Gender equality and empowerment: Changing cultural roles


Darwin projects need to consider how they can work to reduce inequality between people of different genders. This blog series focuses on how projects do this and aims to bring attention to the integral role women and girls play in their communities. Through this series we will feature Darwin projects that have challenged cultural norms, empowered communities and helped women secure a brighter future for themselves and their families.

This first blog post shares the inspirational story of how women in Tana Delta, Kenya are now able to have their voices heard on conservation and development issues due to greater representation in the Tana Delta Conservation Network.

The changing position and role of women in Tana Delta

The Tana River Delta is a vast wetland, inhabited by communities with interests and economic activities that are as diverse as they are. There are farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk and a few hunter gatherer communities. Despite their differences, one common thing among these communities is their patriarchal nature. The women are hardly involved in decision making, even when these decisions influence themselves and their families directly. This was true even for the few, well educated women in the society.

Ozi women fish farmers cleaning their fish ponds Photo credit G. Odera

Ozi women fish farmers cleaning their fish ponds, Credit – G. Odera

In 2013 the Tana Delta Conservation network (TDCN) was formed. This was spurred on after the communities realised that they needed to mobilise themselves to save their land from investors who had little to no regard for the environment or the local people. At that time, the involvement of women in any decision making was poor. The initial TDCN interim committee had no women representation, probably because women did not realise they had a stake and say in solving the issues faced by their communities. Nature Kenya recognised that the contribution of women was very important to the management of the delta. Women are major collectors of environmental goods such as firewood, herbs, medicines, thatch material, and water – however through this direct relationship with the environment women often suffer the most when it begins to degrade. The loss of a healthy ecosystem means that women often have to travel further to collect these goods, risking their health and wellbeing in remote areas.

The Kenyan constitution requires that people of one gender (men or women) should not represent more than two thirds of membership at any level of governance. To encourage female participation in the conservation and development agenda in the Tana Delta, Nature Kenya started by capacity building the initial team emphasising the important role women would play in leadership. Through these training sessions, the interim team alongside Nature Kenya field staff embarked on awareness exercises that culminated in the first ever democratic elections of TDCN in 2014. That election resulted in an office where women had 40% representation in the executive committee. Under our current Darwin Initiative project we have seen an increase in female representation, with 50% of the TDCN leadership now made up of women.

When asked why they kept a low profile initially, Zainab Gobu, the first elected group treasurer says “It’s not like we were unaware that our land was going to be taken from us and that our natural resources were at risk. The problem was that back then, nobody explained to our husbands what roles we could play as they believed our place was in the kitchen. We thank God that today our contributions are appreciated at all levels. Even the county government consults us by virtue of the positions we hold in TDCN”.

TDCN members during biodiversity monitoring training Photo credit G. Odera

TDCN members during biodiversity monitoring training, Credit – G. Odera

TDCN is now at the centre of community representation and is recognised as the official community voice on conservation and development matters in Tana Delta. The female leadership has empowered other women in the community to get involved in various nature-based enterprises. “This has given the local woman a chance to contribute economically to the well-being of their families and it makes the woman be respected by their husbands and other immediate family members” says Dolphin Komora, the secretary to TDCN.

The main activity of the TDCN is the establishment and strengthening of indigenous community conserved areas. This involves the management and administration of natural resources at the village level – originally this would have been seen as the men’s responsibility however through the TDCN women leaders have become involved and now make up 30% of the committee.

Empowered women have over time built up the courage to venture into activities that have been traditionally male dominated. Originally women in Tana Delta relied on men to provide them with fish. Through our project we have helped women set up six aquaculture ponds. Despite the recent recurrent floods that have reduced the availability of fish markets, the women have already harvested 96kg of fish valued at Ksh. 28,800 (£215). These fish are one of the main sources of protein for these women and their families.

Nature Kenya will keep working with communities and give special attention to the women and other vulnerable groups to ensure that their voices are heard and that their issues are adequately addressed.

For more information on project 24-013 led by RSPB working with Nature Kenya please click here. The full article for this project can be found in the March 2020 edition of the Darwin Newsletter here.

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