In the past it was seen as a taboo for a woman to speak out in public or be in a leadership position, but times have changed; women are taking the lead in various sectors. In communal conservancies, women are elected as chairpersons, and employed as managers, treasures, and game guards. Figures from the 2018 State of Community Conservation report show that there were 17% female chairpersons, 41% female treasurers, 33% female management committee members and 25% female staff members. These figures reflect changing times and the movement of women into management positions.
In the Kunene region at //Huab Conservancy, Judy Melekie has been the Chairperson for the past two years and there have been significant changes made in her term of office. As a chairperson she ensures that projects are implemented within the conservancy, monitors funds, ensures that distribution plans and policies are in place, and listens to the concerns and contributions of the community.
“As women we sometimes underestimate our strength, once we acknowledge our strengths we will be able to transfer the skills we have,” she says. In her term as chairperson she has overseen the revival of conservancy funds from a low of N$ 600 to over N$ 200 000. The conservancy has trained the first female rhino ranger, and it received two prizes at the annual Hospitality Association of Namibia awards for best conservancy joint-venture and best community campsite. When Judy started in the position it was not an easy task, as some members were hostile towards her and undermined her capabilities, but all this changed over time as she preserved and made sure she did her best, saying: “It is a tough job but when the community shows appreciation you get motivated to do even more to conserve our natural resources, which is our heritage.”
In the north central area, Hilde Nathinge has been the manager at Sheya Shuushona Conservancy since 2004. Her role is to monitor staff performance, deal with internal and external communications, compile reports, and assist the management committee with a host of issues. The conservancy has little to no income due to a lack of a joint venture partner, and wildlife is scarce due to the drought situation, so there is little benefit from conservation hunting.
However, from 2002 until now, the conservancy has been in full compliance with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism’s Standard Operating Procedures and has not received any warning or letters of misconduct from the Ministry. “We have everything in order” says Hilde with a proud smile on her face.
Challenges are a norm and Hilde has not escaped these. As a woman she says it is often difficult to leave the family behind due to travels, but she never neglects the family and she does her job well. “My heart and mind are here because this programme benefits the whole community. If we keep working hard we will see the fruits of our labour.” Going forward, Hilde would like the management committee to be more proactive, for the game guards to perform well because they are the backbone of the conservancy, and for the community to be committed to conserving their natural resources for themselves and for the future generations.
These are only two of the women who have been motivated by challenges, and who have big dreams for their conservancies which they hope to achieve through their competence, confidence, and drive. As the American author, speaker and pastor, John C Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. These women have used what they know to the best of their ability to continuously improve the conditions of their conservancy for the benefit of the community. They are striving to leave a good legacy behind and a good example for others to follow: men as well as women.