Introduction from Olivia Couchman
The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is to ‘choose to challenge’. With challenge comes change, and women are pushing boundaries in all directions worldwide. This is no different in the world of conservation. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke to several of our current EDGE Fellows and Heroes around the world. We asked them about their perspectives and experiences of being women in conservation, what advice they have for young women who are interested in the environment, and what steps can be taken to improve the outlook for women in conservation and beyond…
First, what does International Woman’s Day mean to you?
Ginelle Gacasan, from the Philippines: “International Women’s Day is a special day to recognize and give tribute to all women in the world, and to highlight our struggles and achievements through the history of humankind. It is a constant reminder to us of the historical struggle of women for liberation and empowerment given in this New Age of the world. International Women’s Day must be celebrated not only once a year but every day to celebrate a woman’s strength and will on overcoming stereotyping, judgment, inequality, domestic violence, human rights violations and sexism. Although we have learned a lot from the past about the conditions of women, these struggles are still occurring today. Thus, this day is a call to action for women in the world to be aware, educate, organize and take action to uphold women’s rights and welfare.”
Michele Marina Kameni Ngalieu, from Cameroon: “For me, it is a day when the rights and duties of women are questioned. Women are proud of who they are and the role they play in the family, however today provides an opportunity for her to claim her role in society as well as in the world of work.”
Ayushi Jain, from India: “International Women’s Day to me means celebrating all of the women (and men) who are learning that a woman is a person of her own. To celebrate all who are taking steps to unlearn all of the things we were taught that held women back from doing anything and everything they want to do.”
Have any women been influential as a role model for you, inside or outside of work?
Micaela Camino, from Argentina: “Yes. Lots. Every woman that has done what she feels is correct no matter what society has to say. Berta Caceres, Juana Azurduy, my grandmother, Debbie Harry, Madonna, and so many others that made me feel that I had no reason to doubt myself and that I was able to do anything I could think of.”
Michele: “For me, women are the very basis of life on Earth, for it is thanks to them that humanity exists. She is the giver of life and she is in a better position to understand men. Beyond this, she is a model for me.”
Ginelle: “I have always been in awe of how my mother can bring warmth, strength and happiness in our family and, hand in hand with my father, to take care of us even up to now in an older age. She did not limit herself within the corners of our house but also went in her way to support us in all aspects of our lives. I want to be as warm, strong and joyful as much as her and share this positive spirit with the communities and colleagues I work with.”
What challenges do you see women facing in conservation?
Liliana Saboya Acosta, from Colombia: “One of the biggest challenges we face is to be taken into account at the discussion table. To listen to our voices and to consider our recommendations and opinions as equal to those of men. Another aspect that is challenging is to conduct fieldwork and to feel safe. Going to our field sites is often not something we can do on our own as we are more prone to being attacked, particularly in areas with little security.”
Rotsinomena Andriamisedra, from Madagascar: “On my side, I am the only woman conducting fieldwork within my team. The community on my site mentions that I should not take this work, it is a man’s work! Working at night also is a huge challenge for me during surveys. As a woman, discussing taboos around the aye-aye with the community is quite tricky, but I am confident to accomplish it because we have built a good relationship with the community.”
Ginelle: “Women in conservation face discrimination. Once physical performance and endurance is underestimated, she can not be considered dependable and thus is thought to be unable to lead effectively. Women in conservation are being misunderstood. Given the femininity of women, her passion and desire to serve and work with the people and community can not be emphasised, as she is considered soft-spoken and therefore weak. Women in conservation suffer objectification. Working outside in the field can present instances where women are sexually harassed and feel inferior to the men they engage with. Also, she can only be accepted in an area because people only adore her physical beauty and not the advocacy and program she brings.”
Michele: “In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the fieldwork. A woman going into the bush to work is always insecure, as they are often seen by men as easy prey.”
If you would give advice to another woman just starting out in conservation now, what would it be?
Maholy Ravaloharimanitra, from Madagascar: “Women might not be as strong as men when it comes to lifting heavy loads; but with effort, determination and perseverance, everything is possible. Don’t wait to be given an opportunity, go, seek and grab yours!”
Rotsinomena: “Women can make a difference even starting with small work (e.g. volunteering, love work, training) or activity in their society. I encourage her to be independent in life, to stay positive in any situation. Nothing in the conservation sector comes easily, effort is always needed to accomplish the goals. Exchanging with other conservationists is really important to do. The last thing, a working woman is a leader, a model, and should be a representative in the community.”
Ayushi: “Don’t ever be scared to stand alone amongst men (a fairly usual scenario in our field of conservation). Because when we stop being scared, only then can we have more women in the same room.”
Micaela: “Do not listen to negative advice and don’t ever feel that your capacities as a woman are less than those of men. Our capacities as women are perfect to develop conservation work and yes, we may be more intuitive or passionate than men sometimes… use that in your favour and never try to be like others!”
Ginelle: “Working in conservation can be quite challenging. A lot of people have been telling me that if I work for my conservation and always work in the field, I might not be able to marry, have children and start a family. Or I can enjoy conservation work at a certain age ( younger age of course) so that when you are at the right age, you can quit your work and start a family. Of course it is explained, a woman can’t pursue her career in the long term because the remaining years of her life will be child and family rearing (which I know is also a very hard job of motherhood). Having this in mind, it is okay not to be under these norms/circumstances or being judged by others for what you want to do in life.
“Conservation is an enjoyable field to explore. Being an advocate and worker of environmental protection and conservation is one thing, being a woman out in the world exploring and engaging with people of all interests, culture, etc is another thing. Being tough is not easy. Being able to speak and educate others about your work is also not easy. But these things can be learned along the way in our line of work. Depend on your strengths, talk and understand the people you work with and enjoy your passion for the environment.”
How can men contribute more to women’s empowerment?
Liliana: “In societies where, for a long time, our voices have not been taken into account, the support of men who fulfil leading roles related to family, education and research are key to contributing to the empowerment of women. I greatly admire men who share space for discussion and treat women researchers equally. Men can contribute to the empowerment of women simply by being capable of giving women responsibility, and learning to not explain to us things that we already know, over and over again.”
Ginelle: “Men and women face inequalities and judgment. There is no competition in recognising the rights of both men and women. Men are the allies of women; thus, it is encouraging that men also take part in understanding the conditions of women in relation to their own situation and share these learnings to fellow men and women. In a society where men are more recognised in all aspects, men can also give chances to women to express and excel in these aspects as well, as of course the world is made up of 50% men and 50% women.”
Micaela: “Men should back up, speak less and listen a bit more. It’s not only about equal rights, it is also about shaping the world with our needs and perceptions too.”
Marina: “By accepting women as a working partner and not a person on whom everything must be imposed.”
Maholy: “By giving women the opportunity to prove themselves without anticipating their capacity.”
Rotsinomena: “A good relationships with women. Men must help women with their moral issues as well as their contribution to work.”
Ayushi: “I think men have a far greater role to play towards women’s empowerment by making safe spaces for women. If we have enough men as our allies, half of the fight for equality and inclusivity will be won.”