1 Million Women Blog: Women in the World
Was fortunate to represent the second largest rainforest in the world - Congo's rainforest - and our indigenous people who dwell in living relationship with this world treasure, at the IWECI Summit (now WECAN Int.) in New York last September. At the Summit a Declaration was signed by all present for the conservation, preservation, and protection of the world’s forests.
Was doubly fortunate then when WECAN wanted to sponsor us to translate the WECAN Declaration into Swahili and present it to the local indigenous Pygmy women for their signature and participation as stewards of this global treasure. Our team went to an area where several Pygmy communities live in the Itombwe forest and held an awareness workshop, which ended with all the indigenous women present signing the Declaration. A few weeks later we went back for the One Billion Rising for Justice day on February 14th; our celebration being One Billion Rising for Climate Justice.
Within a couple days of OBR, I received this request for an interview by '1 Million Women' out of Australia; a group addressing climate change with a call to action for everyone to make simple choices that will make a difference. They said I could respond with some things I'd written before so that made it go a little faster. In the interview I highlighted our recent WECAN project with the indigenous women. Below is the interview, with the video of the workshop and OBR for Climate Justice embedded.
1 Million Women: Describe yourself in 3 words? (Or more if you need too!)
Neema: Visionary Game Changer
1 Million Women: Tell us a little about the work you do, your organisation/company/group and what you are doing at present i.e. projects, talks etc.
Neema: Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations (SAFECO) was founded by Neema Namadamu as an association of local women-led associations that work together toward women’s empowerment and community development. Through their synergy, the women’s associations support one another, strengthen individual capacities, and together work a development agenda that prioritizes human rights for all citizens of Congolese society, especially women, the disabled, the indigenous people, their lands and communities.
South Kivu Province is an area hosting two very important forest sites: 1) the Itombwe Nature Reserve (RNI), which is spread across three of South Kivu Province’s eight territories: Uvira, Mwenga, and Fizi; and 2) the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB), which is in four of the eight territories: Kalehe, Kabare, Walungu, and Shabunda. It should be noted that PNKB is among the five World Heritage sites in DR Congo, all of which have been listed as in Danger since 1994.
The Synergy of Congolese Women's Associations (SAFECO) in its work to support the indigenous women living in and around these protected sites has come to understand that the indigenous communities are ignorant of the global treasure of their habitats. They know of the absolute value of the forests to the people of the communities, whose survival is based on a living relationship with the forests. However, a lack of awareness regarding their forests as a global lifeline, and lack of awareness regarding sustainable practices for living in relationship with the forests, has allowed destructive traditional methods to still be practiced, impacting climate change in the region and creating a number of related challenges such as erosion in the shorter rainy seasons, and soil degradation.
SAFECO endeavors to build a stewardship awareness within women of indigenous communities in South Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo; to give them tools for living in relationship with the forests in a sustainable way; and to inform them regarding the solidarity of a global sisterhood joining with them in encouragement and support.
SAFECO, in partnership with WECAN International, held a workshop to inform the indigenous Pygmy women regarding the international Declaration signed by their global sisterhood at the WECAN International Summit in NY in September 2013, translated the Declaration into Swahili, and gave them all an opportunity to sign the Declaration. Many were unable to sign their own name so inked their thumb with a ball point pen and placed their thumbprint on the signature line.
SAFECO intends to host several two-day workshops in various indigenous communities living in and around the forested areas of our province in 2014, to:
• Further the indigenous women’s understanding their role as stewards of this world treasure
• Further their understanding regarding best practices regarding sustainable methods for living with the forests
• Create indigenous community-based committees to inspire leadership and adherence to good stewardship practices
• Instill a sense of being part of the global sisterhood of WECAN International.
You can see an example of our work in this video, where SAFECO and WECAN partnered to present the WECAN Declaration to the indigenous women of Congo's forests, for their endorsement and signature, for February 14th’s One Billion Rising for Climate Justice: http://youtu.be/ESeFWsP8yUU.
