Wildlife conservation and gender equality

Perspectives and experiences of equitable development and environmental sustainability – an interview with Muthoni Njuguna, By Ussi Abuu, WildHub core community member
Wildlife conservation and gender equality

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The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best known local populations internationally due to their residence near the many game parks of the African Great Lakes, and their distinctive customs and dress.

Muthoni, Can you introduce your self?
Muthoni: I am Muthoni Njuguna, a biodiversity conservationist from Kenya. I just completed my Masters of Research (MRes.) in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation from the University College London awaiting graduation in July. I have previous experience working in community-based initiatives predominantly in the Maasai Mara region with organizations such CBER, WWF-Kenya and Milieu Consultants Limited. 

What inspired you to become environmentalist?
Muthoni: I was raised by a Marine Scientist therefore I grew up surrounded by conservationists. While growing up in Mombasa, I was involved in Coastal clean ups and appreciated the importance of conservation at a young age. For most of my life, I found myself gravitating towards conservation and a little bit of activism.

Let's talk a little bit about wildlife conservation and gender equality. How women can play a vital role in environmental management? 
Muthoni: Women make 51% of the population and are approximately 45% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries yet they are underrepresented. 

  • We ought to actively involve women in decision-making from inception to planning down to the implementation stages of conservation initiatives and programmes. 
  • Cultural norms in some African communities do not promote the amplification of the female voice. In some places, women can’t own land nor make decisions yet their livelihoods mostly depend on natural resources. Including the female voice in community-based conservation initiatives is crucial to improving their livelihood and preserving ecosystems.  
  • We could use women’s knowledge and expertise to build resilient communities and actualize innovative nature-based solutions. Women have been known to come together and implement strategies that cushion their families and communities from shocks and stressors. 
  • It is integral that we equipping women with the requisite knowledge and skills to carry out research, understand the importance of biodiversity and implement nature-based solutions in an innovative manner at different tiers of conservation i.e., from grass root levels to international levels. 
  • By integrating gender considerations and implementing gender responsive projects we could ensure sustainability in development and conservation. 

Why is Gender Equity is important for Sustainability?
Muthoni: Women face systemic gender inequality in agricultural production, policy making, leadership roles and access to education. Additionally, women are disproportionately affected by climate change, poverty and social-economic threats. Bridging the gap between gender roles and norms as well as ensuring representation is crucial to improving sustainability in communities. 

  • Research has shown that states with higher representation of women in legislative capacities are more likely to ratify international environment treaties. We ought to increase women representation in policy-making especially in developing countries.
  • Women are typically first responders in community responses to natural disasters. Women take on the lead in disaster risk-reduction and actively contribute to post recovery by addressing the early essential needs of their families and strengthening community building.
  • Targeted investments in gender equity and women’s empowerment yield returns in environmental conservation, poverty alleviation, social policy and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What are the effects of environmental issues on people's health?
Muthoni: Environments and health:

  • More than 12 million people around the world die every year because they live or work in unhealthy environments. This is due to exposure to pollutants that diminish the quality of life and hygiene for these communities across the globe. 
  • Pollution exposes populations to respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer. 
  • People with low incomes are more likely to live in polluted areas and have unsafe drinking water. Environmental disasters disproportionately affect vulnerable and marginalized communities. 
  • Climate change has been linked to an increase in frequency of floods, wildfires, and superstorms, all of which can play profound roles in harming human health.
  • Pollution and litter can make residents less inclined to go outside for exercise and recreation, potentially making the entire community more prone to lifestyle disease.

Let’s talk a little bit more about your involvement with WildHub.
How did you hear about WildHub and why did you join?
Muthoni: I came to learn about WildHub from Adam Barlow who sent me a personal message on LinkedIn and shared the conservation catalyst opportunity. I read more about the WildHub community and instantly wanted to be part of it. I had been meaning to be a part of a conservation community more actively now that I’ve completed my Master’s program and WildHub provided me the platform to do so. 

