Cameroonian Cécile Bibiane Njebet was named winner of the prestigious Champions of the Earth award on Tuesday 22 November. This award from the United Nations Environment Program is awarded once a year. Among the five winners this year, this Cameroonian agronomist is from the Littoral region. She has been advocating for women’s rights in land and forest law for years.
” Ah, I was surprised, first of all this implies a heavy responsibility for me and a lot of motivation to move forward », says Cécile Ndjebet after price announcement.
Since his childhood in a forest village near the town of Edea, Cécile Ndjebet saw the women around them working land on which they had no rights :
I began to experience this with my mother, my older sister and the other women in the village, I saw their suffering, I said “no”, perhaps something should be done in favor of these women, and that has occupied me for about thirty years.
Women work the land… and are deprived of property
First with Cameroon Ecology, an organization she co-founded, then with the African Women’s Network for Community Forest Management (Refacof), she brings to the heart of her commitment an observation in her region: it is women who in the majority carry agricultural work, enhance and replant forests and mangroves. But the power of decision and the property remains mainly in the hands of men :
And when you don’t have the right to control, you are vulnerable, at any time, the owner can recover his land, the women who have become widows have lost everything, because the brothers-in-law have taken everything. You realize, you worked 20 years, 30 years with a person, you exploited a space. And as soon as he dies, they tear him away from you because you didn’t produce a son who could inherit his father.
She also cites the case of others who are dispossessed of land they had negotiated at a low price when it had actually increased in value thanks to their work: “ Once the spaces are valued, it is taken away from them, because there is no documentation that proves that these spaces belong to them. »
Law reform and funding to fight against global warming
To harmonize customary law and regulations, Cécile Njebet has made proposals for a reform of forest and land laws in Cameroon, texts awaiting publication.
If regulations do not solve the problem, practices at the local level will continue to discriminate against women. Attempts must be made to harmonize customary law with statutory law to secure women’s access to land and forests.
With the issue of global warming, Cécile Njebet also campaigns for women to have more access to climate finance.
Cécile Njebet has already been awarded the 2022 Wangari Maathai Prize by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations for her work in the protection of forests. And four other people have also been named winners of the United Nations Environment Program Champions of the Earth award: a Lebanese NGO and activists from Peru, India and the UK.
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