Historically, African women have been said to be reluctant to take on leadership roles in almost every walk of life, but in the 21st century, women leaders and voices have emerged in almost every sector.
In the wildlife-rich producer communities of the Sadc region, the need for women's voices and leaders in wildlife management policy initially focused on breaking the traditional barriers that led to African women being approached by men. They appeared in meetings almost without a voice. Women's voices were outnumbered by their male counterparts when community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) was largely supported by international hunting revenues; began in southern Africa in the early 1980s.
However, CBNRM is a democratic process that requires an overarching community decision-making process. Under CBNRM, international hunting brings in the most revenue compared to all other resources. This makes international hunting the most dominant and discussed economic activity in South African communities that co-exist with and manage wildlife.
Therefore, women's voices and leadership are critical to successfully managing the international hunt. This ensures democratic, inclusive, representative leadership and decision-making on how wildlife is managed and revenue from international hunting is used.
The introduction of CBNRM in southern Africa in the early 1980s coincided with the major gender mainstreaming movement. Gender mainstreaming in any socio-economic activity meant only one thing – the need to include women's voices and leadership to almost equalize that of men in every economic sector. Perhaps it was wildlife management policy that made this change at the grassroots level most needed in game-rich southern Africa.
A quick review of the Sadc Natural Resources Management Newsletter shows that from 1997 to 2002 almost 90% of the articles written contained male voices. It was difficult to get comment from women. They showed up at meetings but didn't talk much. They were largely spoken of by their male leaders. However, NGOs and governments have made great efforts to include women's voices and leaders in CBNRM management and policy debate on resource use. These included issues related to international hunting, the trade in ivory and rhino horn.
However, this changed rapidly at the beginning of the 21st century. Now women from Southern Africa have found their voice and leadership in the politics of international hunting and how it should benefit local communities, wildlife and habitat protection. The livelihoods of wildlife communities in southern Africa are largely supported by international hunting revenues. It is an economic and conservation activity that they now understand well and are actively involved in. It's something they've experienced for about 40 years since the introduction of CBNRM in southern Africa, with international hunting being the most robust and highest-income source for the region's wildlife producer communities.
The debate on wildlife politics for the 21st century has brought a breath of fresh air as women wildlife conservation leaders can now be found in almost every country in the wildlife rich countries of southern Africa.
Botswana has Chief Rebecca Banika, whose understanding of how international hunting revenues should be used to promote conservation and socio-economic benefits is impressive. She leads and speaks for her Pandamantenga community. She views those who want to ban international hunting as "demon possessed". She has attracted media interviews from local, regional and international media.
"I am the face and voice of my community and my job is to ensure the welfare and well-being of my community first and foremost," she said, acknowledging her leadership and representative voice supporting her community's rights benefit International Hunting.
"I don't know how best to describe the animal rights groups, in short I can say that they are possessed by demons because they are inhuman and have no feelings for humanity. There is no natural righteousness in them. No compassion or sympathy for the plight of those living with wildlife.”
Ms. Esther Netsivhongweni is the director of African Community Conservationist and the only known black woman in Southern Africa to run a safari hunting business. She has fought many great battles for the Makuya hunting community.
She not only represents the Makuya community in international hunting matters, but also as its leader, reporting directly to Chief Makuya. Her voice, leadership and ability to mobilize the Makuya community against the animal rights group fundraising industry has made the community a no-go area for the animal rights group fundraising industry. Ms. Netsivhongweni enjoys a great deal of respect and influence in South African conservation circles. She was a member of the high-level panel that recently advised the South African government's Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment on issues related to the sustainable use of wildlife.
Chief Rebecca Banika
Namibia's strong women's voice and leader is Ms. Max Louis, Head of the Namibia Association of CBNRM Support Organizations (NACSO) and Secretary of the Southern Africa Community Leader's Network. Ms. Louis has worked with international hunting organizations and educated the public about conservation and the socio-economic benefits of international hunting. So far, she has made significant pro-international hunting interventions in the ongoing divisive debates between the pro- and anti-hunting movement.
So where are the voices of young women in international hunting policy? Is there a succession plan for younger women to succeed the ones we currently have?
Young professor Patience Gandiwa is Zimbabwe's strong and authoritative voice in international wildlife policy.
Prof. Gandiwa is Director of International Conservation Affairs & Executive Technical Advisor in the Director General's Office at Zimpark's Head Office. Prof. Gandiwa is the only female director at Zimparks. She is actively involved in the country's wildlife management issues related to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES). She made key presentations at CITES CoP19 in Panama to defend rural communities to be included in the UN CITES decision-making framework.
In these Southern African women leaders, we not only have the long-awaited voices of women, but also women leaders leading communities and also preparing young leaders to follow them in the future.
This succession plan was also evident at CITES CoP19, when a young Zambian woman and Oxford University student, Ms Bupe Banda-Mhango, used her voice and leadership in an impressive way to reach out to CITES member countries at CITES COP19 in Panama and to call for the inclusion of rural communities, male and female, in the CITES decision-making framework. She asked rhetorically why communities that co-exist with wildlife are excluded from the CITES decision-making framework, yet such decisions affect them and their wildlife.
Calling on delegates representing CITES member countries worldwide to include rural communities in the CITES decision-making framework, Ms Banda-Mhango said: "In Zambia, we recognize the contribution of legal international wildlife trade to rural communities and the consequences of restricting this trade deliberately.
“When our communities sustainably benefit from the international wildlife trade, it creates jobs, drives local development, pays scholarships for young people like me, and improves access to essential services.
“Rural communities are often marginalized and poor, meaning these services make a significant contribution to their livelihoods on a daily basis. We hope that the decisions taken at this conference (CITES CoP19) will not have a negative impact on poor rural communities.”
She spoke on behalf of the Zambian Community Resources Management Forum and the Community Resources Board Association, which represents more than 80 community-based associations in Zambia and over 200,000 people living in rural Zambia. She said wildlife producer communities in Zambia benefit in many ways from international hunting.
Frau Esther Netsivhongweni
"Income from sustainable international hunting is being plowed back to support their livelihood," Ms Banda-Mhango said. “These communities just want to live their lives like everyone else. So, the income from international hunting has helped build community infrastructure like roads, schools, clinics and whatever else they need to support through international hunting income.”
Accordingly, Ms. Banda-Mhango said that the people calling for the ban on international hunting are ruthless.
"For people who are in favor of banning international hunting, I think it's unfair to wildlife producing communities because it's like taking bread out of their mouths, as someone in the community told me recently" , she said. “The communities really benefit a lot and also use the resources sustainably. I don't think hunting will ever end in Africa because it's part of our tradition and our culture and we see the benefits of it."
- Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based, international award-winning environmental journalist covering environmental and development issues in Africa.