Campaign of the Month: WoMin
This article was originally published in the May edition of The Broken Rifle, the main magazine of War Resisters' International.
Samantha Hargreaves from WoMin - an African gender and extractives alliance - speaks to Andrew Dey from WRI about the links between gender, extractive industries and militarism in Africa, and what this new network is doing to counter it.
Tell us about your work – what is Womin, when did you form, and who makes up your network? What are the critical issues you are working on?
Samantha: WoMin was launched in October 2013. We work with about 50 allied organisations in fourteen countries across Southern, East and West Africa. Most partners are working on issues of land, natural resources, extractive industries, environmental and climate justice and women’s rights. Our work with women rights organisations has generally been challenged by their focus to more 'traditional' gender issues like violence against women, women and girl child education and health, with a small number working on the terrain of environment, land and other economic justice questions.
WoMin has a secretariat based in South Africa and a governing body representing all of the sub-regions we work in. Linking extractive industries, environmental and climate change and women’s rights is quite ground-breaking; in 2013 we found no organisations working directly on these intersections in Africa, and very few working on the same at the national level. WoMin is therefore filling an important political gap – we support women’s movement building which brings in an important economic and environmental perspective and we promote proposals addressing the developmental changes needed from a combined African, feminist, economic and eco/climate justice perspective.
You work specifically on extractivist projects; could you describe the links between extractivist projects, gender, and militarisation or violence?
Resource extraction is a deeply violent and brutal process - it dispossess people of their land and forests; it pollutes water, air and soil; and artisanal miners1 and industrial workers endure dangerous, violent working conditions. As WoMin our analysis and response addresses the gendered dimensions of this structural violence. We have been writing and starting to organise around the militarisation and securitisation of extractives impacted communities and regions, and pointing to how this process impacts women's bodies and lives.
In South Africa, Bazooka Rhadebe - a key activist against titanium mining in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape was assassinated in March 2016. Next week WoMin will be returning to the Somkhele and Fuleni communities in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa who are fighting coal mining and where there has been intimidation, serious assault and death threats against anti-mining activists.
In Tanzania, a Chinese sponsored gas pipeline which runs from the South of the country to Dar es Salaam for onward shipping was the subject of protest in 2013 by local citizens who were carrying the costs of land displacements, but were not benefiting from the gas extraction. In May 2013, in response to local riots, the Tanzanian government dispatched the military to Mtwara town and the environs to quell the resistance. The military killed at least four protesters, injured hundreds more, and abducted leading activists into a local military barracks when they were beaten and tortured. In addition, at least one woman was raped by a soldier in Msimbati Village during this period of unrest.
In Uganda the oil fields are heavily militarised, with the military working in tandem with mine security to control the movement and activity of local communities. Women there, who have traditionally gathered wood, foods and medicinal plants from the fields and forests in the surroundings, are now subject to regular sexual harassment and invasive strip and search activities as they carry on their livelihood activities.
In Zimbabwe, in the Marange diamond fields, more than 200 women artisanal miners and residents were subject to gang rapes during a 2008 military operation, which cleared a path for the military to assume control. More than 200 miners were killed by the military during these operations. In 2011, the BBC exposed a torture camp where miners and community residents were tortured and sexual abuse of women was widespread.
Militarisation and securitisation sit hand in glove with the extractive industries, which stand to profit from their political connections to elected politicians, the military and the national elite. Militarisation and securitisation foment deeply entrenched violence against workers, violence in communities, and violence against women. Violence is intrinsic to and inseparable from the extractives industries and extractivism as a development model. There is a significant concentration of men in these industries, who have migrated from their communities and are freed from the social and cultural constraints on their behaviour and inter-personal relations contributing to high levels of interpersonal violence and violence against women. Workers – men and women – work in difficult and often life threatening conditions. In addition, in the artisanal mining sector, workers and women especially, work with extremely dangerous chemicals, such as mercury. With the entry of mining and its associated displacements, women lose the resources they rely on for livelihoods and farming, rendering them further vulnerable to violence.
What are WoMin's plans for the future?
At a regional meeting in the Niger Delta, Nigeria in October 2015, WoMin resolved to build an African women-led grassroots driven campaign on fossil fuels, energy and climate justice. We are building the campaign in four countries; South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This campaign is attempting something quite ground-breaking - it is aiming for a model of campaigning which is built from below, supports women’s organising and movement-building, and adheres to eco-feminist principles. It also aims to intersect or converge struggles for women’s rights, environmental and climate justice, land and natural resources, and energy.
Our other areas of work are extractivism, militarisation and violence against women, and consent and developmental alternatives. Alternatives need to emerge from communities, and women specifically, and their lived developmental practices and aspirations. The majority of communities in Africa rely on land and water and forests for their livelihoods. They need the state to be prioritising investments in local infrastructure, such as irrigation, markets, roads etc. which support food production, beneficiation and associated livelihods. Instead our states are putting significant public funds into big dams, energy infrastructure, roads and ports which benefit bit corporates instead of local peoples.
Communities know what they want and need in support of development defined on their own terms. For example, in Fuleni in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa people there are fighting a proposed coal mine. The mine is being pursued in the context of a significant drought, now running over many years, which has destroyed local food production and impoverished local people. This drought is linked to El Niño and climate change, with fossil fuels being the major contributor to carbon emissions causing climate change. Instead of providing support to these communities to adapt to the drought, to provide water and livelihood alternatives, the state is actively pursuing a coal mine which will require vast amounts of water which they plan to ‘import’ to the area. The majority of the community is saying ‘no’ to mining and ‘yes’ to agro ecology and livestock production. But the South African government is not listening, and overriding local needs and indeed national development interests to satisfy the demands of politically connected corporations – in this instance Glencore and BHP Billiton – with rumoured links to the Zuma2 family.
In the context of societies facing multiple crises of climate change, unemployment and failed livelihoods, and rising food prices, we need governments with a visionary development agenda. Instead, we have governments caught up in the idea that development equals increased foreign investment and rising Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We're being encumbered by governments putting investment into mega highways, industrial rail, grand water projects and ports, which aren't investments in people and society – and the public pay for it! Governments are moving resources to the military and diverting budgets to service debt for infrastructures that benefit the corporates. And it is peasant and working class women across Africa who - because of the division of labour - are paying for an absent state and carrying the costs of externalised environmental and social devastation accompanying extractives and mega infrastructure investments.
1 Artisanal mining is informal, and often ‘illegal’, usually carried out by the rural poor to supplement subsistence farming activity, and typically performed using fairly rudimentary methods and tools.
2 Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma has been the since 2009. He is also the President of the ruling party, the (ANC).