WOMEN IN NIGERIA GOT WHAT THEY CAME FOR

By SUSAN SWARTZ
SANTA ROSA PRESS DEMOCRAT
July 28, 2002

Who could not love the story of the brave Nigerian women? They got what they came for - a school, a chicken farm, work for their sons - from a huge oil giant and they did it without pointing guns. Nobody died and so far it hasn't affected the price of gas for vacationing Americans.

The women of the Niger Delta asked Chevron/Texaco to play fair. Hadn't the huge multinational made lots of money sucking oil out of the Nigerian earth? And hadn't some of the pipeline operation polluted their water? And while the company made its fortune exporting half a million barrels of oil a day and its workers lived well didn't they notice that the people on the outside were desperately poor?

The women took over a major oil terminal and other plants, shut down operations and refused to leave until they cut a deal with top executives to help their villages.

They put their bodies on the line but not in the way of soldiers or armed guerillas. They merely said they weren't leaving until Chevron/Texaco did right by their people.

The one thing they threatened to do was to disrobe - to take off their clothes which would in their tribal culture be a forceful shaming gesture. Some things call for great sacrifice.

Imagine the courage it took to stand up to a huge American industrial presence. One concerned mother from the village would never get an audience with the people who make the decisions at Chevron/Texaco. But 100 singing and dancing women got their attention.

The women sneaked inside the plant. They blocked the airstrip and the helicopter pad and the dock so no one could leave. They did not kidnap people or wreck equipment like gunmen who have before tried to pressure such companies into providing jobs or compensation for environmental damage.

Theirs was a different approach. No huffing or puffing. No one said anything about kicking butt.

It was a delicious standoff, a victory for the creative women, their families and everyone around the world who'd like to believe that peaceful protest can work.

Plus it was a joy to hear from women in another corner of the world with something to celebrate. So often we hear only of miseries and the horrible things that happen to women in the name of politics and religion and war. The world sometimes seems full of shamed women.

But this time the women did the shaming, and as a result Chevron/Texaco agreed to hire 25 locals, build a chicken farm, a school, a clinic and do something about getting water and electricity to nearby villages. The women waited until the top guys signed the agreement before they went home.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate is trying to figure out whether it can get behind a treaty calling for equal rights for women around the world.

At issue is CEDAW, or the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

President Bush and others used to think it was a good idea until they got nervous listening to those who call it a radical feminist tool designed to wreck family values, promote abortions and teach young people about sex.

Fifteen American states, 16 counties and 40 cities, including the city of Santa Rosa and Marin County, have passed resolutions in support of CEDAW. The AARP and even the National Audubon Society endorse it. The document has been ratified by 169 countries. The United States is the only industrialized nation holding back.

What are we really afraid of? A lot of women in the world are waiting for this. There must be a way of getting Washington to move.

Send in the singing and dancing women and don't have them leave until CEDAW is signed.

Click here for the Press Democrat on-line copy of this article.

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