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Empowering women through sustainable wildlife management: meet Susan George

The Sustainable Wildlife Management programme's focus on empowering women is resulting in improved livelihoods and better protected environments
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Susan, working hard in the midday sun to catch, measure and safely release fish during the assessment with colleagues from the North Rupununi District Development Board. Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO
Susan, working hard in the midday sun to catch, measure and safely release fish during the assessment with colleagues from the North Rupununi District Development Board. Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO

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On her first trip to Guyana’s Kanuku Mountains, at the age of four years-old, Susan George (pictured) decided she wanted to live naturally, up in the mountains, among the big mora trees, with the big red crabs, where the fish were plentiful.

This trip  defined the way Susan lived her childhood, always outdoors, moving around the fishing and hunting grounds with her parents, and farming back dams. The experiences of her childhood shaped her passion for wildlife and conservation.

Raised in the village of Katoka in North Rupununi, Susan has always felt a duty to protect the environment, as she recalls, “I always wanted to take care of the trees and the fishes and the wildlife”, to inspire others to care for the place they call home and to help shape the way her community and North Rupununi developed. However, she soon realised to do this she needed to become more.

As she grew older, her main goal was to finish school and find a good job as this is never a given in Rupununi, where there were limited employment opportunities, especially for women, whose options upon completing school are limited to either leaving their communities for work to Lethem, Brazil, or Georgetown or remaining at home relying on traditional livelihoods such as farming.

Today, Susan, a witty, vibrant Makushi mother of four, lives at the foothills of the Pakarima Mountains in Aranaputa Village, employed as the Communities’ Fisheries Officer under the implementation of the North Rupununi Fisheries Management Plan with the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) supported by the SWM Programme in Guyana.

SWM Guyana is part of the Sustainable Wildlife Management global programme, a major international initiative working to improve food security and the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forest, savannah and wetland environments in 15 countries.

Four years ago, the SWM Programme in Guyana began supporting the implementation of the North Rupununi Fisheries Management Plan. This project of piloting the first inland fisheries management plan in Guyana involves several activities including raising awareness of the fisheries guidelines through village meetings and river patrols, implementation of a comprehensive fish monitoring system, data collection on fish consumption, reviewing and updating of the plan, advocacy for the inland fisheries regulations working with governmental stakeholders and relevant partners.

Susan’s job as the Communities’ Fisheries Officer entails raising awareness on the Fisheries Management Plan through village meetings with the 20 villages of the North Rupununi, conducting river patrols and fish stock assessments, providing feedback and updates on the activities to communities, producing radio programs in Makushi to explain the fisheries plan and activities on the local radio station, Radio Piowomak.

Susan is among the 177 women that have so far benefited from employment opportunities from the SWM Programme in Guyana or 34% of all hires. The promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment within the SWM Programme in Guyana is a critical aspect of achieving the objectives of the programme.

 

Communities Fisheries Officers at work. Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO

Susan and her team from the North Rupununi District Development Board about to start the fish-stock assessment. Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO

 

Understanding gender roles is critical to providing culturally appropriate solutions to the issues of sustainable wildlife management. The SWM Programme in Guyana takes a Community Rights Based Approach (CRBA), and gender equality is a cornerstone of CRBA.  Gender and gender roles in society influences a person’s interaction with the environment and its natural resources.  As such gender has a significant impact on the ability to participate in, and benefit from, initiatives working towards sustainable wildlife management.

SWM is actively implementing activities that support the empowerment of women by providing increased employment opportunities that are focused on women and activities that will increase knowledge and experience in sustainable wildlife management for women, such as environmental education.

SWM activities that favour employment of women are environmental education, citizen science and research and monitoring. For these activities, SWM has adapted the recruitment process so that formal education is not a requisite. It was discovered that by requiring education certificates, the programme was unintentionally limiting the pool of applicants, particularly women. By removing these requirements and providing comprehensive training for the jobs, the number of women who applied increased. This strategy has not only not only increased the number of female applicants but it also increased human-resource capacity in the communities where SWM works.

Four years into implementation, SWM Guyana has contributed to building the capacity of 491 women on topics related to wildlife management, research and monitoring, ecotourism, sustainable livestock management, environmental education, and business.

“I am so grateful that the SWM Programme provides trainings and capacity building for local communities, and particularly for women”, said Susan when asked about the benefits she sees about the SWM Programme. “Enabling us to fully participate in trainings will equip us with skills and knowledge needed to improve our representation in our communities and encourage self-esteem and confidence.”

Susan finds her job rewarding, yet tough at times as she believes there is much more work to be done in terms of reaching the wider community members on what, how and why sustainable wildlife management is important for their future and food security. As she described from their last advocacy outreach trip, “there is more to be done”.

Susan sees herself as the link between the communities and the outside world, explaining that “it is important to understand what is happening outside at the national and international level, so I can explain to them in our own language, what is really happening” in conservation and wildlife management. Susan has identified the SWM Programme in Guyana as the key to broadening her perspective on sustainable resource management and creating networks with the many different partners implementing the SWM Programme in Guyana across the Rupununi.

Susan’s enthusiasm for her job comes with the expectation that one day soon the Inland Fisheries regulations for Guyana will become a reality, developed with and for the local communities that depend on fisheries for food and income. She emphasised the link between economic livelihoods and conservation for local people, as she believes without the livelihood aspect, conservation and sustainable management will never work.

“From our efforts today, we should be able in the future to have more to harvest for food and income” she said. “If we use everything now, we will be nowhere.”

Susan is determined to ensure that the livelihood of people who depend on fishes is incorporated and secured in the Inland Fisheries Regulations. Her dream of being involved in determining her own future and the future of her home while educating and inspiring others in how to manage resources sustainability is alive and kicking.

It has not always been easy for Susan in this type of work, being away from home for long periods, receiving disapproval from her community but as she said, “they didn’t understand” and times are changing. Susan is grateful for her children and husband for their understanding, continued support, and constant encouragement. She is one of the many women involved in shaping the region’s approach to sustainable wildlife management, without whom the SWM Guyana Programme would not have progressed so successfully.

 

 

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For more information on this topic, please contact Nathalie van Vliet at nathalievanvliet@yahoo.com.
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