African Women Repairing our Planet

By Shaan Khan (22/03/21)

With the last northern white rhino’s dying in 2018 and a giant iceberg, twenty-times the size of Manhattan! Just split off from Antarctica this February!

Which good-god was not due to climate change according to Scientists

These events that hit the headlines still have people sad and fearful of our conservation efforts and what’s to come next, and how do we stop it, and there is no place in need of change now more than Africa in its projected environmental state.

A recent yet crude saying thrown around on social media by Gen-Z & Millennials to encapsulate our current state in the human history timeline is that ‘We are at the end of the F*ck Around era & have entered the Find Out era’.

With the rise in global warming set to devastate Africa due to our growing demands of world-taxing resources and aggressive destruction of habitats and wildlife that can mitigate climate change…

All for the sakes of non-eco-friendly agriculture & consumer’s irrational desires for animal products!

…It’s no wonder the younger generation are venting their frustrations on social media over the system they were born into that is only leading them into this ominous future.

As many of us have something to say about it and are inspired by the young environmentalist Greta Thunberg, African women are also directly doing something about it—both young & old.

Litness Mwale

Courtesy of Earthship Biotecture on YouTube (2014).

Starting with environmentalist African women that set themselves as an example for the younger generations, Litness Mwale is a community leader in Malawi who has found a new way to empower women. She worked with Earthship Biotecture to bring her community advanced housing and living facilities to utilise technology that takes advantage of waste and the environment around them. The Earthship concept for their buildings has alleviated the community from the inefficiency of traditional, non-eco-friendly resources that are unsustainable & non-abundant in the environment they live in.

In 2014, Mwale expressed in an interview that her decision has empowered the local women. First, by having the women involved in the development of the Earthship.

As a result of the community’s efforts, the Earthship had a cost-effective impact on their lives and provided a means of education for them and their children. Also, the African women would take fair ownership over the cultivation of resources embedded into the Earthship and surrounding land. The women would then start-up businesses in sectors such as food, textiles or crafts.

Wandari Maathai

Courtesy of Demosh on Flickr (2006).

Another prominent African woman who has made an outstanding impact on the environment is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya, Wandari Maathai. Born in 1940, she grew up in Rural Kenya, then pursued a life that would fetchingly lead her to repair the lands she was raised in.

Ahead of her time, Maathai was earlier than most to recognise & stand up against the effects of environmental damage. She founded the organisation The Green Belt Movement (GBM) in 1977 with support from the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK). Also, it’s worth commending the local women who raised their concerns to the council about the effects of environmental damage they noticed at the time.

Her movement started by mobilising locals to plant trees that brought nourishment and protection for the soil that revitalised streams and boosted crop growth & resources to sustain community lives.

Similarly to the community leader, Mwale, the early effects of Maathai’s movement had empowered the locals that live off the land & was repairing the damage done to Rural Kenya. However, Maathai wouldn’t stop there. She would spend a lifetime towards the cause that has led to over 51 million trees planted in Kenyamany in critical watershed locations that support local communities whilst raising thousands of women out of famine & poverty.

What African women can learn from Maathai’s lifelong activism was that it came at the cost of tireless threats, harassments, beatings, and jail time to achieve a fairer & more ethical society that cares for the treatment of the environment & the poor.

With the support of the people she aided, Maathai obtained a position in the government as a member of parliament and fought back against corrupt privatisation of land (land grabbing) and misogyny.

Maathai passed away in 2011, but her cause for environmental justice & women’s rights has touched people all over the globe, especially in Kenya & even the head of state.

Mathaai’s movement goes on and shows the fight against greed is a rocky one, but with more of us getting involved, we don’t have to face it alone.

Isatou Ceesay

Courtesy of globalreculture (2018).

Another inspirational figure was Isatou Ceesay, who as a kid, she was deeply conscious about the harm waste had caused in the village she grew up in. Like most Gambian women, Ceesay did not have access to proper education, so she had to start working at a young age. At 20, she was able to sell a cow and use the money to get training as a secretary. Ceesay would take up voluntary work with experienced organisations to get involved in environmentalism and learn about recycling waste.

The ideas and experiences she gained; would shape the woman she would become—starting from interacting with waste in her village to prolong their use despite locals finding her lifestyle choices laughable.

Ceesay wanted to share her knowledge with the local women deprived of education, so she would set up meetings with them to teach the women her ways despite the dissatisfaction local men showed.

