Women building on ancient African knowledge for a different future

Women building on ancient African knowledge for a different future

(The Portuguese School of Mozambique – EPM CELP in Maputo affected by floods in 2013. Source: mails para a minha irmã)

Women building on ancient African knowledge for a different future

It was a misty February morning in Maputo when, from our classroom windows, we saw the colorful mosaic of flowers, slides and swings outside turn into a brownish pond as the rain kept pouring and pouring. The whole outside area of the school flooded with water and the bright yellow building where our classrooms were became an island.

The older school children had to carry us out to be evacuated to a safe spot where our caregivers and cars could reach us. Though there was a sense of fun and adventure as it was all unfolding, as children, we could feel the teachers’ stress and disbelief at what was going on. That was in 2000 and I was eight years old. It was the first time that I had been directly affected by a climate-related catastrophe. 

Heavy rains caused the Incomati, Umbeluzi and Limpopo rivers to overflow leaving behind a trail of destruction. It was the deadliest natural catastrophe in 50 years that Mozambicans had ever experienced with over 800 people killed. Since then, millions of people have been affected by similar climate-related catastrophes in Mozambique. In 2019 alone, Cyclone Idai and Kenneth left 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Climate change has gotten dramatically worse over the years, and we have witnessed immeasurable loss of livelihoods and biodiversity as we face both severe droughts and extensive floods. In the last decades much debate has been had, but it hasn’t translated into effective action from governments or corporations. It has become clear that the environmental crisis will not be solved by the patriarchal and extractivist development system. This destructive model of development only prioritises profit and the unfettered extraction and consumption of precious resources like water, mineral wealth, and energy, fueling consumerism and benefiting a privileged few. 

In Mozambique, similarly to other African countries, women are the most affected by the climate crisis. When there’s flooding like in recent years, the women must walk longer distances to access potable water or land to grow food. Entire communities rely on women’s care labor to watch over the sick, elderly and young children. 

It is particularly peasant and working-class women of the Global South who carry the costs of the environmental crisis, even though they contribute the least. 

Radical solutions and alternatives from the ground 

Despite all this, women have not forgotten their relationship with nature and their commitment to future generations. 

In Southern Africa, women are campaigning for food sovereignty by protecting indigenous seeds and organising seed banks. In Madagascar, women are protecting their lands and territories from extractivism and fighting for the community they want to exist in. In West Africa, from Senegal to the Niger Delta region, women are restoring mangroves and the bodies of water that their communities need for survival.

Women building on ancient African knowledge for a different future Women building on ancient African knowledge for a different future 2 jpg

(Women from Sakatia Island, in Madagascar, drawing their dreams for their community as part of the Women’s Dialogues on Ecofeminist Development Alternatives. Source: FARM, 2021)

“It is forbidden to destroy the environment because forests provide rain and fresh air we need for living. This is what we want, this is a village covered by forests, and every year we plant trees, we have a tree nursery. That’s why Sakatia is a green island because we don’t cut down forests over the hills, and we also plant trees. And we also protect marine life, including fish, we prevent fishermen using nonstandard nets from getting here. We protect sea turtles, and fish like “Horoko” and “kodry”. – Célestine, ritual prayer leader and participant in the Women’s Dialogues on Ecofeminist Development Alternatives – Sakatia Island, Madagascar 2021

Across Africa, women are building on ancient knowledge to create systemic change. Only an African ecofeminist approach can give us the tools to bring the much-needed structural changes.

Similarly, to eight-year-old me, rescued by older classmates who were able to carry us through, where younger generations are despondent or don’t see solutions, older women share their wisdom and together, we create intergenerational movements for the preservation of our lives, ecosystems, and territories. 

It has been 23 years since that February morning when I was rescued from my school and Mozambique is yet again flooded, following Cyclone Freddy’s landing.

While parts of us are in despair, let us remember that the dominant development paradigm is not the only option. Small and big strategies can be used as roadmaps for development alternatives to build the next 23 years.

We have seen – and continue to see – the power of collective resistance. On this International Women’s Day, we stand with peasant and working-class women, and we dare to dream and co-create a different future for Africa, our communities and ourselves.

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