Interview with Mrs Marie Noelle ETONDE, SYNAPARCAM (Cameroun)
Can you introduce yourself and describe your main activity?
I am Mrs. Marie Noëlle ETONDE, the representative of the women of Synaparcam in the council of Bonaléa (Moungo Division, Littoral Region). Synaparcam is the National Synergy of Peasants and Villagers in Cameroon. The main activity of the women of the community is farming. I work the land. In our community, the woman is the land. We are in a rural area. In the villages, in principle, we have to cultivate as our parents taught us. Unfortunately, today we don't have enough space to do so. This situation is a source of conflict within families, because in our country, the woman is expected to feed the family. She is the one who brings food home, and when there is enough, we sell it. The income allows us to meet other needs. Today, we no longer have this possibility, because of the agro-industries. Our community is bordering the SOCAPALM (Société Camerounaise de Palmeraies). We are fighting for the restitution of our lands by this company.
What is really the problem?
When land was allocated to the company, we were forced to pass through it to access our fields on the other side. However, we were denied access and we had no way to get there. Despite the precariousness of these areas, we resorted to using the lowlands surrounding the plantation, but today, the company is asking for these lowlands too. Having land is becoming a very crucial problem for us women.
What are women in your community asking for?
As rural women, what is most important to us is the land. The more we cultivate what we eat, the more we have hopes of feeding other families. So, first of all, we want our land to be given back to us, the rest can follow, social projects for example, if it is possible: fixing roads, hospitals, schools, coaching women in certain circumstances, assisting us in our small women's projects, etc. But if the leaders cannot give us our land back, then the rest is useless.
What actions have you undertaken to ensure that your voices are heard?
We use the hardline method of organising strikes and preventing workers from carrying out their activities. Before that, we tried to dialogue, but it didn't work. We tried to set up a platform with SOCAPALM, under the supervision of the Sub-divisional officer, but things did not improve. We also consulted MINADER (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development), who informed us that negotiations for the retrocession of land had begun. But since the local residents were not involved, we think the process needs to be restarted. So far there has been no follow-up. We believe that a framework for dialogue must involve the company, the Government and us, the local communities.
What important elements to protect women should be addressed in the ongoing land reform in Cameroon?
The reform is a good opportunity to make our voices heard, for us women and for communities. Women in particular should be involved in all areas of land tenure. The process must be inclusive and take into account women's situations.
Mrs. Etonde spoke on the occasion of the celebration of the 35th edition of the International Women's Day, held under the theme “Promoting gender and protecting women’s rights by 2020: taking stock of actions undertaken, setting a new course”. To this end, she actively took part in the workshop organised by LandCam, with other women living near agro-industries. The workshop was to reflect on a better consideration of women’s rights in the context of the development of industrial monocultures. A position statement by women was issued at the end of the discussions. Available here.
Interview by Flora Lamero