Eventually, the women found a time and place at night to continue their meetings without causing conflict with men.

With that time, she and the women started up a business with the idea Ceesay presented them on reusing waste to make crocket purses.

With their success, the husbands of these women would now approve of their ethical business. With the business project enticing more women to get involved, Ceesay would finally establish their organisation as ‘N’jau Recycling and Income Generation Group’ (NRIGG).

The women were saving up money, supporting their daughters with education, contributing money & labour towards community gardens to empower the local people.

Ceesay would become a teacher of environmentalism, alongside running the eco-friendly / women empowering business she founded. She has trained over 11,000 people and influenced the Gambian government’s ban on plastic bags in the country.

Her aspirations have not stopped there, as more waste is cleared in areas of her business; her organisation expands to new communities in eradicating waste and empowering women & the poor with self-sustainable ways of eco-friendly living. Ceesay now is a significant figure for the political advocacy of women in power.

Ceesay and her organisation of like-minded women are prime examples of those overlooked for their gender. They have proved many wrong with their ingenious yet ethical solutions that men in power of the area had not prioritised or considered.

Ceesay is a woman that has opened the eyes of men & women around the world on how to treat our planet & each other for a better future, unlike the state of neglect we’ve reached from misogynistic & decadent past systems of power & control.

Younger Generations

Like in the past, we still have people prioritising their own gained power & riches over societal disparity & environmental damage. It’s more clearer than ever with the new ways to reach the masses. For instance, social media, where the pleasure seekers & filthy rich lifestyles that are polished and framed—garner more attention & appeal compared to those with long-term goals to achieve a harmonious world…

…A peaceful society that prioritises the care for depraved lives & land to accomplish equality & sustainability, not just glorifying the successful few and their rare commodities with the top echelon of revered goods consisting of mansions & yachts.

Here are some noteworthy young African women, that selflessly revolve their lifestyles around environmentalism and use social media to do so:

Vanessa Nakate – A 24-year-old Ugandan climate activist with 103k followers on Instagram. On the platform, she captures her lifestyle of protesting, sending out letters to people in power for change and offering insightful information on environmentalism whilst capturing the effects it has in Africa through photography. Nakate has also founded the organisation ‘1 million activist voices’, which utilises her popularity by platforming the voices & activism of lesser-known people on Instagram and a blog that she promotes.

Freweyni – An Ethiopian environmentalist voicing her cause on Instagram with 210k followers. Freweyni offers insightful posts on ways environmentalism will empower Black people & their culture. She promotes the idea of ‘Black Ecology’ that leads to a widespread sustainable system for Black people, no longer wholly reliant on the elites of society represented by predominately White people & White culture.

Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti – A 24-year-old Kenyan environmentalist, offers a wholesome story as to why she founded the Green Generation Initiative. The organisation aims to teach young people about environmentalism through greening schools and recruit people to join her ‘adopt a tree’ campaign, which has led the GGI to plant over 30,000 trees. Her actions mirror that of the African women environmentalists that came before her. She was even inspired similarly to them by being acutely conscious of the destruction occurring around her as a child. In support of her ongoing efforts, Wathuti received the Diana Award and a scholarship named after an inspiration of hers—Wangari Maathai.

Ellyanne Wanjiku – A remarkable nine-year-old from Kenya who also was inspired by Wangari Maathai. She has been the driving force behind planting 250,000 trees in Kenya. Her goal to plant trees started in Kindergarten. Her mother didn’t like the idea at first and didn’t understand why she wanted to plant trees, but Wanjiku explained to her mother that tree’s give people oxygen. So she was limited to growing her first tree in her back garden at first. Still, she would find ways to plant trees elsewhere and eventually, Wanjiku was gaining support from the community. She even would use her allowance money to buy tree seedlings.

In 2016, she set up the non-profit org called Children With Nature that have planted trees in 80 public schools that lack nutritious meals—now the students have been taught to plant trees and reap the benefits from the nutritional fruits that grow from the trees and feed the students.

There are countless remarkable young African women environmentalists out there right now & to learn more or get involved, consider checking out the Network of African Women Environmentalists (NAWE). African women have witnessed first-hand the effects of environmental damage and climate change that we across the globe have taken advantage of & contributed to. They are cleaning up the mess and repairing this planet and should be an inspiration to all of us on how we should shape our future for the best—role models that deserve worldwide recognition.

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