Women Play Critical Role in African Conservation

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African women still have a long way to go to break through the glass ceiling in the largely male-dominated worlds of business and politics, but in the field of conservation in Africa, women are making important breakthroughs.

At a breakfast meeting sponsored on November 13th, by the African Wildlife Foundation in Washington, D.C., representatives from the U.S. Government, several European and African nations, and leading conservationists emphasized the critical role for women in the field of conservation. While women have been involved in African conservation for decades, traditionally the focus has been on species conservation. Today, women are getting involved in all aspects of African conservation from community involvement to policymaking and funding.

Dr. Helen Gichohi, AWF's Vice President for Program, was joined on the panel by the Honorable Zakia Meghji, Tanzania's Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism; Her Excellency Mrs. Faida Mitifu, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Ms. Kim Sams of the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund; and Ms. Katie Frohardt, formerly of AWF and now with Fauna & Flora International-US.

These panelists noted how women, who are typically the most disadvantaged in African communities, are highly dependant on natural resources for food, firewood, water, shelter, and medicine. Naturally, this role makes the condition of the environment a personal issue for women. Forest degradation, for example, can mean that a woman must travel a greater distance to gather firewood or collect seeds.

"Women are both natural resource users and managers." said Dr. Gichohi. "They have a very personal interest in the condition of the environment, typically suffering the brunt of degradation. We must strive to continue to involve women at all levels of conservation efforts."

The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), one of the leading conservation groups operating in Africa, has championed the effort to increase female participation in the field of conservation. Throughout its work in the African Heartlands, AWF staff integrates women at every level, encouraging their participation in community meetings, providing education and training, and fostering female leadership. With input from local women, AWF designs innovative projects that go beyond subsistence. For example, AWF has worked with African women to turn honey production into a prosperous venture.

According to Dr. Gichohi, "Working with African women, we have helped to develop honey production projects that have taken honey production from a subsistence level to a business that benefits women and families. While it has been a huge success, the unmet need for honey is still huge."

While there is still much work to be done, women are playing a critical role in changing the landscape in conservation in Africa. Panelists of the "Women in Conservation" breakfast agreed that we must continue to champion women in conservation, not only by providing education and training, but by ensuring that women's voices are heard and that women benefit from the revenue generated from conservation-friendly projects.

For more information about this event, contact John Butler at (202) 939-3333 or jbutler@awf.org.