Women on the frontlines of conservation

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

The revolutionary strategies giving people and animals a fighting chance

According to tradition, the coalface of conservation is a field rarely entered by a woman. On account of physical demands and volatile environments, females have been written off as effective wildlife rangers. The evidence, however, proves that bringing women into these roles does far more than level a theoretical playing field. Finally allowing women access to jobs in wildlife protection has a deep and intricate impact upon community and personal wellbeing as well as hugely enhancing conservation where it is desperately needed.

Cognisant of prior barriers, a number of dedicated, all-female, anti-poaching units have emerged. Via the recent release of a powerful National Geographic documentary, a light has been shone on the International Anti Poaching Foundation’s (IAPF) Akashinga initiative. Ignoring the existing narrative that being a wildlife ranger should be a man’s role, the Akashinga embodies an overdue strategic shift. The name of the group translates to mean the brave ones and the unit certainly lives up to their namesake. The figures are astounding and the efforts of the Akashinga have contributed to an 80% reduction in elephant poaching in Zimbabwe’s lower Zambezi valley.

Stemming from a superficial argument that women simply aren’t strong enough, assumptions are made that they cannot fulfill the necessary criteria. The reality discussed by the founder of the Akashiga (ex member of the Royal Australian Marines, Damien Mander) is that female units possess impressive and distinct strengths when compared to their male counterparts. Akashinga rangers are the epitome of integrity. Their physical abilities can comfortably compare to a non-female unit and Damien has noted an incredible skillfulness when it comes to diffusing aggressive confrontations.

These women are survivors. Akashinga recruits are drawn from the many women in the region who have faced domestic abuse, sexual assault or struggled to provide for their families as single mothers. Given the chances, training and resources they can help animals and ecosystems to do far more than scrape survival but begin to truly blossom.

It’s patently clear that all should have access to opportunities to eventually stand on the frontlines. With this in mind, it is also essential to consider the different resources needed by different people to make this tenable. Take, for example, the necessity for women to have period products like pads and tampons as well as decent quality bras. All too often, emphasis will be placed on the more ‘obvious’ supplies needed by an anti-poaching unit like weapons and items which feel more directly linked to the push-back against poaching. Dissolving any awkwardness around basic menstrual needs is a clear way of signalling that the field of on the ground conservation is not simply accepting of women but actively facilitating and encouraging their engagement.

In terms of the most beneficial supplies that can be donated, asking about rather than assuming the needs of any specific group is a vital step.

The SockStar Project is proud to have pledged over £1000 to Akashinga to support their feminine hygiene resource costs in the near future.

Often it is the less headline-grabbing provisions that make enormous day-to-day differences. Sufficient period products provide dignity and comfort and should never be overlooked as a mere luxury.

The role of a ranger cannot be coloured in pink or blue. Alienating anyone from such important roles can only deprive us of potentially revolutionary forces for change. If we want a future of well guarded wild populations to be achieved and sustained, we must throw the doors of conservation open to everybody. We must champion the work of female rangers and units like the Akashinga. In turn this will teach future generations that your circumstances do not define your prospects. Making statements to encourage more women on the frontlines of conservation may well be exactly what we need to give mother nature, her animals, and some of our world’s most vulnerable individuals a fighting chance to survive.

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