(FPIC) Marlothie’s women leaders, champions in the fight against climate change

Participants at the campaign strategy training in Senegal

(Participants at the campaign strategy training in Senegal)

Free, Prior and Informed Consent: Capacity building of Marlothie’s women leaders, champions in the fight against climate change!

WoMin African Alliance in collaboration with its partner Lumière Synergie Développement organized a training workshop from 9 to 10 March 2023 on Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), for the women leaders of Marlothie, an area located in the Saloum Delta,  Senegal. The main objective of the workshop was to train twenty women leaders of the Saloum Delta on Free Prior, and Informed and Consent (FPIC) for their effective participation in the community decision-making process related to the exploitation of oil in the region. During this training participants were able to benefit from different sessions on the Sangomar oil project, which is located in the Saloum Delta, as well as women’s constitutional rights and other legislation highlighting women’s socio-economic rights.

On the celebration of Earth Day on 22 April, we want to acknowledge the fight led by these brave women from Senegal and the importance of solidarity and movement building to equip women to assert their leadership and better defend their ecosystem.

The conservation and restoration of indigenous ecosystems

The women who have benefited from the training are all members of the Marlothie Local Women’s Union, and their main economic activities are the cultivation of oysters and other crustaceans in the mangroves, as well as agriculture. They then process products from their different crops. In addition to this, the women of Marlothie are champions in the fight against climate change. They have been developing indigenous solutions for the preservation of their ecosystem for many years. The conservation and restoration of the mangroves has become the best solution to stem the advance of the sea and preserve the arable land at the level of Marlothie, since the salinization of the land is now a real scourge that impacts agriculture in the area. Over the past year, women have transplanted 20 hectares of the mangroves using one million nine hundred thousand propagules, the strains used to grow new mangrove plantations.

However, since the announcement of the exploitation of Sangomar oil, women have been worried about the future of the mangrove conservation. As a reminder, the Saloum Delta region (comprising 200 islets on an area of 18,000 ha), where the Sangomar oil field is located, has been classified as a biosphere reserve since 1980, and was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, in addition to being listed as a Ramsar site in 1984 for the importance of its wetlands.

The threat of the Sangomar oil field

The development of the 400 km² wide Sangomar field entered its execution phase in January 2020. It includes drilling, construction and installation of underwater systems and offshore production unit, recoverable reserves are estimated at nearly 630 million barrels of oil.

Despite the scale of this project, the women of Marlothie were not part of the consultations and have no idea of the content of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessments. Neither the local administrators nor the project promoters, in this particular case Wootside Energy, ensured that access to information was respected for all stakeholders, including women in the community. This situation does not reassure the women who now know the many impacts that can result from oil exploitation. When we listen to Ndieme Ndong, leader of the local union, who shared:

"We had the chance to visit the delta of Niger in Nigeria, more precisely in Port Harcourt, we have seen the state of poverty that our sisters are confronted to and how much the environment has been destroyed. We don’t want that here."

Oil exploitation reinforced the difficulties women had in gaining access to land; according to women’s accounts, land speculation led men to sell their land to foreigners. This situation is unfavourable for women because, as Maymouna Diome,  president of the local Union of Women of Marlothie said,

“In our culture, women do not have the right to the land, in order to farm they must borrow plots of land from men.”

Organising for the right to say NO to destructive development

While in Senegal women represent 79% of the peasant workforce, only 3% of them are landowners. Yet national legislation gives equal rights to men and women in terms of access to land. During the session on the constitutional rights of women, Fama Dieng, a lawyer and trainer discussed national legislation on access to land. with the observation that there is indeed a gap between the customary and legal system, and a real gap between the socio-cultural and religious realities regarding the law. In Senegal, the fourth paragraph of Article 7 of the country’s constitution enshrines the principles of equality and non-discrimination, and the second paragraph of Article 15 guarantees the right of men and women to possess and own the land. The problem of access to land for women prevails in many African countries,  not only in Senegal despite the close relationship between women and the land. Despite the hours of work they devote to agriculture and the restoration of land, women’s property rights remain fragile because of socio-cultural dogmas.

But collective awareness and the creation of synergies will amplify the voices of women and push them to use their right to say NO to the injustices to which they are exposed to, but above all, to stand up to be restored to their rights in all development projects established in their community. On this Earth Day amidst the climate crisis we are lfacing, and in light of the collective loss and damages already suffered by Africa, the history and struggle of these women for the conservation of their natural resources particularly the protection of their lands must serve as an example and involve not only national authorities, but also UN agencies such as UNESCO. Indeed, given the importance of the Saloum Delta classified among other UNESCO World Heritage sites, this site should be protected against any destructive project, and preserved for posterity.

About the guest contributor: Dakar-based activist and communications expert, Fatoumata Kine Niang Mbodji is the Communications and Advocacy officer for WoMin partner, Lumière Synergie Développement/Senegal.

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