higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty and gender inequality. It is against this background that African women gathered to build a force for Climate Justice — a force that seeks to develop the voices of African women enmeshed in the present, a voice that says NO to powerful multinational corporations responsible for the climate crisis and demands for sovereign debt cancellation, a voice that is prepared to break with the past, a voice that seeks an economy that serves the peoples first.
Emem Okon, Executive Director at Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, briefly welcomed participants and reiterated why we are gathered as African women to discuss climate solutions that will work for women in local communities.
“For us women in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, since 1956, people have been digging our soil to bring out crude oil. They use the oil, trade and do business with it and make profit but keep communities in perpetual poverty. So, we are going to share experiences and stories of how women have been impacted by these activities and come out with a declaration on the last day.” – Emem Okon
The assembly had different teach-ins and group discussions that touched on areas such as- What is climate change, why is it happening, who is responsible; What is needed to stop the growing climate crisis; Climate crisis, dirty energy, and the false solutions; What is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Conference of Parties (COP 27 upcoming); Why have government negotiations failed African Women; Climate crisis, big industrial agriculture, and hunger; Big dams, the destruction of forests and climate warming; Voices of Women in Africa; Storytelling for change; Field visit to oil impacted community and flood impacted areas; Our Dreams & Demands for climate debt justice etc.
More stories were told of resistance regarding oil pollution, air pollution, gas flaring, land, and women rights across the continent. Women also told stories about the work their organizations were doing and the environmental injustices they are faced with daily. One of the women cried out, “Our farms are all gone due to oil pollution of our water. We used to farm casava, okra, pepper, and others. Now all the places we’ve farmed are sinking. We cannot farm, we cannot catch fishes and crayfish.”
It was painful to learn that elsewhere, oil-production activities, just like in Nigeria, never benefit the communities living next to them: the poor get poorer and even more desperate to survive. The four-days long Assembly exposed the enormity of assaults and violations facing African women for decades. Subversion of sovereignty; land grabs for massive projects; expulsions of indigenous territories; extraction and privatization of natural resources; environmental degradation; criminalization of social protest; invasive biotechnology; and loss of control of food sources and agriculture are only a partial list of the aggression catalogued during the group discussions.
At the end of the gathering, the women resolved and demanded that:
- Our governments at COP27 take into consideration where the oil and other resource exploration happens because our communities should not suffer for this.
- Women must be involved in negotiations wherever and whenever there are decisions to be made about oil and resources.
- Towards COP27, African women expect unconditional respect for Women’s rights, and the integration of women into the decision-making process.
- Policy change and enforcement to protect the environment.
- The rules and principles of our local conventions are respected and that the various declarations be accepted and applied.
- African leaders adopt a return to organic agriculture (use of traditional seeds) and put an end to chemical fertilizers and genetically modified food items.
- Women are at the heart of development programs emanating from COP27.
- All victims of flood, oil spillage and fire disaster be compensated and treated.
- Niger Delta women and other African women are empowered economically, so they may claim their right to political empowerment.
- Forthwith, any act that will further devastate the environment (aquatic and ecological environment) be stopped immediately and all devastated environments be cleaned up.
- Women are represented in all decision-making processes that affect the environment in Niger Delta and Africa at large.
Note taken by Magdalene Idiang, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), during the just concluded Women’s Climate Assembly.