We Need a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to Stop Violence Against African Women and Our Continent

This bold new mechanism is what’s needed to end fossil fuel-induced violence against women, natural resources, and the climate, argue two African peace activists.
Opinion
A Cameroonian mother in red-and-white checked dress and headscarf, holds a toddler and a baby strapped to her back
Credit: WILPF Cameroon and Griote

COP27 has just ended and while the agreement to develop a loss and damage fund is a real victory for vulnerable nations already devastated by climate change impacts, UN climate talks once again failed to address the root cause of these impacts: fossil fuel production.

We, African women on the front line, fear that the expansion of oil, coal, and especially gas will only reproduce historic inequalities, militarism, and war patterns. Presented as essential development tools for the African continent and the world, fossil fuels have demonstrated over more than 50 years of exploitation that they are weapons of mass destruction. Their pursuit systematically follows a violent pattern: appropriation of resource-rich land, exploitation of those resources, and then export of those resources by wealthy countries and corporations, to the detriment of local populations, their livelihoods, their cultures and, of course, their climate. 

For women, fossil fuel impacts are even more devastating. Evidence and our experience show that women and girls are among those disproportionately impacted by climate change. In Cameroon, where the conflict is rooted in unequal access to fossil fuel resources, we have witnessed the government respond with increased investment in military and security forces. This move has increased gender-based and sexual violence and displacement. In addition, it has forced women to negotiate access to basic services, housing, and employment; to assume the role of sole parent; and organize to care for and protect our communities. Fossil fuels mean shattered hopes for African women and the whole continent.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated, the impacts of fossil-fuel powered militarism and war has global repercussions, including and especially on the African continent. Armed conflict on the other side of the world has threatened food security and stability in African countries. The war in Ukraine has also contributed to the country’s steep increase in greenhouse gas emissions, further accelerating the climate crisis, disproportionately affecting our continent. There is no possibility of stopping climate change without reversing militarism and its consequent armed conflicts.

A young Cameroonian girl crouches in the dirt near trash and prepares to wash dishes in water nearby
Credit: WILPF Cameroon and Griote

Similarly, Europe’s dash for gas in Africa as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a new pretext for the expansion of gas production on the continent. In the face of this scramble, African leaders must maintain a firm NO to protect African populations, particularly women once again, from suffering an endless cycle of violence. From Senegal to Mozambique, German and French investment in liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects or infrastructure will definitely end any possibility for Africa to build a fossil fuel–free future. 

This is a critical moment for African leadership, and particularly for the leadership of African feminist peace movements, to finally stop repeating patterns of exploitation, militarism, and war, and to work for real security. Security is nothing more nor less than saving the planet from destruction. To pretend otherwise is to ensure our destruction.

Based on our work in feminist peace movements, we know that women, girls, and other marginalized communities have unique knowledge and solutions to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to build sustainable alternatives based on solidarity, equality, and care. 

On the second day of the UN’s COP27 negotiations, the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu became the second country to call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, joining its neighbor Vanuatu. As feminist peace activists, we see this as a historic call that must be heard within the climate negotiation forum and beyond. Because it puts the communities most impacted by the climate crisis and the fossil fuels that cause it — including women — at the heart of the treaty proposal. The treaty is a gender-responsive climate tool that can bring about a global just transition, to be undertaken by the communities and countries most vulnerable and least responsible for the climate crisis. 

Such an international treaty is based on three core pillars: It would cease all new oil, gas, and coal expansion and production; phase out existing fossil fuel production — with the wealthiest nations and largest historical polluters leading the way; and support a just and peaceful transition to completely renewable energy sources while taking care of affected fossil fuel industry workers and communities.

A Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty would end fossil fuel–induced violence against women, natural resources, and the climate. It is a bold new mechanism that would allow the African continent to stop increasing energy apartheid, harness its enormous renewable energy potential, and provide access to sustainable energy for the 600 million Africans who still lack it, taking into account human rights and gender perspectives. 

COP27 is over but the opportunity to commit to a healthier, more peaceful future is not. Will you join us?

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo is a Cameroonian peace activist, Women International League Peace and Freedom’s (WILPF) Cameroon Section founder, and recently elected WILPF International President. Leymah Roberta Gbowee is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Liberian peace activist responsible for leading the women’s nonviolent peace movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

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