Celebrating Women Leadership in Conservation
Speaking at the event, Chief Guest Ms. Mohna Ansari, Member of the National Women’s Commission, said, “For any social change to occur, there must first be adequate investment upon women. Right from childhood, women must have equal and equitable rights to education and health. This will ensure that as women grow up, opportunities of employment and entrepreneurship are open to them. Just as strong roots hold up a healthy tree, strategic investment will make a woman confident, courageous and creative. Such visionary women will eventually prove to be leaders in every field, be it governance or conservation.”
As part of its efforts to facilitate the process of promoting and sustaining leadership of women in biodiversity conservation and climate change in such communities, the Program instituted the ‘Outstanding Male Change Agent Award’ and ‘Outstanding Female Change Agent Award’ on March 8, 2013. These change agents are selected from among 16 nominations made by the four consortium partners of the USAID-funded Hariyo Ban Program (WWF Nepal, CARE Nepal, FECOFUN and NTNC) in its two working areas of the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) and Chitwan Annapurna Landscape (CHAL). They comprise of local resource persons, volunteers, activists and social mobilisers. This award aims to encourage awardees and other stakeholders to continue best practices, while highlighting challenges faced by women in natural resource management and respecting their immense contribution in spite of such challeneges.
As a continuation of this tradition, the Program honored Ms. Maya Bista from Charang, Mustang with the ‘Outstanding Female Change Agent Award’ for her consistent involvement, leadership and sensitization efforts in the field of conservation and climate change. The ‘Outstanding Male Change Agent Award’ went to Mr. Khem Gurung from Tarku, Lamjung for his decade long campaign to ensure equal female participation in decision making and leadership roles in all sectors including conservation.
Special Guest Ms. Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF International, opined, “Women in all communities, and especially rural ones, must be encouraged to complete their education and provided with optimum health facilities if we are to have a strong team of women.” She appreciated the innovative projects undertaken by WWF, and singled out Nepal as an exceptionally successful example of community engagement in conservation. “Communities support our work, which is why we are thriving,” she added, “And this contribution, especially that of women, must be encouraged a hundredfold.” She also urged all present to help women move ahead in every way they could. “The most significant solidarity is that which is offered by one woman to another, and hence we must do all we can to facilitate the path of other women,” she concluded.
Similarly, Special Guest Ms. Beth Dunford, Mission Director of USAID/Nepal, focused upon the need to ensure female participation in all levels of decision making to ensure optimum results in all sectors including conservation and climate change. Mr. Govinda Gajurel, Member Secretary of NTNC, expressed pleasure at the great strides taken by Nepali women in the last few decades. Mr. Bishwa Nath Oli, Director General of Department of Forests, reiterated the need to create a women-friendly environment in conservation, while Ms. Apsara Chapagain, Chairperson Of FECOFUN, stressed on the fact that women involvement in conservation is best achieved and encouraged through the grassroots.
Two other individuals were also recognized for their courageous and resilient conservation efforts. Ms. Chandra Budha from Surkhet was honored with the ‘Special Recognition Award’ for her unparalleled leadership of community conservation efforts. Mr. Bhadai Tharu from Bardiya was felicitated as Conservation Hero during the event. Tharu, who lost his eye to a tiger attack, has devoted his life to the cause of conservation. He also campaigns for women leadership as the chairperson and only male member of the Gauri Community Forest User Group (CFUG) in the Khata Corridor, Bardiya, through which he insists on inclusion and promotion of women leadership at all levels of the CFUG.
Building up on the theme, Ms. Judy Oglethorpe, Chief of Party of the Hariyo Ban Program, had this message: “Women in Nepal face many barriers when they try to take on leadership roles in forest management, including traditional attitudes towards women, and low levels of education. They often have to work much harder than men to prove themselves and demonstrate how effective they can be. But since rural women are so dependent on forests for their families’ wellbeing, they have very strong motivation to conserve forests, strengthening their households’ livelihoods and reducing vulnerability to disasters such as landslides.”
A video titled ‘She is the Change’ was launched during the occasion. The video chronicles the struggles and triumphs of Ram Maya Rana, a conservation enthusiast and self-made entrepreneur from Jum Danda Jhapri, Bandipur, Tanahu. The vice chairperson of the Jum Danda Jhapri CFUG, Rana’s life story is a perfect example of how a woman can change her own and her community’s life for the better. Please find the video here:
A drama titled ‘Charioteers of Nature’ was also showcased during the event. It depicted the challenges and barriers faced by women conservation leaders, while highlighting the difference determined and committed women leaders can make to conservation. Ms. Ujjwala Maharjan and Ms. Nasala Chitrakar, representatives from the slam poetry group Word Warriors, also performed poetry on women and nature.