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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

#BringBackOurGirls: Ecofeminism, Climate, and Conflict

By Adenike Oladosu

On the night of April 14, 2014, a group of militants attacked the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria. They kidnapped 276 female students, ranging from ages 15 to 19 years. An armed group called Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Boko Haram had been launching attacks against the Nigerian government since its formation in 2010, but the scale and audacity of the 2014 assault created international headlines and brought this once-obscure group to the world’s attention.

As a young ecofeminist in Nigeria, the news of the mass kidnapping in 2014 left me “caught short of surprise.” I was a 200 level student of Agricultural Economics at that time. It was a course of study that helped make me an ecofeminist. It also allowed me to see that these girls represented the future of various rural communities—and the nation at large.

To a certain extent, the Chibok attack and kidnapping seemed to be a point of no return in that moment. Fortunately, this tragedy also brought about increased international awareness through a global campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.”

Yet as we recall the anniversary of Boko Haram’s 2014 mass abduction of school girls, we must also remember that many kinds of crisis impact the rights of young women around the world today. These crises are not limited to the Lake Chad region. Most recently, we have seen such events in Afghanistan, where girls are deprived of the right to go to school. They are two sides of the same coin.

How many more girls (and potential change makers) must experience injustice around the world? And what can we do about it? We must find solutions for these unsung heroes that the world should never forget, especially because an empowered girl is a powerful weapon against injustice.

This is why ecofeminism is important. I believe in a world where women and girls should have a safe place to exercise our equal rights. Achieving this aim is also a powerful means of protecting the rights of women both from the changing environment and other non-climatic factors (social, economic, and political) that combine to violate the rights of women and girls. Ecofeminism means that we are closing the gap of gender inequality at both ends.

Finding the Connections

The “eco” in ecofeminism is important. The connection between climate and conflict is clear—and is also a two-way street. Climate change is a breeder of conflicts. And, in some cases, armed conflicts create crises that begin with environmental degradation and, subsequently, larger climate change, as happened in Darfur.

The Boko Haram attack in 2014 led many to seek the cause of such violence in the region—especially against young women. The immense shrinkage of Lake Chad over the course of more than five decades was a key factor.

Lake Chad was shrinking long before the outbreak of armed conflict in the northeastern part of Nigeria and in the other three West African countries that share this body of water. For thousands of years, Lake Chad has served as a source of livelihood to those who live on its shores and beyond—a number that is now more than 40 million people. But since the 1960s, the lake has been reduced by nine-tenth of its original size due to negative impact of climate change. Even a slight elevation of water levels over the past few years has not restored Lake Chad—or its region—to its previous condition of a thriving ecosystem.

In a contribution by the IPCC’s working group on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability to the panel’s Fifth Assessment Report, the authors noted that “the degradation of natural resources as a result of both over exploitation and climate change will contribute to increased conflicts over the distribution of these resources.”

One can clearly see such processes at work in the Lake Chad region, where diminishment of the lake’s role in serving communities and bringing about social harmony has led helpless youths to take up arms against the state in significant numbers as the worsening socio-economic impact of degradation of water mass creates a further loss of cultural values and traditions.

Larger climate trends that breed conflict are also apparent in the region. An IPCC technical paper on Climate Change and Water published in 2008 observed that “growing water scarcity, increasing population, degradation of shared freshwater ecosystems and competing demands for shrinking natural resources distributed over such a huge area involving so many countries have the potential for creating bilateral and multilateral conflicts.”

It is not only culture and traditions in rural communities that have been imperiled by the shrinking of Lake Chad, but the decades of sustained environmental stress has also damaged the economies in towns and villages in the region – and created widespread and extreme poverty and hunger.

Research conducted by political scientists in North America and Europe in 2019 found that intensifying climate change will likely increase the future risk of violent armed conflict within countries. These researchers estimated that climate change variability has increased the risk of armed conflict by has influence between 3 percent and 20 percent over the past century.

An Insecure Landscape

The mass abduction in Chibok was not the final incident of violence against girls in the region. Four years later, Boka Haram struck again, kidnapping 110 young female students in Dapachi—a town near the Lake Chad basin—on February 19, 2018.

Unfortunately, many kidnappings perpetrated by armed groups in the region are committed for parochial self-interest. They seek to exchange the abducted girls for the release of captured members of their group, or for money. It is an example of how economics and violence also create issues of national security.

As we have seen, the Lake Chad region has all the elements to create the insecurity that leads to kidnappings and other violence. And climate is a central factor. Lake Chad is among the largest endorheic basins in Africa. It has no outlet to sea and contains large areas of semi-arid desert and savanna. With increasing use of water resources and climatic elements like temperature, its water mass decreases.

It is no longer news that environmental crises ranging from extreme weather conditions such as reduced rainfall and extreme temperature inevitably lead to crop failure and subsequently poverty. But the effects of the climate crisis in the region are what helps create continuing violence in the Lake Chad region: loss of livelihoods, weakened democratic frameworks and fragile governance, and finally hopelessness among the region’s teeming youthful population.

As a matter of fact, the countries that surround Lake Chad rank the highest on the susceptibility to climate change risks in many studies. This is why bringing peace to the region is not just creating the absence of war, but also finding ways to allow citizens to acquire an ability to sustain their own livelihood.

A prolonged environmental instability also creates human displacement in conditions of limited resources and violence. Migration that should be a chance for adaptation instead results in the loss of lives and property. This displacement also becomes a threat to national security.

The Promise of Ecofeminism?

I became an ecofeminist by witnessing the impacts of the climate crisis on women and girls. The abduction of school girls by Boko Haram represented only one of several crises that affect our rights globally, but it led me to join the international campaign of Bring Back Our Girls.

But I am also working to find solutions to the deeper roots of this violence in climate. Women are the closest to their environment in so many ways, so leaving us out of the solution makes solving the climate crisis impossible. My response was to establish the I Lead Climate Action Initiative movement to fight for the recharging of Lake Chad and the promotion of peace in the region.

My organization has worked in practical ways, through various schemes like acquiring access to organic fertilizer, which can increase resilience for women and girls by reducing the time they spend in gathering these resources. But I also know that fighting the climate crisis requires a democratic approach. We need to embrace conditions of larger environmental protection and advocate for zero violence in any form. And there is no time better than now to have gender bills signed into law that uphold women’s’ rights everywhere.

But to be successful ecofeminists, we must continue to make the connection between climate and conflict. And this terrible anniversary of the Chibok kidnappings is a moment to renew our commitment to do so on every front.

Adenike Oladosu is an ecofeminist, eco-reporter and a climate justice leader. She specializes in peace, security and equality in Africa, especially in the Lake Chad region. Sources: IPCC, RTE, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Queens Commonwealth Trust, The Washington Post. Photo Credit: Protest at Union Square in New York City calling for the release of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram insurgents in 2014. Courtesy of Flickr user Michael Fleshman.

This post first appeared on New Security Beat.

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