Climate change and environmental contamination affect everyone, but women are uniquely and disproportionately impacted, especially in Africa and other regions of the global south.
It often falls to women to produce and provide food, water and fuel. Women also traditionally serve as caregivers for children, elders, and those who are ill. These burdens become heavier when even more people become sick because of contaminated water and decreased access to nutrition. Women themselves then become more vulnerable to devastating health problems, especially when they are pregnant and lactating.
A major cause of environmental destabilization is excessive extraction of minerals, fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal), hardwood, aquatic life such as fish, and land animals, and water. The consequences include deforestation, habitat destruction, extinction of plant and animal species, depletion of groundwater, and the forced removal of populations. Deforestation, and the use of extracted fossil fuels are directly responsible for climate change.
Increasingly, consumer demand will demand devastating levels of mineral extraction. For example, more than fifty metals found in Africa are needed to manufacture smart phones, including coltan, lithium, tantalum and cobalt. (More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo.) As the capitalist world touts the benefits of “clean energy” alternatives such as electric cars, consumers aren’t told that the demand for lithium and cobalt could increase 20 times by 2050 just for the batteries.
In Africa, neo-colonial interests impose a food production model which violently grabs the most productive, fertile land, and replaces family farms, grazing lands, and hunting lands with monoculture cash-crops. These international, industrial farms focus on producing one or two profitable crops, grown not for local consumption, but rather for export to the U.S., western Europe, and their allies. And like mining, this agricultural model results in environmental destruction, displacement and introduction of invasive species, loss of local species, polluting pesticides and insecticides, and food insecurity among local populations.
The tragic irony is that because of economic necessity, women are increasingly forced to labor for the very mining interests that destroy their communities. These women are frequently subjected to gender-based violence and sexual harassment from male coworkers and security guards in the deep underground mines. They are often threatened with loss of employment or employment opportunities if they don’t grant sexual favors to managers. Children too, are forced to work in the mining industry, robbing them of the joys of childhood and education, and placing them at risk of injury and long-term health failure.
The good news is that women are fighting gender-based violence and the myriad oppressive conditions that contribute to their problems. They stand on the front lines against the plunder of resources, and increasingly, it is woman-led movements that are leading the struggle to reclaim land. But there has been a high price for this resistance. Throughout the world, nearly 200 environmental activists have been murdered over the past 15 years. Multinational corporations and corrupt government officials hire hitmen, organized crime groups, and others to protect their economic interests. Over 1,700 land and environmental defenders were murdered between 2012 and 2021. Most of these murders were in Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico and Honduras.
Women have not been intimidated. The number of fighters in their ranks increases and their solidarity grows as they increasingly understand that this is a struggle against imperialism, and that women cannot be free in an imperialist dominated world. When Pan-Africanism brings forth a free, united, and socialist Africa, it will deal a lethal blow to imperialism and neo-colonialism. A liberated, united, socialist Africa will yield the power to repel and reject imperialist domination. It will create the capacity to eradicate gender oppression and patriarchal structures, while also guaranteeing full participation of and inclusion of all African people, without regard to gender.
Most significantly, Pan Africanism will ensure that Africa’s resources are used to fulfill the needs and aspirations of all of Africa’s people and not international corporate interests. Pan-Africanism will usher in an era of care for and protection of Africa’s forests, farmlands, waters, and all of nature. To save the environment, to protect communities under attack, and to emancipate women, imperialism and neo-colonialism must be destroyed!