Raising awareness on eco-activism – Africaday in Amsterdam

Saturday April 14th 2018, we organised our first workshop at the annual AfrikaDag in Amsterdam. With this year’s theme being “New Activism”, members of the organization took it upon themselves to raise awareness on eco-activism

Drawing made by @Oliv4rijcken during the workshop

The event took place at the beautiful Royal Institute of the Tropics (KIT), in Amsterdam, where people from all ethnicities and professions, gathered to share their knowledge on the diversity of African change makers and activists.

Priscilla Akhakpa: Women Environment Program (WEP)

To represent the best practices and eco-activist efforts carried out in Nigeria, WECF brought Priscilla Akhakpa, from Women Environment Program (WEP) Nigeria to the forefront. Although, due to logistical circumstances, she wasn’t able to be present in person, a live Skype call was arranged with her in order to retain her valuable input and interact with the audience. From Nigeria, Priscilla addressed multiple issues relating to gender and environment, including why women are more affected by climate change than men are. She stressed the important link that connects environmental issues to social, political and economic ones in that rural women are impacted through water pollution – by chemicals – due to the lack of corporate social responsibility and infrastructure. As such, one of the best ways to mitigate climate change is to mobilize women by creating civil society organizations.

Priscilla particularly emphasized the relevance of working with the women that are most affected by such issues, especially to close the big gender gaps that exist in Nigeria. One of the biggest gender disparity lies in political leadership and participation, and although a bill for gender equality is awaiting to be passed, even if it succeeds, its implementation is not guaranteed. However, it isn’t only the public sector that’s problematic. Indeed, the Nigerian private sector is just as much flawed, if not more: Ms. Achakpa mentioned the scandal brought on by the sacking of 200 married women from a telecommunications company, and for which the labor laws were not respected.

Priscilla finished by taking this example to illustrate the disparity between what is written on paper and reality, just as the Nigerian constitution states that all men and women are equal. However, she is living proof that the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ev Liu: Straw by Straw

Kirsten Meijer, WECF Netherlands Director, then gave the floor to Ev Liu, a young Dutch woman entrepreneur, dedicated to fighting plastics. As a young eco-activist, she shared with WECF and the audience some of her best practices. Ev dazzled the audience with her optimistic activist spirit and her dedication to our environment. She lives by the slogan “no fish ever trashed your house”, and actively uses it on her products, as she considers sea fauna to be the primary victim of our exacerbated plastic consumption. To illustrate her stance, she started her presentation by screening a short video of a suffering sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in one of her nostrils.

She continued by giving some shocking numbers, such as the amount of plastic straws, used by the fast food industry, only, annually: billions. It is thus with this kind of data in mind that she founded her company, “Straw by Straw”, promoting 100% natural straws – made out of real straw. Her goal:  reducing plastic consumption by 60%, by 2021.

Ev particularly stressed the importance of branding and campaigning for this alternative “lifestyle”, highlighting the need to combine both positive and negative emotion to achieve maximum behavior change especially when it comes to plastic straws. Ms. Liu illustrated her argument by giving examples of the exceptions made to vegans, vegetarians, gluten-allergic customers in the food and beverage industry, but those not given to “ecotarians” – anti-plastic individuals. She emphasized the general society’s misunderstanding and unfamiliarity with not using plastic straws.

She called out to the audience to refuse plastic straws each time they ordered a drink; it’s a small action, but it’s also an easy one. It’s not just about replacing all plastic straws with hers; it’s more about learning to consume more consciously and to use less plastic straws in general.

Sascha Gabizon: Gender and Chemicals

WECF’s International Director, Sascha Gabizon, presented her case on POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) through fragments of the documentary “What Has Gender got to do with Chemicals?” – a case study of Nigeria. She began by explaining what POPs were to the audience, specifying that the term “organic” had nothing to do with the natural world, but that instead POP was code word for cancerous and highly toxic chemicals with lifelong impacts. Many women in Nigeria are blamed for bringing children with disabilities with this world, or doing witchcraft, but little do they know that it’s actually related to what we consume and our waste, here in Europe and the Netherlands.

The first video fragment encompassed the use of PCB oil – contained in generators – as cooking oil, without the knowledge of the buyers – who mostly happen to be women, and who often carry their infants with them. The audience seemed very shocked learning about this. However, this was shown as mostly an information issue: women and farmers don’t know what they are using and are unaware of the hazardous health effects involved. The information being absent from the products, this toxic oil then finds itself entering the food chain. Gabizon first wanted to show parts of the problem before moving on to the best local practices to handle these problems.

The second and third fragments went on to illustrate the positive changes that are happening in Nigeria, among which: the making of bio pesticide by rural women themselves, with the leaves of indigenous trees, and local plastic recycling cooperatives (Wecyclers). Both were example of successful local initiatives and sustainable business models that addressed the needs of those most impacted by chemicals and pollution.

Sascha Gabizon successfully pointed out the activist spirit of Nigerian people, driving their will for change towards creating a more sustainable and healthy society, just as she stressed the role we play, here in Europe, in creating those kinds of polluted environments overseas.

The workshop has been made possible thanks to financial contribution from the European Commission for the ‘Make Europe Sustainable for All’ project.