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“The Time is now: rural and urban activists transforming women's lives.”

This is not the title of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) campaign, but the theme of this year’s United Nations International Women’s Day, which follows the global #metoo campaign to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, which was launched six months ago.

In Cameroon, the day will focus on “intensifying efforts to combat discrimination against women and strengthening the partnership for sustainable development”. My NGO Foder took advantage of the media spotlight to report the violence and abuses faced by women living in the surroundings or inside large monoculture plantations.

Cameroon’s monocultures’ cause havoc

Since the end of the noughties, these large industrial plantations, spearheaded by oil palm cultivation, are supported by the Government of Cameroon. Seeing them as a job provider and a growth driver, the Government has undertaken land reform that encourages large-scale farming.

Rural communities living in places where most, if not all, arable land is allocated to agricultural industries bear the cost of this development. These communities are often robbed of their land, with all of its cultural, socioeconomic and political value. Within these communities, women are the prime victims.

As I informed the European Parliament last year, these women are raped, harassed and left without access to their land. They suffer from violence and are subject to reprisals for owning nuts or palm oil, even if these products come from their own farms.

In rural areas, women are the pillar of the family. When their social, economic and cultural rights are violated, the whole family and community are affected.

Women’s day: the chance to say “no”

In light of this, women and Cameroon civil society organisations have launched a petition. It urges the Government of Cameroon to end the suffering and violence brought about by the expansion of industrial oil palm plantations.

There are solutions to this problem. The State of Cameroon can take measures to prevent violence against women when allocating land to agricultural industries. Likewise, it can better protect and support victims by improving access to justice, so that the offenders are accountable for their actions. 

Agro-industrial companies have to be better regulated too. The Government can help them implement due diligence processes to ensure the protection of women’s rights, e.g. by asking them to implement policies for women, as part of their corporate social responsibility.  Similar to other countries, the State of Cameroon could also adopt a national action plan to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

The European Union (EU) can also make a difference. As a signatory of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to strengthen gender equality and empower women, it has to make women’s rights a priority in all international discussions on environment and development.  

Likewise, the EU is a large importer of palm oil. It can require EU companies to better regulate their imports through the implementation of an EU Action Plan to protect forests and forest peoples’ rights.

By Laurence WETE SOH (FODER - Forests and Rural Development, Cameroon)

Editor’s note: FODER is Cameroonian organisation working to improve forest governance by enhancing forest communities and civil society organisations’ participation in the decisions that affect their lives. They fight illegal logging and corruption in the forestry and mining sectors and have been involved since the early days of FLEGT.