In a classic David-and-Goliath battle, women in southern Nigeria are taking on oil giants ChevronTexaco and Royal Dutch/Shell to demand more responsible environmental and social policies. Last week, hundreds of women blocked access to company offices in the latest of a month of all-women protests. The unusual demonstrations are gaining a reputation as one of the most effective tools to force environmental and social concessions from U.S. multinational oil companies doing business in Africa. The strategy of choice at the protests is mass nudity, or at least the threat of it, which is generally sufficient to help persuade senior executives to negotiate. In both tactics and outcomes, the protests are far different from the generally futile and often violent demonstrations by young men. Oil companies are a source of considerable bitterness in southern Nigeria, where they are seen as polluting the landscape and disrupting communities, without giving back significant income or other benefits to locals. So far, the women’s protests have resulted in Chevron agreeing to employ more area people, aid the regional infrastructure, and support the local economy.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.