On November 27 – 28, 2023, Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre gathered Niger Delta Women, civil society activists, environmentalist, media stakeholders and government officials at Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State to mark the 2023 Niger Delta Women’s Day of Action for Environmental Justice. The theme of the convergence; Building a Feminist Economy for Eco-system Restoration in the Niger Delta.
The Women’s Day of Action for Environmental Justice contributes to the building of a grassroots eco-feminist movement in the Niger Delta. It strengthens women resilience and builds the leadership capacity of women to lead local advocacy actions for eco-friendly extractive practices. The marking of the Day of action enhances women organizing and mobilization in the Niger Delta for women’s economic and political empowerment. The Day of action has promoted visibility of community women initiatives to campaign for climate justice and hold government accountable for the degradation of the environment in the Niger Delta.
The 2023 Women’s Day of Action brought together 300 participants from Ghana, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, and Rivers States. Participants were drawn from women groups, Non-Governmental Organizations, Community Based organizations, Faith Based Organizations, Professional groups, farmers, fisher women, environmentalists, traders, and civil servants. The convergence also graced the presence of the Country Director of OXFAM Nigeria; Tijani Ahmed Hamza. The event featured keynote presentations, fireside stories, exhibition of women local campaign initiatives, community theatre, panel discussions, state parades, poems, media engagement, village square etc.
Discussions centred around Building a Feminist Economy and the Green/Blue Economy, which highlighted the absence of women’s needs and challenges arising from activities in policy planning an implementation. It decries the deepened poverty and health challenges unleash on the Niger Delta women, as a land degradation and climate change including perennial flooding, have made their traditional livelihood occupation too unproductive to sustain living, does threating family control and exposing youth to danger.
The convergence observed that though women constitute the larger population of farmers they lack access to land ownership and resources to invest in smart agriculture for better result to address existing challenges. It’s stressed that a nation can only be health if the women are healthy. The low voices in governance from family, community to state and national level was also consider a major obstacle to attempt to bridge the gap identified between men and women in economic matters. It was also noted that the dearth of women in political discourse renders individuals in such positions too weak to have a meaningful influence on decisions concerning women.
The revenue generated from oil mineral resources do not benefit people, particularly women. The people have limited livelihood opportunities and lack basic social services. Though women have engaged in campaigns and advocacy against degradation of their environment and pollution but actions to influence and demand accountability from government and corporations are inadequate and needs to be amplified. The Niger Delta communities are male dominated and so patriarchal norms defines the power relationship between women and men. Women do not participate in decision making processes. Despite the fact that a lot of investment is ongoing in the natural resource industry, poverty is still rampant in oil bearing communities and development programs do not impact on marginalized populations including women.
At the end of the two-day deliberations, participants made the following observations:
· That when it comes to Climate Change mitigation and adaptation, and environmental protection, the Niger Delta region does not receive the proper and sufficient attention from the federal and state governments.
· The plans being set up to initiate the Host Communities Component of the Petroleum Industry Act's (PIA) implementation were observed. It conveyed deep concern that women should be included in the negotiations in all of these talks and that their unique interests haven't been taken into account in the many demands.
· The convergence also noted that, in addition to the environmental harm caused by oil and gas extraction, human activities have severely damaged the ecology, necessitating a shift in mindset and attitudinal change.
· That the failure of government at all levels has reduced the chances of development in the Niger Delta and in turn condemned the region to adverse socio-economic and environmental challenges.
· In order to ensure that the Niger Delta does not fall behind in global development, education is a crucial instrument for enabling women to escape poverty. Youth in particular needs to be well-versed in digital literacy.
· That the Niger Delta region is at the risk of further devastating floods and adverse environmental consequences if the problems of Climate Change; flooding are not adequately mitigated by all government agencies, states and institutions.
· That corruption and criminal politics continue to plague and undermine the prospects and opportunities for development in the Niger Delta, and that civil society organization must undertake serious steps to fight and mitigate the impact of corruption on development in the region.
· Several development programmes, agencies and funds are available for the mitigation of environmental problems such as flooding in the Niger Delta, but that the Government has failed to properly prioritize and allocate them to the issues affecting the region.
· That States and Local Government Areas in the Niger Delta are yet to prioritize and incorporate climate change mitigation and climate financing into their developmental and fiscal programmes and policies.
Kebetkache restated its commitment to continue providing platforms for Niger Delta women and to engage stakeholders for the development and restoration of the Niger Delta region; and to see that all resources are equitably shared and women included in decision making processes.
Based on the following, the Niger Delta women resolve to make the following demands to secure their future, assert stake and ensure their survival;
1. Niger Delta women say No to a destructive, harmful, and unjust economic system that creates lives of hardship and poverty for most people across resource rich Niger Delta.
2. Government at local, state and federal level should respect, domesticate and effectively implement the National Action Plan on Gender and Climate Change; addressing the damaging effect of climate change on the economy of Niger delta women.
3. The Nigerian Government must ensure that the divesting companies owns up and pay up for all environmental damages and human rights violations caused by the divesting companies during their years of operations before they are allowed to completely divest from onshore communities.
4. Law makers both at the federal and state levels should repeal laws and practices that disempowers and deprive women from getting access to land, economic resources and all other development opportunities and benefits.
5. That the needs and challenges of women should be intentionally integrated into government policies in education, economy, agriculture, finance, commerce etc.
6. That funding opportunities and education in modern and smart agriculture should be prioritize for women.
7. That Niger delta should adopt a more environment friendly approach and the attitude of keeping the drainage free from waste and waterways free from plastics.
8. The voices of women in Africa on fossil fuel extraction be strengthened by exchange programmes, capacity building, joint actions, increased funding, networking and movement building.
9. That attention should be paid to the mental health challenges of women.
10. More skill acquisition on alternative livelihood should be set up for women in the region.
The women pledged willingness and commitment to keep the tempo of organizing against oppression of host Communities until success is achieved.
This demand is endorsed by 300 community women and men representatives that participated in the Convergence in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on the 27th and 28thof November, 2023.