The Naked Option

Candace Schermerhorn
Fueled by the determination for a better future, grassroots women in Nigeria's Niger Delta use the threat of stripping naked in public, a serious cultural taboo, in their deadly struggle to hold the oil companies accountable to the communities in which they operate.  The women, at the risk of being raped, beaten or killed, are trained and armed, but not with anything you can see.  Through the leadership of the courageous, charismatic, and inexhaustible Emem J. Okon, these women are taking over where men have failed, peacefully transforming their ?naked power? into 21st century political action and mobilization.  THE NAKED OPTION: A LAST RESORT celebrates the perseverance and power of an organized group of women!

?Our weapon is our nakedness.?  Through the personal stories of Mama Bata, Aret Obobo and Lucky Ogodo, residents of Ugborodo and Amukpe, communities where oil giants Chevron and Shell operate, THE NAKED OPTION reveals the strength, the power, and the drive of the women to fight environmental ruin, loss of livelihoods, brutality, and corruption perpetrated by these corporate giants. Living in the only militarized zone in Nigeria and cemented firmly on the bottom rung of an already impoverished social and economic ladder, these women constantly struggle to maintain healthy, equitable, and self-sustaining livelihoods. We witness the hurdles that drive them to risk their lives taking over major oil-producing flow stations.

?We are the women who decided to take over the Chevron yard,? states 70-year-old Mama Bata, of  Ugborodo.   ?We?ll go naked.  We?ll do our naked.  Shell wants us to suffer and we?re not taking it. Fear will come?, threatens Lucky Ogodo of Amukpe.  Fed up with the oil giants dismissing their demands to clean up the environmental destruction and to provide jobs for their husbands, the women were pushed to the wall. With nothing to lose they decided to risk everything and fight back using the lessons taught by their female ancestors. Stripping naked in public, a sacred weapon of last resort, has given them unprecedented power over both government and oil through landmark moments in Nigerian history. Their anger erupted July 8, 2002 when for ten days, 600 rural peasant women, ages 20 ? 90, took over Chevron, the largest oil producing facility in Nigeria, which is the third largest oil supplier to the United States. Unarmed, they held 700 male workers hostage.  The women blocked the flow of a half million barrels of oil a day by threatening to strip naked in public. Actual footage of events combines with first-hand accounts from Mama Bata, Lucky, and Aret who, in the summer of 2002, joined the wave of women?s uprisings that swept the Niger Delta.  We discover how Emem Okon plays a crucial role in the women?s ability to negotiate with Chevron.
?Education doesn?t reduce the risks but it provides women with the skills and knowledge to confront that risk.  It makes them bolder. In my organization, we don?t promote that option (of stripping naked) but if it gets to the point where stripping naked is the only way they can get government attention, we will not stop them.? Emem, founder of Kebetkache Women?s Development and Resource Centre is championing a new vision for women and a safer way for their voices to be heard. Reaching across ethnic divides, she fights injustice with education, mobilization, and perseverance. Set against this backdrop, where government sends paramilitary soldiers to protect multinational oil companies from protesters, THE NAKED OPTION shows Emem as she travels to rural communities where women are prepared to use their weapon of last resort. Encouraging women to step up to decision making positions in government, she spearheads democracy and peace building trainings, teaches negotiating skills, and continually challenges the nexus of power created by the collusion of ?Big Oil? and a brutal Nigerian government through non-violence.

"Now, today a woman can be president.  Before these workshops we had no thoughts. The only thing we knew was every morning carry your cassava, every morning go to your farm?but today with ?the awareness? in us most families are training their children,? says Stella Fyneface, Emem?s protégé. Dedicated leadership, a passion for women?s rights, and new opportunities merge in THE NAKED OPTION as Emem passes the baton to hundreds of rural women, inspiring and mobilizing them to take charge of their futures, to stand up against injustice, and to become leaders.

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