African women gather in Port Harcourt, march against environmental abuse

Posted by News Express | 2 October 2015 | 4,520 times

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African women have joined the world to mark the 2015 Global Day for Women on Climate Change and in Port Harcourt, hub of Nigeria’s fossil fuel zone. Community women and activists from Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa and Nigeria, marched in solidarity to demand for climate justice.

The women numbering over 120, including participants at an ongoing one-week regional exchange and strategy meeting with the theme, ‘African Women Uniting for Energy, Food and Climate Change,’ marched from the city centre, Lagos Bus Stop. At the Government House, they handed in their demand for respect for the environment by the big corporations whose extractive activities have resulted in climate change.

The women sang songs of unity and rejection of environmental degradation. They lamented that years of extractive activities in the varied African countries have further impoverished community people especially women in addition to exposing them to other harsh consequences while enriching the very few multinational corporation owners who the African leaders find too powerful to respect global good practices.

While they waited to be attended to at the Rivers State Government House gate premises, Emem Okon, executive director Kebetkache Women Resource and Development Center, host of the WOMIN Trust Alliance meeting, explained that the march was in commemoration of the global day of action for environmental justice made particularly important because the UN Assembly was meeting to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals.

A five-day regional exchange and strategy meeting had opened in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, on Monday with participants drawn from all parts of Africa to deliberate on the negative impacts of fossil fuel, coal and extraction which mostly affects women in the continent.

Held at the Beverly Hills Hotels, GRA, the regional meeting was organised by WOMIN in partnership with Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, and funded by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (MODEF), Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Africa groups of Sweden, CCFD Terre Solidaire, Drekonigsaktion, among others.

Declaring the meeting open, the executive director of Kebetkache said that it “offers a platform for women leaders supported by activists from NGO/ support organisations to deepen their knowledge about the fossil fuels industry globally – its history power and influence; the impact of fossil fuels extraction and combustion and the associated climate change read through a political economy and transformative women’s rights perspective.”

The meeting, she said, would also examine the development alternatives from an eco-  feminist structural change perspective, agree on a longer term collaboration through a women-led regional campaign addressing fossil fuel, climate justice, energy and women’s rights and conclude with some key activities to start building the campaign over the next three years.

With about 30 women drawn from Malawi, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the United States of America joining 30 Nigerians in the WOMIN programme, Okon said the union will also provide opportunity for Nigerian women to share their analysis and recommendations with Nigerian policy makers.

She said: “Our region and its women are the most vulnerable and hence must be the ones that should lead the struggle and posit the necessary solutions.

“The call for climate justice recognises that it is the people on ground, who, through their mobilisation, their demands and their solutions hold the only hope for the planet which represents a significant rationale for a WOMIN focus on fossil fuels, energy and climate justice.”

Delivering the opening paper titled, ‘Nigeria National Political Economy and Energy Struggles’, Dr. Fidelis Allen of the Centre for Ethics, Gender and Women Development, University of Port Harcourt, said the oil industry has contributed about 70 per cent of the green house emission in the atmosphere contributing to climate change.

He said oil companies are having a field day in Nigeria while the climate is the big loser because the farmlands, creeks, soil, the air are all polluted from extractive activities of the activities of the oil industries.

Allen said he was happy that women have gathered to demand climate justice because they constitute the most vulnerable group in the environment chain as he stressed that climate change is most prevalent in the Niger Delta.

Challenging rural women to action, Dr. Allen said when women calculate their problems they will become more active in the struggle against climate change.

Although he said political factors interfere with issues of climate justice, the university don said when women become more active in demanding for environmental rights, justice, men will support them.

“When rural women are able to articulate their problems in relation to climate change, there will be a stronger movement for climate justice. Women are responding but the globalisation of climate justice movement will inspire more women in this part of the world. This link between the global and local women will help cement and establish better, a gendered climate justice not only in Nigeria but Africa and the world,” he said.

He identified the challenge before the Nigerian Government as its heavy dependence on natural resources, the basis of the struggle by politicians for political office to gain access to the oil revenue.

WOMIN regional director, Samantha Hargreaves said the destructive nature of extraction of fossil fuel, coal, uranium and other minerals and the fact that the poor, mainly blacks and women are the burden bearers demands a shift towards renewable energy but one that would be women-driven to avoid the usual hijack by the few powerful individuals and corporate bodies.

Representatives of the participating countries took turns making solidarity statements calling for respect for mother earth before a crowd of journalists who covered the event.

•Photo shows Emem Okon.

Source: News Express

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