Women in Conservation – Rural role models take charge

The Future of Co-Management – Conservation must harmonise with social needs
July 13, 2012
World Conservation Union – The international importance of Namibian conservation areas
July 13, 2012
The Future of Co-Management – Conservation must harmonise with social needs
July 13, 2012
World Conservation Union – The international importance of Namibian conservation areas
July 13, 2012

By Dr Margaret Jacobsohn, Co-Director Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation

We’ve come a long way since the early 1990s when the first rural women – the Caprivian ‘resource monitors’ of the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) programme – became professionally engaged in community-based conservation.

“Conservation used to be seen as a male domain,” recalls Janet Matota, who was appointed at the end of 1993 as the first Community Resource Monitor (CRM). “But not any more.”

Lina Kaisuma

Janet, who was a joint recipient of the Namibia Nature Foundation’s first Environmental Award in 2000, today heads the NGO’s Caprivian conservancy-support programme with Beavan Munali, and is proud of the number of women filling leadership roles in Caprivi’s 19 registered and emerging communal conservancies. There are at least 17, she calculates.

The Sobbe Conservancy has a chairwoman – Herriter Manyando – and Sarriety Sikobiso is vice-chairwoman of the Mayuni Conservancy. Cordelia Muyoba has built a reputation as a dynamic and capable manager of the Kwando Conservancy.

The Kunene Region has also gradually appointed more women in key conservancy positions. At present there is one chairwoman, Lina Kaisuma of the Ananbeb Conservancy, and three vice-chairwomen. There is also an increasing number of women treasurers. The most recent appointment was in the Marienfluss Conservancy, where a literate young woman was tasked with the conservancy bookkeeping, so that a cashbook, bankbook and budget are now in place, assisted by the IRDNC’s institutional support team. Most Kunene conservancies have women community activators or CAs, the equivalent of CRMs in the Caprivi.

Ten Caprivian conservancies have appointed women as treasurers or vice-treasurers. It’s no secret that the women in both regions have proved themselves to be more honest and reliable than some of the former male treasurers.

“Women are just better at certain things,” says Janet. “It seems managing a conservancy’s money may be one of them.” She speculates that this could be because women do not have the same pressures on them to show off and prove how successful they are – a trap some young, and not so young, male treasurers have fallen into.

Women, furthermore, fill four Caprivian conservancy secretary posts.

Rural women step out

Role models – including award-winning Janet and Mrs Maria Kapere, a former Director and Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and a popular MET figure who never lost her feel for grass roots  – have certainly encouraged rural women to step out of their traditional roles. A long-term focus on capacity building of women is also bearing fruit.

It has been IRDNC strategy to avoid a ‘quota’ approach and rather to build confidence and skills of women members of conservancies so that they can contribute more meaningfully to decision-making and opinion forming.

Anna Davis, our technical specialist for Institutional Support, notes that Kunene women have a higher profile at meetings compared to even a few years ago. For example, during recent negotiations between the Ozondundu and Okangundumba conservancies and their trophy-hunting partner, a significant number of women from each conservancy attended and contributed actively. Anna believes this to be a direct result of the public speaking and communications workshops held for women in these conservancies.

The workshops are one of our critical interventions that have impacted hundreds of women in Caprivi and Kunene. The two-day public-speaking training course was designed and initially implemented by Karen Nott, a senior IRDNC co-ordinator.

Karen’s course, like all IRDNC training, is fully participatory. The women taking part are required to give a number of talks, starting with a simple two-minute description of a magazine picture. Different aspects of effective public speaking – posture, body language, eye contact, voice tone and content – are tackled one by one, with each woman practising in front of the group and receiving feedback. By the end of the two days, all participants have given at least 10 ‘speeches’ with their final talk – usually a practice run about what they would like their conservancy to spend its income on – as the grand finale.

Transformed into speakers

I assisted Karen with the first course. It was in the Sesfontein Conservancy several years ago, and I watched 25 rural women, most of whom had never spoken in public before, develop into accomplished speakers. The simpering, wriggling, giggling, hand in front of mouth, eyes on the ground and whispering voices that marred the women’s communication on the first day steadily evolved into confident, clear and effective communication. While a few women with obvious oratory talents stood out above the rest, they all transformed into effective speakers.

Agneta Johannson, a private donor who also attended the course, described the event as ‘inspiring’.

Karen’s simple but powerful course outline was made available to all partner NGOs and other women within the IRDNC were trained to give the course so that Karen could get on with her main duties as the IRDNC’s grants co-ordinator and co-ordinator of the special plant projects in the Kunene and Caprivi regions.

In the past year Caprivi was able to report that more than 200 women conservancy members from the Mulisi, Kasika, Masida, Sobbe, Balyerwa, Malengalenga and Mbara conservancies benefited from the course. In the Kunene Region the figure is also in the hundreds.

Caprivi’s CRMs, who now work for their conservancies, no longer for the IRDNC, routinely use the monitoring data from their event books at conservancy AGMs to illustrate what they have accomplished.

Late last year the IRDNC facilitated a Women’s Conference in Katima Mulilo with the aim of inspiring women to become more active in the CBNRM. Forty-five women from conservancies and government departments participated in the successful event. The keynote address by a local woman magistrate set the tone for the conference, which was one of women taking an active role in their future and building supportive networks for other women.

They are well on their way in both Caprivi and Kunene – another hard-to-quantify but major social benefit from Namibia’s national Community-Based Natural Resource Management programme.

This article appeared in the 2008/9 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.


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