Women Climate Leaders: Neema Namadamu

Neema Namadamu has felt it’s been her job to “make noise and be a troublemaker” since she was a young girl. Born and raised in a remote village in the Eastern Congo, she was afflicted by polio when she was two years old.

Having experienced firsthand the marginalization of people with disabilities, she was determined not to let her situation handicap her in any way. She began using her voice as a young adult when she started a weekly radio program to raise awareness and promote the rights of persons with disabilities while also promoting their dignity.

Becoming the first woman from her tribe with a disability to graduate from college, she served her nation as a technical advisor to the Minister of Gender and Family. Feeling frustrated that her work didn’t have the impact she desired, Namadamu founded her first non-governmental organization (NGO) in 2007 to support disabled survivors of sexual violence.

Image credit: Courtesy of Jennifer-Esperanza

In 2012, her daughter was brutally attacked by government soldiers. Instead of seeking revenge, it motivated her to get into action for peace, founding the Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations (SAFECO).

SAFECO is a forum that champions the collaboration among women-led NGOs focusing on peace and women’s rights. After coming together, the women gave their movement the name Maman Shujaa, “Hero Women,” in Swahili. Since its inception, they have become internationally recognized voices for peace and freedom from sexual violence.

Their movement was so powerful that they generated a petition that amassed 100,000 signatures within months and resulted in an audience at the White House, which helped propel the appointment of a US Special Envoy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) partnered with SAFECO in 2014 to raise awareness about women’s rights, leadership, and the long-term harm of industrial deforestation and illegal logging in the Itombwe Rainforest. Through online training and in-person workshops, they provide a way for local women to learn, strategize, build, and implement a protection plan for the forest.

They are working to defend the rights of the Indigenous Pygmy women and local communities that live in and around the forest areas and want to reinstate the practices connected to respecting nature. Led by Namadamu, they are educating the people on how to stop illegal timber harvesting and promote old-growth forest conservation. Over 25 local tree varieties have been planted in the nurseries run by the women of WECAN.

Since the pandemic, they have also initiated food sovereignty where local women care for gardens, further boosting food security in an area where there are two displacement camps resulting from political unrest.

Throughout her career, Namadamu has received numerous awards including being named one of Africa’s most influential women. In 2018, she received the Meredith McRae Empowerment Award from the International Women’s Forum of Southern California.

Image credit: Courtesy of Google, Powered By Women

Namadamu doesn’t believe one’s impact is measured by amassing followers but by whether or not you are an inspiring leader. Instead of a world of leaders and followers, she wants leaders. She believes this will bring us together, “leading this world into the good of all that’s possible.”

Daughters for Earth is proud to support and fund women-led climate solutions around the world. Namadamu and WECAN’s program of restoring the Itombwe Rainforest through community action is one of these. Contributions will help ensure long-term success and continue reforestation in the Congo.

Learn more about this project