The UN has launched the Generation Equality Forum - a civil society-centred gathering to promote gender equality, and the UN theme for Women's Day is "Women in Leadership - Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world on the way to Generation Equality Forum": what do you see as the role and responsibility of CBOs in achieving true equality?
Community based organizations have an instrumental role to play in ensuring gender equality is integrated into their programs. Often such organizations work in rural areas where the role of women may not be as diverse as in urban, more ‘modernized’ areas of society. It is up to CBOs to investigate and appreciate the gender dynamics in communities and incorporate this into their approaches. In communities that CCB is working in, we are focusing on women’s empowerment.
We are looking at the existing traditional skills and strengths such as childcare, production of crafts and harvesting of veld products and developing livelihood opportunities around these strengths; as well as incorporating new skills such as computer training to broaden the skills of women in the community and enable them to diversify into a wider range of income opportunities. It is also inspiring to see this approach coming from within the community itself. In recent community trust elections, the communities we work with chose to have equal representation from both women and men in their Board of Trustees, feeling it was essential to incorporate gender equality into their leadership.
For me, all this work seeks to celebrate the power of women's rights activism, feminist solidarity and youth leadership to achieve transformative change.
It’s great to see this kind of trickle down impact in spaces that are often framed as slow to change. As someone who inherited a world where the fight for gender equality was still young, and now raising someone in a world where we are still talking about fighting for gender equality, what gives you the most hope that an equal future can be achieved?
I suppose from a gender equality perspective I was lucky to be born in the U.K. when gender equality was already becoming the norm. I always felt that I had equal rights and the opportunity to have any future I set my mind to. My mother was also a very empowered individual who would protest and fight against any inequality. Her mother was an Austrian Jew who had escaped the holocaust of World War 2 and made her way to freedom alone, raising her 2 daughters without any family support. With such a history of overcoming adversity they never let anything get in their way and these strong women were my role models. When I was a child, we left the UK and lived in Africa and Asia in countries where equality was certainly not the norm and the difference was clear. Women didn’t have the same practical opportunities as men and, in some cases, didn’t even have rights to education or the same levels of freedom. I realized that I was very lucky to be female and, in my culture, to have equal rights.
However, since that time, I have seen a great amount of change and have seen women’s empowerment grow and come to the forefront of many political agendas in such countries. More countries than ever have women leaders and women in high positions in all industries. It is amazing to see the growth and change that has happened. Of course, this is not limited to women but also people with different gender identities. It is no longer acceptable to judge or discriminate people based on gender, although this does of course still happen as we wait for the past paradigm to fade away. But I feel we are certainly on the trajectory to an equal future for all, and gender equality is well on its way all over the world. There really is no stopping it now!
Yes, the defiance and resistance against continuing suffering is emboldening. Women are often institutionally marginalized, yet you lead an organization that has a strong representation of different women with broad skills. How important is it to you that CCB not only shows that skilled women get the job done well, but that conservation across the country is understood as equal parts 'care' (often gendered as feminine) and hard work (often gendered as not feminine)?
CCB has a very strong female representation and that’s great to see. To be honest, this was not really intentional even though the organization was founded by women. Having gender equality at our core, we didn’t select staff in anyway due to gender. It rather evolved that in many cases the right people for the different roles happened to be women! Of course, it is now a source of pride for us that women are so well represented in our organization. We are proud to able to demonstrate that the women in CCB are hardworking, strong, tough, resilient, brave and adaptive to overcome adversity.
Also, having said that, the men that balance our team also show their care and compassion on a regular basis! We have a progressive and inclusive team and everyone has important attributes they bring to the organization.
What inspires you most about the present state of cheetah conservation then?
I’m inspired about the future of cheetah conservation as I see important progress happening over time. There is now a lot of attention around the world focused on the conservation of threatened species and views towards wildlife are changing slowly but surely. More and more they are seen as important assets for the future of our world. In Botswana we are in an ideal situation of having relatively low human populations and a government that values the presence of wildlife as an economic asset. There is still enough space for cheetahs and other wildlife, if managed well, and if land use developments proceed with a view to ensuring key spaces for wildlife. The communities value their wildlife resources although they may need support to realize their long-term economic benefits through various programs.
That’s so true that we need the systems to be in service of the existing recognition of the value of wildlife in our collective lives. So, as your closing remarks in observance of this year's women's day, we’d like to know what you would like other women to do in order to secure a strong future for cheetah conservation?
I would like to ask other women to spread the word of conservation; we are great communicators and we are often the primary carers of the next generation. My mother raised me to believe in equality for women but also for all living creatures who we share the planet with. This was an ethos which came to me at a young age and was strongly integrated into my being and shaped my future. Women have the power to influence our young people with this ethic of equality for gender, in race relations, and for all living things. We must all use that superpower to ensure that the next generation is compassionate, inclusive and empowered to create a better future for our world.