1 Million Women: What inspires you?
Neema: I believe in our victory. In fact, I believe 100% success is not only possible, but certain. The very thing that gets me up each morning is knowing that the light in us is contagious. Every one of society’s ills is a result of not living out of a right mind. Humanity is on a course of its own choosing, and it is obvious that many choices made up to now are leading not only to our destruction, but our annihilation. I see it, you see it, and the world is waking up to it. As a result, a new day of consciousness is dawning, and we are its light-rays. We are illuminating a world consciousness that will soon embrace right-mindedness. An intense expectation will swell around the world for what is perceived as possible. An unimpeachable, unavoidable, virtuous demand will be placed on every heart to align, that the power in what is possible would be released to change all that is wrong in the world, forever.
1 Million Women: What do you think are the unique strengths of women in taking action on climate change and living better for the planet?
Neema: The power of women is our ability to agree. We look for solutions, not for power, position, or money. Women live today with “a tomorrow for us all”, in mind. Women are solutionists.
1 Million Women: What do you hope to see happening in the next year in relation to forming a women’s climate action agenda?
Neema: When I was a child, our home was at the edge of the Itombwe Forest in Eastern Congo. It was a beautiful area and every day I could go outside and see antelope and other animals. But now the forest is a good 100 kilometers away, due to the slash and burn practices of the various people groups, whether subsistence farmers or cattle ranchers, who move from site to site as they exhaust the soil at each location.
Tropical rainforests cover 6% of the Earth's land surface yet harbor over 50% of the Earth's terrestrial biodiversity. However, about 50 million acres (approximately the size of Great Britain) of tropical rainforests are destroyed each year. Much of this deforestation occurs through slash and burn agriculture by subsistence farmers who lack knowledge of sustainable alternatives. The effects of global warming through slash and burn are enormous. It is responsible for approximately 20% of the total global emissions of CO2 into our atmosphere each year. Deforestation is in fact considered the second major driver of climate change (more than the entire global transport sector).
As Nobel Laureate Jody Williams said at the recent WECAN Summit: “Worrying about a problem is not a strategy for change. Get up, join the crowd and take action to save this planet! If we work in networks, WECAN change the world.”
SAFECO is doing all it can to take vital action against the problem by engaging those who are in living relationship with the second largest rainforest in the world – Congo’s rainforest. I believe there are many grassroots organizations around the world who are poised to do the same. We are not well suited to lobby international bodies for proper attention and action regarding this global issue, but we are very well suited to working alongside our Congolese sisters to effect proper stewardship and best practices from those whose habitat is a vital part of the respiration and eco-balance of our planet. As the lobbyists need financial support, so do those working at the grassroots levels.
Climate change is a global issue, and we have the answer; we are the answer. Together, we are the solution for this problem.
1 Million Women: We know the time to act on climate change is now. Do you have an inspiring message or a call to action you would like to share with our 1 Million Women community?
Neema: When you and I have been successful in achieving our goals and our every inspired attempt at having impact has worked, the animation of life in all its energy, its light, its reality, its unending potential, will have been breathed into every home of every community of every nation in every region on every continent in the world. Passion for life, love for community, and embrace of future will have permeated the very fabric of humanity. Peace will be the state of being that governs self. Love will be the license for every word and action. The world will have become one colossal whole with every citizen respected and taking responsibility for their part. Gender issues will only be documented in history books as everyone will now have unrestrained and welcomed access to contribute that for which they were created to contribute toward Destiny’s intended purpose. So many words that today carry the banner of humanity’s struggle will have disappeared from our vocabulary, as the mind that waged war against us has gone; so many words like patriarchy, equality, rape, impunity, poverty, and hunger will have been forgotten. Creativity, invention, and ingenuity will color the world around us. Abundance, simplicity, and balance will be synonyms as our eyes have been lifted off “me”, to see us all as vital members of one another, together stewarding “now” for the sake of our future.
We are on a course that is inevitable, inescapable, even foreseeable, for those already in the light of it.