More women needed in conservation, says BirdLife in Africa

Africa Regional Director Julius Arinaitwe dances while supporting women's empowerment during a monitoring visit to one of the projects in Uganda. Photo: BirdLife International.
Africa Regional Director Julius Arinaitwe dances while supporting women's empowerment during a monitoring visit to one of the projects in Uganda. Photo: BirdLife International.
BirdLife International are trying to get more women involved in conservation in Kenya and Uganda, after a project has highlighted barriers to their involvement.

“Women do a lot of things and they do it perfectly. However when it comes to conservation, they are supposed to be behind. Why?”

This question was not asked by a woman, but by a man called George Gathu. George is one of the staunch, male supporters of the new Lari Women for Integrated Development (LAWID) grassroot women’s group at the Kikuyu Escarpment IBA in Kenya. "If we educate our women and we put our houses and children in their care, why wouldn't they be able to lead elsewhere?"

Mr Gathu's question recurred various times during a two-day experience exchange meeting in February 2015 in Nairobi, which brought together the leaders of five conservation projects in Kenya and Uganda. These projects, funded by Conservation International (CI) under its 'Women in Healthy Sustainable Societies' programme, aim to provide a better understanding of the gender dimensions of conservation, and support women’s involvement in environmental decision-making.

As part of the project, the women of LAWID were trained by KENVO (a BirdLife Site Support Group) and a local organisation called GROOTS. They learned about local resource usage mapping, the application of laws and regulations, and organisational management. As a result, they have produced physical maps of their local environment and are already advising the local authorities about issues such as tree planting, waste disposal and how to make local natural resource management more gender-sensitive.

One of the LAWID members, Anne Gacambi, put it like this: “We used to be in the village, walking around like cows on a tether. We were not empowered. But now our minds are open and we became strong!” The group already has more than 45 members and has started a range of environmentally-friendly income-generating activities such as fruit tree nurseries, briquette making out of rubbish and the production of fireless cookers.

In an attempt to answer George’s question, the meeting participants came up with a long list of barriers that prevent the effective involvement of women in conservation. These ranged from practical: “even if women are invited to meetings, they have no transport to get to them”; the socio-economic: “women don’t own the land, so why should they be involved in how we want to use it?”; and cultural and traditional barriers: “women are like children, they can’t make decisions”.

They also identified solutions to remove these barriers, and already piloted some of these ideas through the five projects that were funded by CI. However, all participants agreed that whatever they do, men should not be excluded. As Nelly Wangari from KENVO said: “It is obvious we have to work with both men and women – you can’t walk on one leg!”

Kame Westerman, CI’s Gender Advisor, said: "Watching the evolution of these five projects over the last nine months, and learning from their work and the enthusiastic people leading them, has been inspiring. These are great examples of how small, dedicated funding can help us to better understand how to promote more equitable conservation for both men and women."

You can follow the series of articles that will be produced about the five ‘women and environment’ projects in the next few weeks on www.birdlife.org/africa/project/ci-women-healthy-sustainable-societies.