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Jakarta Post

March 8 also for women in conservation

  • Cristina Eghenter, Paschalina Rahawarin and Rosenda Kasih

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, March 7, 2015   /  08:11 am

Do we still need to celebrate Women'€™s International Day? The answer is probably in episodes of violence, everyday situations, words and deeds in many places of the world that indicate the contempt for women'€™s rights or disrespect of women as human beings.

Do we also need to celebrate Women'€™s International Day in
Conservation? Yes, and probably more so, both in the sense of women who work in conservation organizations but also women'€™s voice and role in conservation and sustainable natural resource management in general.

While enormous strides have been made toward the recognition of the contribution of women to and in conservation over the years, and many women are now active in conservation NGOs and occupy senior management positions, gender perspective and women empowerment, equal opportunities, sensitive environment still too often end up on the list of recommendations by expert consultants of things to improve and needing special attention and change.

On the one hand, this is not surprising. After all, conservation NGOs are part of the world where enduring discrimination, gaps, limited visibility and inadequate voice are still pervasive and hence reflected in the organizations where we work.

On the other hand, it is surprising to see the still modest profiling of women for conservation if we consider the important role women play in nature conservation and biodiversity protection.

Back in 1998, in Kalimantan, during the big celebration in Bulungan regency, the late Oko Bungan, an old lady from the village of Apau Ping, received an environmental award for her valuable contribution to preserve more than 40 local rice varieties.

All her life, Oko Bungan had planted and maintained the rice varieties that she had collected over the years. She was a true '€œseed keeper'€ and, knowingly or not, a keeper of the high agro-biodiversity values of the Heart of Borneo.

While Oko Bungan was immensely proud of the award, at the same time, she was surprised that she would get an award for something she had been habitually doing as a traditional rice farmer in her community in the interior of Borneo.

In the village of Baun Bango, Katingan regency, Central Kalimantan, Ibu (mother) Ginon, on a daily basis collects and mixes natural ingredients from the surrounding forest to prepare herbal medicines for whomever in the village is in need.

The most inspiring part of Ibu Ginon'€™s initiative is that she is keen on telling stories and sharing her knowledge and passion for medicinal plants with young people in the village so they can learn and pass them on to the next generation.

In the National Park of Teluk Cendrawasih, in the village of Aisandami, Mama Maria has organized a team of women and school children to go collect giant clams and transplant them to a seawater area closer to the village. There are three different varieties of giant clams the team collects and tries to preserve. Mama Maria concrete initiative comes at a time this particular biota is under threat in the area and increasingly rare to find.

The Rio+20 final document, The Future We Want, recognizes and underscores '€œthat women have a vital role to play in achieving sustainable development ['€¦]'€ and '€œ['€¦] the importance of empowering rural women as critical agents for enhancing agricultural and rural development and food security and nutrition.'€

This is precisely what women like Oko Bungan, Ibu Ginon and Mama Maria, and so many other women have been doing as custodians of traditional knowledge and champions of environmental sustainability.

Every day, all over the world, women make countless choices that affect the environment. It is often women who decide how communities should use and allocate resources, and build the economic resilience of their families. It is often the solidarity and strength of local women that ensure the communities'€™ security in water and food.

Women play ecological roles with important impact for conservation management, both in forest and coastal areas. In this regard, management of protected areas could also target and involve local women, and entrust them with an active management role to improve sustainable utilization of natural resources in critical areas.

However, women are still often overlooked by decision-makers. Their role and contribution are not always, nor fully, recognized in policy decisions, budget allocations or even conservation initiatives.

There is still need to highlight women'€™s contribution for their invaluable role in sustaining the natural resources of the planet. Awards and celebrations like March 8 are some of the ways to continue to bring more visibility and raise the voice of women for equitable conservation and sustainability.

Empowering women and increasing their effective participation in sustainable development can be a big force for positive change in the world today.

Equally, better participation of women in conservation projects and their involvement at all levels and capacities could increase the social and economic benefits of conservation for all.

It is often the solidarity and strength of local women that ensure the communities'€™ security in water and food.

The writers are conservation and social development specialists with WWF-Indonesia.

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