• Ford shines the light on women in the conservation sector.
• Ford Wildlife Foundation partners with organisations to provide Ranger 4x4 bakkies.
• In conversation with three women in the sector.
Ford South Africa has a long history of assisting conservation efforts in the country. For Women's Month, the carmaker spoke to three women about they are making their mark in the conservation sector.
The month of August is synonymous in South Africa with celebrating women. Ford is shining the light on females making a difference in the conservation area.
Citing a the Global Gender Gap index by the World Economic Forum, gender parity in the workforce will not be attained for 99.5 years. But in the conservation sector women are active agents of conservation and restoration and more than that, substantial evidence links gender equality and enhanced environmental outcomes.
Women are more likely to support policies with environmental efforts behind them
Similarly, studies by the United Nations demonstrate that women express more concern for the environment, support policies that are more beneficial to the environment and tend to vote for leaders who care about the environment.
In turn female political representatives are more likely to set aside protected land areas and are also more likely to ratify international environmental treaties.
But what is the picture like in South Africa? Ford spoke to three women from the Ford Wildlife Foundation about how women are making their mark in the conservation sector.
According to Yolan Friedmann CEO of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) the once male dominated sector has evolved considerably in recent years.
"The numbers have increased dramatically and at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, for one, our staff complement is slightly over 50% in favour of women. Many environmental institutions and conservation organisations these days have the same ratio. In government, we have a female Minister for the Environment, we have a female Chair of the SANParks Board and these days, when we recruit new staff, we get by far the majority of applications from well qualified and highly suitable female applicants," Friedmann explains.
Issues in the conservation sector require an integration of many factors, including social, economic, environmental, political, cultural and ecological imperatives with science and compassion and sensitivity. "Women tend to be better jugglers, in my opinion, and understand the need to balance shifting priorities," Friedmann continues.
'Women thrive in this environment'
"We tend to be able to lead from the front as well as the back. Our sector has also required massive skills and capacity development over the past years, with the need for human development being at the core of increasing environmental awareness and action. Women have thrived in this environment which is evident by the increasing number of civil society action groups caring for the earth, in almost all neighbourhoods these days which are largely led by women."
Another conservationist is Lynda Du Plessis who works with 25 different Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF) projects spread throughout the country agrees that women are well represented in the field.
"I am extremely proud of the contribution that Ford is making through the FWF, it has been an extremely rewarding experience for me personally. I have met some truly extraordinary women over the years, some working in positions I did not even know existed," Du Plessis said.
"Around half of our Ford Rangers used by the FWF projects are driven by women," she continues.
The outdated view that field workers are regularly faced with staid, traditional and cultural views of what women are capable of in this field of work. Odette Curtis-Scott of the Overberg Renosterveld Conservation Trust (ORCT) knows first-hand the realities of gender stereotypes in the work place.
"It is definitely not as much of an issue as it was historically, but certainly it is there. Particularly in the farming community – it can be challenging, in a sector dominated by men to show that I know what I am talking about and that what I have to say is important and needs to be heard," Curtis-Scott said.
Established in 2014, the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF) partners with conservation projects in Southern Africa by providing Ranger Double Cab 4x4s to organisations to assist with the effective implementation of their environmental education, research, and conservation initiatives.
There are currently 25 projects across the region to ensure the sustainability of threatened and endangered animals, plant species and habitats.
Ford says they are wholly committed to providing support to a sector that's blazing a trail in relation to closing the gender gap, particularly in South Africa. There is certainly still more to be done to transform the conservation sector however the women of FWF serve as an inspiration to others.