In many countries, women are still under-represented in conservation. As pointed out by Conservation Careers in a March 2019 article, the barrier to entry most often isn’t due to a lack of intelligence, education, or strength for the fieldwork, but the result of a lack of respect and belief from others.
Despite these challenges, many powerful, determined women are making great strides in conservation. On International Women’s Day 2020, when the crucial topic of creating a gender-equal world grabs our attention, it’s worth looking to the inspirational women who have surmounted numerous obstacles to achieve their goal of improving the health of the planet and its precious wildlife.
One such a woman is Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a Ugandan veterinarian and one of the leading conservationists working to save the endangered mountain gorillas of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Just this week, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)—the non-profit organization of which Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka is the Founder and CEO—won the prestigious St Andrews Prize for the Environment 2020.
CTPH promotes biodiversity conservation by enabling people, gorillas, and livestock to co-exist through improving their health and livelihoods in and around Africa’s protected areas. During her acceptance speech, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka noted that the prize will enable the CTPH to replicate a community-based health and conservation model that the organization has been championing for 16 years.
“We keep gorillas healthy, and their habitats secure by creating ways for communities and wildlife to co-exist,” Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka told the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation. “Our goal is for people, wildlife, and livestock to live in harmony, with local communities acting as stewards of their environment. We envision a world where gorillas live in a secure environment, co-existing with healthy communities.”
In the late 1990s, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka became Uganda’s first wildlife veterinarian. Currently, there are 20 wildlife vets in Uganda, five of whom are women.
In pursuing her career, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka had to overcome societal biases and, in particular, an attitude that women “aren’t able to do as well as men.” She overcame this by remaining focused on her goal of improving the welfare of wildlife in Uganda.
Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka feels strongly about the fact that young women who are interested in conservation shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing a career in the field. “It’s very fulfilling to make a difference to the survival and future of our wildlife and to improve the quality of life of the local communities that share their habitats.”
In a message for young women on International Women’s Day 2020, she adds: “Don’t be discouraged by people who say women shouldn’t be working in remote areas with endangered wildlife. Be willing to change societal norms, knowing that you’re making it easier for other women to follow.”