Men and women often access and use natural resources differently and are affected in different ways when these resources are reduced or degraded, yet in conservation work many projects still don’t take this into account. Additionally, women are significantly under-represented in leadership positions in the conservation sector, and so have less opportunity to influence important decisions around how we take action.
In a workshop organised by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a group of inspirational women conservationists from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, DRC, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia spent a week in Kigali to share experiences, consider our own paths to conservation leadership, discuss what we can do to support gender equality in our sector, and support female conservationists to become leaders. In this four day workshop, we shared and practiced a variety of tools and techniques for building conservation leadership, mainstreaming gender considerations into conservation work, coaching and mentoring, and building support networks.
Identifying barriers to women in conservation. Credit: Anthony Ochieng.
We discussed how across the Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot (and many other places), from early on in their lives, women’s roles for their family and community mean they have less time for formal education and less time to play and be inspired by nature. Girls are not climbing trees and birdwatching like boys are. Boys are enabled to reach for their dreams, and girls are broadly only encouraged to support their more powerful men. That is, unless they are provided with nurturing and supportive opportunities to do otherwise!
“I’m feeling like I can fly right now. I’ve really been inspired by having all these talented and great women around me this week,” said Fadzai Matsvimbo, BirdLife Zimbabwe.
The group came up with over 50 practical ways we can actively support women to overcome the many barriers they face to participating equally in conservation activities. These included mentoring and coaching young women interested in conservation, ensuring thoughtful participation of women and girls from the local communities where our conservation activities take place, improving facilities for women at workplaces (including field sites), and building supportive personal networks for encouragement and confidence building.
What a successful leader looks like. Credit: Anthony Ochieng.
Importantly, all this needs to be done with the support and understanding of men too. We are at our best when men and women work together, making use of our combined strengths and opportunities – surely then giving the optimum results for protecting our environment and all those living things that depend on it.
“You have empowered us more as women to face different challenges,” said Lilly Ajarova, Uganda.
Next we act! Full of energy, support and inspiration, all participants signed commitments to undertake some actions when they go back home. The group continues to keep in close contact to encourage one another, and to share useful tools and information. Reports are already zipping around between the group members about the actions they are taking.
Rosemary Chavula of Lundazi District Women Development Association, for example, ran a community workshop in the last week with Kodwani village in Zambia sharing what she had learnt. Felister Mombo, meanwhile, has been using some of the tools she learnt at the workshop to help build conservation leadership skills amongst the fisheries officers at Kilombero, Tanzania. Claudine Tuyishime from Wildlife Conservation Society Rwanda was running a male dominated workshop and made a point to encourage the few women participants to contribute.
Credit: Anthony Ochieng.
It’s so encouraging to see these positive outcomes coming through from the workshop so quickly. I have real hope that the spirit and strength found there will keep radiating out through these ladies’ actions to make a real difference for conservation right across the region.
Salvatrice Musabyeyezu who works in Uganda for our partner, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), summed it up nicely:
“I have all the tools. I have all the courage to do it. I am more encouraged to face challenges and more encouraged to go forward.”