The Northern Rangelands Trust has partnered with the Samburu Girls Foundation to end harmful cultural practices, and empower women to be agents of change in their communities.
The recently published NRT Strategic Plan, where conservancy management teams discuss their conservancy’s strengths and weaknesses, shows that one of the main shortcomings identified across the board was the under-representation of women in the institutions. “Getting women more involved community conservation, both at decision-making levels and at a household level, is one of NRT’s biggest challenges. Livelihoods in the conservancies revolve around pastoralism, and the place of women in this is far away from men. This is the cultural perception we are up against” says Gabriel Nyausi, NRT’s Community Development Officer.
For a girl born in rural northern Kenya, the chance of a higher education is a minute and distant one. Statistics show she is far more likely to feel the burden of an early arranged marriage (often to men three times her age), household chores, teenage childbirth and female genital mutilation. These factors will affect, among other things, a woman’s chances of earning an independent income, and taking on leadership roles within the local community. And yet, women have a crucial role to play in the future of conservation, as Beatrice Lempaira, manager of Naibunga Community Conservancy explains:
“For a start, [women] form a considerable proportion of the population across NRT conservancies, and they interact with their natural resources every day. They understand the landscape, and have a unique traditional knowledge of it. Also, although the men might never admit it, women play a unifying role within the household. They can be a powerful tool in conflict resolution. Moreover women have a right to be involved in community conservancy decision-making, and there needs to be widespread awareness-raising of how they can exercise this right.”
Joining forces with NRT to try and do just that, is Josephine Kulea from the Samburu Girls Foundation. Josephine has been responsible for rescuing around 200 girls and babies from female genital mutilation, ‘beading’, and arranged marriages (where all too often girls as young as nine are forced to marry older men in polygamous relationships). Over the past two years, Josephine has courageously faced threats and political and social challenges to not only protect these young girls, but raise money to send the majority of them to school. Her efforts have earned her various titles, including United Nations Person of the Year 2013.
Josephine is now partnering with conservancies to hold Community Champions workshops. These workshops, supported by the Conservancy managers, are a platform for discussing harmful cultural practices, and inspiring delegates to be agents of change in their communities. Governance and leadership skills, forming committees and groups, and the importance of equal representation are all covered in the workshops. Champions then pledge to align themselves to a community school, where they will help to increase the enrolment of girls, and assist in keeping those girls in school. They are also supported to work closely with community leaders to end harmful cultural practices, and to actively participate in community meetings to raise these issues.
Such was the positive feedback from the newly qualified Community Champions, that community visits have been planned for several conservancies over the coming months.