Women marchers at COP 17 demand climate justice

Women marchers at COP 17 demand climate justice

Date: December 5, 2011
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On Saturday 3 December, scores of people from different walks of life marched through the streets of Durban demanding climate justice. Chanting slogans such as “A people UNITED can never be DEFEATED,” women and men from civil society, youth, faith based organisations, and trade unions, among others, joined hands and with one voice demanded a resolution come out of COP 17.

A colourful sea of different t-shirts and banners called for negotiators to consider a wide range of issues as they make decisions on the conference. “Viva climate justice viva!” shouted a woman soloist. The songs and slogans of protest that marked anti-apartheid marches were prominent, only this time, they were sung as the people demanded climate justice.

A group of youth who travelled by road from Kenya in a caravan were very vocal and visible during the march. They staged skits, and would on cue lie on the ground one by one as they named and counted the different COPs, with 17 youths prostrated on the ground at different intervals of the march. From this determined display by the youth, one got the message that it is time we stopped talking and started acting. Otherwise, we will be failing the next generation.

Lilly Agoya, a volunteer with the Young Women Christian Association participated in the march. Agoya argues that the youth have a stake in climate change issues. “We want to push our leaders to commit to a fair and legally binding agreement.” She indicated that youth drawn from 13 countries; Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Botswana, Canada, United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Norway and Zambia had handed a petition to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Agoya, who lives in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, has felt the pinch caused by climate change. “When there’s too much rain, it floods and transportation is a problem. We are not prepared for such things,” she says, lamenting that it is very difficult to navigate the city when the roads are flooded. But Agoya is not just speaking about the hardship the urban woman faces.

She also remembers her rural counterparts. “It is women who struggle to till the land and get food for the family,” she says, saying that the effects of climate change jeopardise women’s ability to feed their families. Representatives from the Rural Women’s Assembly wore t-shirts that resonated with Agoya’s views, emblazoned “women, guardians of the seed of life and the earth. Viva”!

Shireen Ramridge, a mother of two from Phoenix in South Africa also had her say. Ramridge cannot write, so her husband wrote their protests on two banners she displayed at an intersection near the ICC building. “To a green thought, in a green shade. Time is drawing near and near, when mother earth shall bear the load no more.” The couple urged people to plant trees and take care of their trash as a way of caring for the environment.

“I don’t want to be killed by climate change,” said Cameroonian Georgine Kengne Jeutane’s on her reasons for participating in the march. “It’s time to take action. So many things are going wrong in Africa, affecting our lives, women, children and the entire community,” she lamented. It is time for the leaders to make the right decisions and save mother earth.”

“The best way to fight climate change is to keep fossil fuels under the ground,” pointed out Ivonne Yanez an Ecuadorian protester from Oil Watch. Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum and natural gas. Gases such as methane are created by methanogenic organisms in marshes, bogs and landfills. These are harmful to the environment and ultimately contribute to climate change.

Nomcebo Mbayi, a street waste picker from Cape Town, participated in the march to protest the privatisation of waste in landfills to incinerating companies who are out to get methane. She highlighted that privatisation of waste threatened her livelihood. The twenty-nine year old woman has been working in the streets collecting waste for over two years and pleaded with governments to recognise waste pickers. “We are here to work, clean the environment and promote recycling. They should not give our jobs to incinerators,” she said.

After navigating the streets of Durban to the ICC, the protesters got an audience from the incumbent COP president, South Africa minister of International Relations Cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres outside the ICC. The two women who occupy strong decision-making positions in the climate change discourse at the moment assured the protesters that their petitions would be considered by the negotiators as the climate change talks go into week two.

Women and men alike, though speaking in different languages and multiple voices want to ensure that COP 17 comes up with tangible agreements that will advance the fight against climate change. The same agreements should bring gender justice to many women in Africa who have already started paying the price for climate change.

Florence Sipalla is a writer with the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWCFS). This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service and AWCFS special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence and COP 17 Conference.


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