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The Many Roles of Women in Conservation

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women play a major role in conservation. Take Sophie Mboyo.

Sophie lives in the remote village of Djolu, caring for her eight children while keeping them in school. To make ends meet while her husband is often away pursuing seasonal work, and with no other options, Sophie sells bushmeat.

Selling certain species of wildlife as bushmeat is not only illegal under Congolese law, it also depletes the forest of wildlife critical to the ecosystem. AWF and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), partnered with a local organization, Réseau des Femmes Africaines pour le Développement Durable (REFADD), to create alternative, sustainable livelihood opportunities for Sophie and other “market mamas” like her.

REFADD and AWF have trained 32 market mamas like Sophie in Djolu in soap production, literacy and marketing. Today, they make more money selling soap than they ever made from selling bushmeat. Over a six-month period, the market mamas sold 4,500 bars of soap.

Conservation front lines

Another woman on the conservation front lines is Pacha Lotango, one of 11 female ecoguards AWF has trained in the DRC. Pacha, who finished her training at the top of her class, was leading a patrol in the Iyondji Community Bonobo Reserve when she and her unit were ambushed. After a severe head injury, Pacha returned to work and continues to lead patrols in the landscape to this day, and plans to become a park warden later in her career.

A continental approach

AWF supports women across Africa through livelihood trainings and education opportunities, ensuring that their economic success is sustainable and goes hand-in-hand with conservation. Women, like Sophie, are improving their capacity to actively conduct alternative livelihoods through programs like agriculture, beekeeping and literacy trainings, allowing them to generate more revenue for their families’ school fees, medical care and clothing.