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As leaders gather in Davos this week, ecological challenges are on top of the agenda.
The World Economic Forum Global Risks report released earlier this month cast shadows on our common future.
A lot of climate solutions already exist that need to be scaled up, such as this grassroots solution pioneered by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) that works with women in indigenous communities in Kenya.
Wildlife conservation is an integral part in environmental protection.
What is less known most of the wildlife such as elephants actually live outside of national parks or protected areas.
In Kenya, 65-70% of wildlife are in community lands and conservancies most of the time – especially indigenous lands.
Faye Cuevas from IFAW understood the need to engage with indigenous communities, and she came up with an idea to work with indigenous Maasai women to form “Female Engagement Teams” to drive wildlife conservation, as part of their ten Boma program.
Female Engagement Teams are all-women teams focused on achieving wildlife security.
“Female Engagement Teams were all women-Army and Marine teams and they were used by the US military as an important component of counter-insurgency campaigns to engage with local Iraqi and Afghan women in insurgent-held areas. We recognized that women can be important sources of information but cultural sensitives in Muslim countries meant it was unlikely the local women would share information with male soldiers.”
Like the Iraqi and Afghan women, Maasai women are important sources of information on wildlife crime. However, their voices have rarely been heard in wildlife conservation.
Maasai women also make choices every day that affect wildlife and the environment, or that may lead to human-elephant conflict, but they have not been equipped with the knowledge to tackle these daily issues.
Faye and her team have been working to empower the Maasai women through education on animal behavior and health and hygiene in response, as well as forming women’s groups to support their income generation activities.
They have been piloting this for the past year, but with fascinating results: “We are finding that where the women have trusted channels of other females to report to, they do. As a result, we have been able to save the lives of a pride of lions and 2 elephants.”
Considering that illegal wildlife trade is one of the most lucrative international crimes, it was interesting to discover how women are manipulated in this: “We’ve also learned important information on wildlife trafficking tactics, such as women often being used by wildlife traffickers to courier and smuggle ivory across borders because traffickers know that border enforcement would not suspect women as traffickers.”
With extreme weather, climate change, and ecosystem changes, co-existence between human beings and wildlife becomes more and more difficult. The example of IFAW shows the importance of indigenous communities, particularly women, in solving these challenges.
Faye quoted from a female Maasai elder about the unique role of women in leading change: “ As women, we connect to the story of conservation when we can see how conservation connects to us. ” As leaders discuss solutions in Davos, the role of community and women’s empowerment in environmental conservation must not be forgotten.