By Colbert Gwain in Bamenda
Bamenda-based gendered environmental rights and feminist civil society organization, the Cameroon Gender and Environmental Watch, abbreviated CAMGEW, has been speaking of the acute under-representation and under-recognition of indigenous women in particular, and the woman-folk in general, as a key constituency in environmental and climate governance issues in Cameroon and beyond.
This discriminatory attitude, it notes, goes against CEDAW General Recommendation 37 and the Glasgow Climate Pact calling for States to ”increase the full, meaningful and equal participation of women and girls in environmental and climate action”.
During a last March 26, 2022, come together at the conference Hall of Blue Pearl hotel in Bamenda, where some indigenous women and feminist civil society actors drawn from across the North West Region of Cameroon joined CAMGEW to begin reflecting and capacitating themselves on reshaping gender and environmental policies aimed at empowering women on their socio-economic and environmental rights, participants frowned at Cameroon’s non-respect of signed international Conventions as well as optional protocols.
Following a CAMGEW-initiated petition gone viral on social media aimed at calling on governments around the world to renew and increase their commitment to empowering women and girls to realize their environmental rights, especially climate-vulnerable women such as indigenous women, last March 26, 2022, come together was a venue par excellence for organizers to drive through the recommendations of The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, recognizing the need for gender equality and the empowerment of women in addressing climate change and environmental issues, in a more simplified and down-to-earth manner.
That is how, after a series of presentations by some key feminist civil society leaders, the grassroots environmental rights actors spent most of their day working in groups. This was to enable them not only to identify the social, economic, cultural and legal obstacles to their involvement in environmental decision-making processes but more importantly, how such obstacles could be overcome.
On sharp focus too, was the thorny issue of how to strengthen women’s right to land and natural resources, including through better tenure security, elimination of discriminatory laws, and greater gender-responsiveness of customary and informal justice (CIJ) institutions. Reason-why traditional authorities were central to the day’s conversation launched by the grassroots environmental NGO, CAMGEW.
At the close of the event, participants resolved to increase collaboration, lobbying and advocacy for increased rights for women and girls to effectively participate in and lead efforts to achieve environmental and climate justice, as equal rights holders and agents of change.
Coming at a time the five years of prolonged conflict in the two English Speaking Regions of Cameroon have further complicated environmental protection and women’s access to natural resources, as fighters since scared environmentalists away from conservation and forest protection, raising awareness and building capacities of the few remaining women and girls in local communities, was a highly welcomed idea by participants.
It was more important to frontally challenge governments around the world to renew their commitment to climate action given that the outbreak of the Russian-Ukraine war has given governments across the world an opportunity to rescind their climate commitments and engagements, following the sanctions and rising fuel prices.
It should be recalled that the idea of indigenous women’s Environmental Rights defenders is not entirely new to Cameroon. In the past, community women have stood up in defence of their farms and the destruction of their ancestral lands. This was the case of Aghem Women in the 80s who threatened to march naked to Bamenda to protest the continuous destruction of their crops by Fulani graziers and the government’s non-action.
The innovation of the CAMGEW approach is that it seeks to be preemptive, collaborative and rights-based. Its mainstay is the socio-economic empowerment of the grassroots women, alongside their lobbying and advocacy for inclusiveness in climate-action decision-making processes, as contained in the Generation Equality Forum’s Global Acceleration Plan on Gender Equality.
The said plan includes a ‘Feminist Action on Climate Justice Action Coalition’, tasked with developing a comprehensive gender-integrative approach to addressing climate change and creating gender-responsive sustainability strategies and programmes.
*Colbert Gwain is an International Freelance reporter/writer, award-winning Digital Rights advocate, Content Creator @TheColbertFactor, legislative advocacy Campaigner for a comprehensive Digital Rights Bill, Privacy and data protection laws for Cameroon, Facebook Trainer of Trainers for Central African zone, promoter, Cameroon Association of Content Creators, CACC, Specialist on New Digital Civil Society in Africa Playbook and Commitment Maker @UN-Women Generation Equality Forum’s Global Acceleration Plan on Gender Equality
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