Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Eco-feminists are tackling climate change head on

As a child growing up in western Uganda, Sostine Namanya saw first-hand how environmental changes directly impacted women’s lives. During droughts, women travelled further to gather water, exposing them to the risk of sexual abuse. Longer hours spent gathering resources delayed meal preparations, leading to violence at the hands of abusive partners. Meanwhile, schooling was sacrificed to increased domestic demands. “I think I grew up from the reality of what climate change actually means,” Namanya says.

Later, those formative experiences hardened into a resolve to act. Namanya is now the gender and food security officer for Uganda’s National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), a nongovernmental organisation that tackles environmental issues ranging from land-grabbing by extractive industries to ecosystem restoration; Namanya’s role is to investigate the gender dimension in each case. To do so, she’s built up a vast network of women activists, who are fighting to protect natural resources in a bid to also protect their own rights. “The violence that happens to nature equally happens to women,” Namanya says.

Women are harmed more by environmental destruction and climate change, “not because there is something inherently more vulnerable about women, but because of entrenched social structures that put them at a disadvantage in the face of disasters,” says Marina Andrijevic, a research analyst with the non-profit Climate Analytics and Humboldt University in Germany. Seventy-five per cent of Uganda’s population is rural, and the majority are women whose roles as farmers and domestic providers connect them to the land. Now, on top of unpredictable growing seasons and weather extremes brought by climate change, there is also the threat of land grabs by extractive industries and industrial agriculture companies – often backed by foreign investment, Namanya says.

As these corporations lay pipelines and roads, and clear forests for farmland, they’re destroying natural resources and women’s livelihoods, while contributing to climate change. Because land rights typically revert to men, land takeovers have left hundreds of women internally displaced in Ugandan refugee camps. “Women in rural areas disproportionately experience the interlinked impacts of government-led initiatives, foreign investment in land, natural resource extraction and climate change,” says Namanya.

Her solution is to release the untapped power of rural women. In 2016, Namanya drew up a manifesto for a Ugandan “eco-feminist” movement that has since exploded into a 7,000-strong force of cross-country activists, made up of several independent women’s groups that can be found protesting against extractive industries, developing sustainable alternative fuels and leading reforestation drives on degraded lands.

Namanya and her team have trained 150 advocacy groups across dozens of communities who rally around women’s land rights in flashpoints such as Uganda’s oil-rich Albertine region. They also connect communities with local journalists who they can alert when issues arise. Meanwhile, Namanya has set up a “green radio” channel that invites rural women to protest oil and gas development and raise awareness among their 700,000-strong listenership. NAPE also trains community advocates called “Land Queens”, who educate women about provisions in the Ugandan constitution that protect women’s land rights. They’re ready to intercept when they sense women being edged out of the picture by their partners or companies. “They are our eyes and ears,” Namanya says.

Most PopularSecurityHackers Found a Way to Open Any of 3 Million Hotel Keycard Locks in Seconds

Andy Greenberg

Backchannel8 Google Employees Invented Modern AI. Here’s the Inside Story

Steven Levy

ScienceThe Keys to a Long Life Are Sleep and a Better Diet—and Money

Matt Reynolds

GearThe Omega x Swatch Snoopy MoonSwatch Has Landed

Jeremy White

This multi-pronged attack on environmental injustice has led to some successes: along with other Ugandan campaigners, in 2019 NAPE sued the French energy company Total over its plans to drill oil wells in a Ugandan national park; the case is ongoing in France. It also mobilised women to participate in high-profile protests to stop Uganda’s biodiverse Bugoma Forest being converted into a sugar plantation; a legal battle continues.

Progress is piecemeal, but Namanya believes that slowly building up this groundswell of women will create a buffer against environmental destruction and climate change. Andrijevic’s research supports this, showing that on a national scale, gender equality tracks with greater climate resilience. “A growing body of work is highlighting the importance of female empowerment for climate action,” she says. Yet Namanya also cautions that there’s only so much that grassroots activism can achieve. The challenges Ugandan women face are symptomatic of a global problem of wealthy nations that continue funding extractive industries in places like Uganda, forcing an unfair burden on the people who contribute least to climate change. “Women’s power is crucial in delivering change,” Namanya says – but they shouldn’t be the only ones fighting for it.

This article was originally published by WIRED UK

Popular Articles