For someone who is a leader in conservation, what are the top 5 lessons you can share with us?
Muthoni: My leadership style is servant leadership. I love building the capacity of my team to turn challenges into opportunities. I do roll up my sleeves and get in the mud with the team while ensuring we learn from each other as we mutually develop our careers. My key learnings are:

  1. Bottom-up initiatives are more sustainable. Involve the community on every stage of any project and incorporate their ideas, knowledge and recommendations.
  2. Capacity building and empowering communities is better than implementing projects only for the stipulated period. Do not give communities fish, teach them how to fish. Build their capacity to carry out research and develop their own projects even long after you leave.
  3. Dissemination of knowledge and findings among all stakeholders involved is crucial and should be done more freely. Collaborate with other projects and share your knowledge with each other easily since it allows for better informed project implementation. 
  4. Gender equity is integral to success in conservation. Involve women and children at all stages of development to enhance sustainability.  
  5. Personalize conservation by breaking down complex ideas and theories to bit-size simple solutions that every member of the community understands and can actualize. Improving awareness and aligning conservation with the communities’ livelihoods improves the impact of the initiative.

How does your work impact other people in conservation?
Muthoni: [Facilitated capacity development of others]:

  • Trained 8 local filed officers on setting up camera traps in 4 different conservancies in Maasai Mara.
  • Educated communities in Mara Siana and Enonkishu conservancies in Holistic Management, financial literacy and conservation initiatives using locally available resources.
  • Sensitized the community on pollution, unsustainable natural resource use and the effects of high carbon footprint
  • Trained 10 community members to be Monitoring and Evaluation experts in both wet and dry seasons to ensure they draw up efficient grazing plans.
  • Helped organize a number of clean ups in various towns in the Maasai Mara region.
  • Actively educate the people in my life on sustainable living and reducing their footprint.
  • Organize an annual conservation project with my friends and family on my birthday.

Thanks Muthoni for sharing your insights and wisdom with our WildHub members and many others around the world. I particularly like your perspective or insights on equitable development and environmental sustainability.
Muthoni: Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with me and sharing it with the WildHub community.

My dear readers, I would like to share with you Muthoni's profile which will help you better understand the Muthoni and the activities that she love to do in its development areas.
Here is Muthoni's Linkedin 👇🏽


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Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
about 2 years ago

Inspiring piece with many important insights! Thank you so much for sharing these, @Muthoni Njuguna . Next to important highlights on gender equality, I also loved your personal touch in this contribution where you shared to actively educate the people in your life on sustainable living and that you organise a conservation project every year on your birthday with friends and family! Many thanks also @Ussi Abuu Mnamengi for your leadership as our Conservation Catalyst in WildHub by addressing these important topics and by including members in these conversations. 

Linking some people into this conversation as well: this contribution may be of interest to you @Eva Rehse, @Aiita Joshua Apamaku , @David Kabambo Kabambo @Ross Rowe , @Ana Di Pangracio , @Merlyn Nomusa Nkomo , @Moreangels Mbizah @Jennifer Palmer , @Ranjini Murali , @Leala Rosen , @Lindsey Elliott, @Lindsey West , @Tatyana Humle @SUSAN CHEYNE , @Dominique D'Emille @Adam Barlow @Molly Maloy and @Helen Anthem Thanks for adding your feedback on this wonderful piece of writing or simply liking the content/sharing it on your social media and hope you are all well! 

Go to the profile of Ussi Abuu Mnamengi
about 2 years ago

Thank you, I truly appreciate you.

Go to the profile of Susan Winslow
about 2 years ago

I love this, so inspiring. Thanks to both of you for a great piece.

Go to the profile of Ussi Abuu Mnamengi
about 2 years ago

I appreciate it.

Go to the profile of Rebecca Hansell
about 2 years ago

This is fascinating, thank you so much for sharing! 

Go to the profile of Ussi Abuu Mnamengi
about 2 years ago

Thank you so much👍👍👍

Go to the profile of Aiita Joshua Apamaku
about 2 years ago

This is a really awesome piece, thanks for sharing. It relates so much with the field experiences I've had with communities around protected areas in Uganda, Karamoja to be specific. It also speaks to my new project coming up next month to via NatureWILD Hub (stay tuned).  

I will as well be at the IUCN Africa Protected Area Congress this July and will be running a series of podcasts in the move towards the Congress. Would be great to have some of these perspectives incorporated too.