Y-FEM protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta

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According to the United Nation (2016), the 6th Sustainable Development Goal by 2030 argues for the improvement of water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally. It also contends that by 2020, protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes should be implemented.

Last year, news that a Canadian oil and gas exploration company, ReconAfrica, planned the go-ahead with “conventional” and “non-conventional” drilling (i.e., fracking) in some of Africa’s most sensitive environmental areas sent shockwaves all over the world. The gas giant indicated that it planned to begin oil exploration in the Namibian headwaters of the Okavango Delta and the Tsodilo Hills, a World Heritage Site in Botswana (Africanews, 2021).

Youth climate activists in the capital of Namibian, along with several other environmental and human rights groups, reacted with international calls from all fronts to prevent the impending environmental catastrophe that not only impacts the area’s biodiversity – which includes a number of endangered species – but also communities who depend on the Kavango Basin to sustain their livelihoods. One of these groups is Y-FEM Namibia. Young Feminists Movement Namibia (Y-Fem Namibia Trust) is a feminist organisation, focussed on women’s rights, and movement building to ensure women can assert and demand their rights in all spheres of life. Y-Fem Namibia was founded in 2009 as a feminist organising and activist driven organisation that responds in a proactive way through campaigns, leadership development and mentorship of young women. The organisation’s vision is to have a society in which young women are leaders, and enjoy respect, dignity, bodily integrity, autonomy, and choice.

On the 20th of May 2021, Y-FEM and other activists groups stood in solidarity to protest against the drilling of the Okavango Delta. Y-FEM’s advocacy work amplifies the human rights of rural young women who are aware of the negative impacts drilling of oil and gas will have on the reproductive and sexual health of young girls in the Kavango region. Because women are generally in charge of house-hold tasks like food production and preparation; environmental problems, reduced access to water, or loss of agricultural land can have a direct and negative effect on a family’s access to food. In the same breath, contaminated water and other forms of pollution can create serious health problems and can especially affect women’s maternal health. Thus, Y-FEM is in objection of granting a drilling licence to the Canadian oil company Recon-Africa because of the long-term impact on women’s health and economical activities.  Y-Fem is conscious of women’s well-being as a political standpoint of feminist and women’s economic rights and livelihood is what creates sustainability in Namibia. Consequently, collectively uplifting the economic situation of Namibia while being conscious of our economy and the conservational impact of mining as it is something that needs feminist movement building. It is said that the ecological impacts of the projects are likely to be devastating and it would not only threaten bodies of water in the dry savannas of Namibia, but also Botswana’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Okavango Delta, with its unique biodiversity and huge populations of elephants, hippos, rhinos and birds. This means that, Tourism, an important source of income, is in danger while other livelihood strategies of indigenous San and local people also hang in the balance.

The project has already left a number of communities in the northeast of Namibia displaced, and those affected are afraid to speak up against corrupt politicians involved in the deal.  However, in areas such as Windhoek, where the youth is ever active, Y-Fem stood in solidarity with the women’s leadership centre who set the agenda of indigenous women in Namibia and who organised the protest. Speaking to Ms. Florence /Khaxas, the Co-founder, she said that ‘the experience for us was powerful because we practiced our constitutional right as active citizens of this nation.’ Namibians need to realise the power of the collective. She urges that we need to stand in unity for human rights and hold our political leaders accountable to uphold human rights for all and for our beautiful environment.

Asked for any last words, Ms. Florence /Khaxas argues that, ‘we need to save the major source of clean water, why must we allow a company to destroy that? We don’t need oil; we need to push for renewable energy and save our planet. We also need to listen to our local communities.’ Okavango Delta must be saved as it is also home to endangered species. As Namibians, we need to be at the forefront of environmental rights and stand up for the future of our nation.

 

By Frieda N Mukufa

 

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