In two days of inspirational discussion, political debate, the sharing of experiences and creative strategizing, women leaders and activists from five Africa countries came together to deepen their understanding of gender inequality based on their own struggles for environmental justice, and unite around proposals for challenging discriminatory practices and oppressions in their countries and in their region.

The 1st Friends of the Earth Africa Women’s Meeting took place on 16th – 17th August 2016 is the result of growing continental and Federation-wide recognition of the importance of proactively supporting women’s participation, protagonism and leadership within the environmental justice movement. It was held in Limbe, Cameroon, with the participation of Friends of the Earth Cameroon, Friends of the Earth Liberia, Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Friends of the Earth Togo and Friends of the Earth Uganda, in the run up to the African Annual Assembly in the same venue with the objective of also supporting women’s participation in the regional level meeting.

As a Federation we recognise that women are disproportionally affected by environmental and climate injustice or social conflict and disputes for territories, and we also strive to go beyond this recognition to really understanding and actively challenge the root economic and cultural causes of women’s oppression. We know that while women continue to have social responsibility for domestic and care work, and while the home is still considered our “natural” space, we will continue to face multiple challenges in our professional and activist lives. These challenges include the fact that we constantly have to prove ourselves, that we are considered a threat to our male colleagues, that we are ignored or not respected in our workplaces, or that we are dismissed as “emotional” when we are enthusiastic or angry (while our male colleagues are considered strong and assertive), amongst many other examples shared by participants.

We are inspired by the Friends of the Earth Africa Women’s Meeting participants’ strategies for overcoming these challenges, despite having less access to information, opportunities and support for their leadership or capacity building. Their experiences are the concrete demonstration of the power of women in reclaiming their land and rights from corporate takeover and against landgrabbing by mining companies or large-scale tree plantation projects in African countries. They show us that the transformation of our societies is only possible if we begin with the internal transformation of our organisations and institutional and activist structures. We have to model the transformation we want to see in society within our own organisations.

Environmental justice will only be a reality through the struggle for social justice and against all kinds of oppression – gender, race, class, colonialism, sexuality. Environmental justice is also about recognising women’s unique role in the movement and in the defence of their territories from corporate control, practices and policies that destroy their lives and livelihoods. It is about guaranteeing that women are free to live their lives without violence or the threat of violence. It is about mobilising grassroots women and creating women-only spaces where we can share and strategize. It is about constructing our grassroots feminism from the bottom-up!

The participants of the 1st Friends of the Earth Africa Women’s Meeting shared a communique representing the main political discussions of the meeting and their resolutions for gender justice within Friends of the Earth Africa national groups and regional structures during the Africa AGM that took place from 18th – 20th August 2016. In the recognition of the historical opportunity to take concrete steps towards gender equality in the region, the AGM approuved several action points, including the following:

1) To promote women’s representation within regional leadership, including on the Friends of the Earth International ExCom, the Friends of the Earth Africa Consultative Board and the programmes’ steering groups;

2) To create a women’s working group to carry forward the gender debate and training in the region;

3) To create a youth working group to gather information about youth work in national groups and future potential work.

People power WITH gender justice now!

Signed by:

– Representatives of Friends of the Earth Cameroon
– Representative of Friends of the Earth Liberia
– Representatives of Friends of the Earth Nigeria
– Representative of Friends of the Earth Togo
– Representative of Friends of the Earth Uganda

With solidarity from:

– Friends of the Earth International Economic Justice Resisting Neoliberalism programme
– Friends of the Earth International Climate Justice and Energy programme
– Friends of the Earth International Secretariat

Related: Interview with Rita Uwaka, from Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria)