Women and girls in the developing world are harmed by environmental degradation
Women Heroes of Global Conservation
Women conservation leaders meet with Secretary Clinton
In October, women conservation leaders from around the world met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer to talk about the impact of environmental degradation on women and to call on the U.S. Government to take a leadership role in promoting global conservation. Check out photos from the meeting on our Facebook page.
Bipartisan members of the Congressional Women’s Caucus honor Women Heroes of Global Conservation
The luncheon event was moderated by Katty Kay of BBC World News America and featured women conservation leaders, Under Secretary of State Maria Otero, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL,) and Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley. Watch the highlights video, and read about the event here and on Under Secretary Otero’s blog.
Meet women heroes who are protecting natural resources and improving the lives of girls and women in their communities
Lucy Aquino has worked to improve conservation and empower women and local communities in Paraguay for nearly 30 years. Historically, Paraguay has had one highest rates of deforestation in the world. As trees are cut down, indigenous communities that rely on the forests for shelter, food, and income are forced out of their homes. While the men generally stay and work for the landowners, thousands of women are forced to migrate to cities where they often become beggars and prostitutes. As World Wildlife Fund’s Paraguay Director, Ms. Aquino helped establish a temporary Zero Deforestation Law for the Atlantic Forest region of the country—a highly threatened region where indigenous communities have been displaced. Since the deforestation moratorium ends in 2013, she is working with the government and local indigenous groups to establish financial and legal mechanisms that will pay forest communities to maintain the forests once the law expires. Ms. Aquino has worked with women to develop alternative income-generating opportunities, such as planting sustainable gardens, developing tree nurseries for reforesting degraded areas, and building small medicinal plant businesses. Ms. Aquino’s efforts aim to help displaced indigenous community members—both women and men—return to their homes and communities.
For her work in protecting Trinidad’s environment and championing the rights of women, the United Nations Environment Programme inducted Ms. Baptiste into their Global 500 Roll of Honour for Environmental Achievement in 1993. She was named a CNN Hero in 2009. Battling gender stereotypes and discrimination, Ms. Baptiste has become her country’s foremost conservation champion. In 1990, she founded Nature Seekers, which works to protect natural resources and wildlife and to help communities generate sustainable livelihoods. Early on, she bucked local tradition by facing down male poachers of endangered leatherback turtles and helping to stop turtle poaching. Her group has reforested large areas of Trinidad by hiring teams of women to rehabilitate areas that were destroyed by fires or logging companies. Nature Seekers is the largest employer in her region of Trinidad, providing jobs especially for many single mothers who are able to build much needed confidence and earn a living. Ms. Baptiste has pioneered programs to work with women to develop environmentally sustainable businesses in tourism, establish restaurants, and make local resource-based crafts. Many of the women she has worked with have become powerful community leaders.
SANGDUEN “LEK” CHAILERT
Sangduen “Lek” Chailert has challenged and transformed traditional wildlife management methods in the communities in which she has set up elephant sanctuaries and ecotourism programs, as well as throughout her country. Time magazine named her one of “Asia’s Heroes” for her work as a humanitarian and conservationist. Born in a remote and impoverished mountain region of Northern Thailand, Ms. Chailert defied strongly held gender roles by attending school and receiving her Bachelor’s of Arts from Chiang Mai University. In 1995, Ms. Chailert started a sanctuary for endangered Asian elephants that challenged harsh centuries old wildlife management techniques. She also works to improve the lives of women. She has insisted on hiring mostly women and on placing them in positions of responsibility—allowing women to gain leadership experience while changing the perspective of the men working in the park. Outside the park, Ms. Chailert helps women apply for leadership positions in their local villages and form local unions. Ms. Chailert has extended her work to other areas of Thailand, both protecting more elephants and generating important economic revenue and leadership roles for women.
Wangari Maathai’s life has been characterized by a series of “firsts.” She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She was also the first woman in Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded in 2004 for her work transforming women’s lives and the environment in her country. While teaching veterinary medicine at the University of Nairobi, she fought for equal rights for women university employees and, eventually, for women throughout Kenya. Given that most Kenyan women live in rural areas, Dr. Maathai recognized early on the connection between women’s empowerment and environmental conservation. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which uses tree planting to reduce poverty, conserve the environment, and improve the lives of women. Dr. Maathai discovered that in the process of working to protect their natural resources, women become powerful advocates for their rights as well as for democracy, openness, and good governance. Dr. Maathai’s movement has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands across Kenya. The Green Belt Movement has shared its approach with environmental groups in 15 countries across Africa. With the help of Green Belt projects, hundreds of thousands of women and their families are standing up for their rights and for those of their communities, and they are living healthier, more productive lives. Professor Maathai has also served in Kenya’s parliament and as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.
Mary Mavanza, manager of the TACARE program of the Jane Goodall Institute, has helped hundreds of Tanzanian women start environmentally sustainable businesses through microcredit loans and by providing training in accounting. Many of the women who have gone through her program have invested in environmental restoration and risen to powerful positions within their villages. They have also formed joint ventures to obtain loans from banks, which have allowed them to further develop their sustainable businesses, such as building tree farms and selling non-timber forest products like mushrooms, honey, and pineapples. As the environment has improved, women have been able to spend less time collecting firewood and water and more time on their businesses and their education. By improving economic conditions among women in communities in and around Gombe National Park, Ms. Mavanza’s TACARE program has protected nearly 200,000 acres of forests and worked with 22 villages to create land use plans. Under her guidance, TACARE has also worked to construct clean water facilities and schools, and to sponsor hundreds of young women for secondary school and higher learning.
Governor of Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province, Habiba Sarabi is the country’s first and only woman governor. A practicing physician, Governor Sarabi was forced to flee Taliban rule. She worked as a teacher for girls in refugee camps in Pakistan and secretly across the Afghanistan border. After the fall of the Taliban, President Karzai appointed her Minister of Women’s Affairs. In order to improve the lives of women and communities in Bamyan Province, Governor Sarabi has focused on increasing revenue from tourism through environmental conservation. She worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Wildlife Conservation Society to create Afghanistan’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, protecting 220 square miles of pristine lakes and limestone canyons. Her work has inspired local communities to join her environmental efforts. As chair of the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee, Governor Sarabi works with citizens to plan and implement conservation and education projects. Time magazine named Governor Sarabi one of its “Environmental Heroes” in 2008.