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Building Women’s Resilience Through Trauma Healing

The extractive industry affects women and men differently, and women are most often the worst hit. This is because of women’s distinct gender roles and responsibilities in the household and community; different access to, use of and control of resources; separate needs and interests; and varying levels of access to and influence in decision-making processes.

The Trauma Healing session, tagged ‘Feminist Health and Economy Retreat’ is a safe space for women to discuss strategies to overcome depression, trauma from violence and abuse, health talks and financial empowerment space. Participating women are drawn from frontline communities across the Niger Delta states, who are bearing the heavy burden of Climate Crisis and environmental devastation caused by the activities of the multinationals.

(Group photo from the Feminist Health and Economy Retreat, Port Harcourt - Nigeria)

Women are the major producers of food in Niger Delta and the expropriation of land for extractives activities has the greatest impact on women. Land rights are typically vested in men and as such women’s rights to lands are tenuous. For a vast majority of women in Niger Delta, access to land is still linked to their relationship with a male family member and is forfeited if that relationship ends. These factors combine to undermine women’s access to, control of and use of land including for food production. With the extractive industries most women loose family land and thus can no longer cultivate and provide for their families. This affects women’s livelihoods and increase their workloads and cause greater economic dependence on men and often times leads to violence.

The Feminist Health and Economy Retreat is a feminist space that provides the enabling environment for community activists and women leaders including survivors of violence to discuss freely, share concerns, get counselling, offer counselling and engage in physiotherapy and psychosocial interventions. The aim is to build the emotional intelligence of women, strengthen self esteem, re-energised women human rights defenders as well as environmental justice campaigners and strategize to build a feminist economy.

Women are responsible for providing water for their families. Oil extraction has polluted water bodies, which has resulted in lack of access to clean water. Thus, less water is available to communities and their livestock. Women struggle with the extractive model of development that destroys the eco-system, poverty, poor health status, food insecurity, violent conflict, climate change and also struggle with patriarchy. These dimensions of struggles lead to poverty, sadness, hopelessness, fear and at times violence and death. This makes mental health a critical issue and a challenge when building a women’s movement and amplifying women’s voices in environmental justice campaigns in the Niger Delta. Moreover, women environmental justice campaigners are also burdened with lack of adequate rest, insecurity, fear, poverty and stereotypes.

The retreat stirred discussions around women’s economy and livelihoods. Empowering women in the economy and closing the gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Mr. Uchechukwu Ojiegbe, who is the Rivers State Manager at the Bank of Industry spoke to the women around the work they do and how women, especially grassroot women groups can access financial empowerment from the bank – ‘This commitment has continuously driven us to develop innovative strategies, interventions and solutions that are propelling the Nigerian economy towards sustained growth, and women are not left out.” Women were encouraged to register their businesses; micro, small and medium enterprises even farmers, so as to access resources for their business in other to boost the economy. The ability of women to participate equally in the markets that already exist, their control over and access to productive resources, their ability to find decent employment, their ability to manage their own time, lives, and bodies, and their increased voice, agency, and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels, from the family to international institutions, are all examples of how women can become more economically empowered.

Kebetkache with the support of Grassroots International / Martin-Baro Initiative is working to promote women’s mental health in the Niger Delta, considering the environmental devastation that has happened in the region resulting to different Climate Crisis. The week-long training strengthened the self-esteem of 40 women environmental justice campaigners and human rights defenders. Women experience trauma more frequently than men do, and the emotional, physical, social, and financial implications are frequently severe and extensive.

The environmental trauma is caused by sudden changes in the everyday physical environment. For example, various development projects altering the environment can activate trauma processes similar to war-related trauma. The origin of environmental trauma is an event that changes the physical environment, but it easily extends to other areas of life and women are at the heart of the effects.

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