Women activists discuss exploitive companies

International Women’s Day was celebrated early Monday night in Thomson Hall.

“We thought we’d save you from finals week,” joked Ben Wiselogle, organizer and Oxfam member, after noting that International Women’s Day is actually March 8.

The event sought to highlight the work of two women activists fighting against mining and exploitation in West Africa.

Via The Daily

Oxfam is a global organization working to “right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice,” according to their website.

The event featured Hannah Owusu-Koranteng and Nadine Kone, both Oxfam members from Africa. 

Originally, the event was also supposed to include Joanna Manu, another Oxfam member, but she was unable to get a travel visa because she is an unmarried woman. According to Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet initiative member Ellen Southard, who spoke with tears in her eyes, the government of Ghana believes that if she has no husband to “anchor her down,” Manu may not return to the United States. 

Nonetheless, the discussion revolved around similar items that Manu, had she been in attendance, would have placed on the agenda.

Owusu-Koranteng and Kone both discussed the problems of mining and exploitation within their West African communities.

“In my village, until recently, nobody was working for any company because we thought we were being deprived of what belonged to us,” Owusu-Koranteng said. “We didn’t want to mine for somebody for what is ours.”

Owusu-Koranteng went on to explain how, as a result, she and members of her community in Ghana have been organizing to protest and ultimately craft policy against the companies infiltrating their land.

“That was a lesson I learned: It’s always better to fight than not fighting at all,” Owusu-Koranteng said.

She went on to say that so much is mined, even cemeteries aren’t left alone. Owusu-Koranteng said she lost her connection to her daughter, who was buried in a cemetery that is now being mined. 

She went on to connect these issues to the larger problems facing the women of Ghana.

“Women are dependent on forests, so we’re not dependent on men for marriages and stuff like that,” Owusu-Koranteng said. “Then mining came and took away our resource. We were forced to ingest polluted water.”

The community, however, has not given up. Owusu-Koranteng elaborated on the mobilizing of people, informing them of the issues, and identifying gaps in the law. 

She went on to reference how they have used the media to promote a message not only within Ghana but to the international committee.

Kone had a similar story about to mining and community activism.

“We’re not at all consulted or even listened to on the issue,” Kone said of mining. “Most [people], they don’t even know. One day, they just see trucks in their neighborhood, and that’s how they come to know that mining will be happening in their neighborhood.”

Kone discussed compensation as a way to mitigate these losses. However, she mentioned that the loss of lives also frequently results from exploitation. While compensation doesn’t equate to the value of life, it does ease the burdens left behind for mothers and children should their husband die or their property be taken away, Kone said.

“We got a very progressive document, addressing issues that aren’t addressed in the legal frameworks,” Kone said. “We are now working with countries to translate the principle of this document and legal framework in West Africa.”

Despite such advancements, Kone said women in many of these nations are traditionally not allowed to be owners of land, despite the fact women are the ones who make their livelihood and feed their families off the land. Women also don’t receive compensation when land is taken from them because they have no right to such property, according to Kone.

“We noticed that it wasn’t enough in terms of securing the rights of those most vulnerable in the group, those being women,” Kone said. “We thought that if we could make sure these women have more control over their livelihood and their land, their ability to be involved in decision-making would be even better.”

However, Kone explained that she tries to discuss issues in a way that accommodates the beliefs of the community, rather than presenting even more problems.

Jonathan Scanlon, the only Seattle-based employee of Oxfam, talked about his personal epiphany with regards to activism. 

“I really started to realize that there’s a lot of decisions and developing resources in developing countries,” Scanlon said. “And there’s a lot of solutions there; we don’t need to bring in solutions from the outside.”

For those want to affect change politically, Scanlon advised they contact their representatives in government. For those concerned about issues of mining and the exploitation of resources, citizens can suggest their members of congress write to the chairperson of the Securities Exchange Commission. 

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