Published: February 2007
Did You Know?
In Did you Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.
Did You Know?

Although international attention is now focused on violence in the Niger Delta, women in the region are at the forefront of nonviolent protest and have achieved some notable successes. Women in the delta often take primary responsibility for feeding their families through fishing and farming, so environmental damage from oil facilities—including spills, gas flares, and pipeline leaks—directly affects their daily struggles to survive and has sparked their demands for change. As Nigerian scholar Iyenemi Wokoma has written, "Though the degradation of the environment affects the whole community, women and girls suffer the most. . . . Oil spillage, pollution of farmlands and streams are more like a frontal attack on women."

One of the first women's protests to target the oil industry occurred in 1984 in Delta state. There women demanded compensation for damage to their lands and asked Pan Ocean oil corporation to provide clean water and electricity for their community. The women occupied an oil production facility, blocked workers from entering or leaving, and then unleashed a weapon designed to inspire a deep sense of shame in their enemies: They took off their clothes. Company executives, who had initially been slow to respond, met the women's demands almost immediately. The "curse of nakedness" is a tactic used not just in Nigeria, but in other parts of Africa as well. Activist Sokari Ekine explains that "for mothers and grandmothers to threaten to strip is the most powerful thing they can do."

One of the most successful nonviolent protests occurred in Delta state in 2002, when women managed to unite several ethnic groups in pursuit of a common cause. In six impoverished rural towns near Warri, women of the Itsekiri, Ijaw, and Ilaje groups banded together to demand cleanup of pollution and jobs for their families. When their initial letter to Chevron executives went unanswered, they entered the company's facilities and refused to leave. For ten days, an army of some 2,000 women occupied an oil terminal, airstrip, and docks. They sang, danced, and asserted their demands. In the end company executives agreed to employ more local people, assist women in developing poultry and fish farms, and improve local infrastructure and schools.

—Shelley Sperry