Home Environmental education Empowering women through sustainable wildlife management: meeting with Susan George

Empowering women through sustainable wildlife management: meeting with Susan George


Susan, working hard in the midday sun to safely catch, measure and release fish during the assessment with colleagues from North Rupununi District Development Council. Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO

On her first trip to the Kanuku mountains in Guyana, aged four, Susan George (pictured) decided she wanted to live naturally, in the mountains, among the great mora trees, with the big red crabs, where the fish were abundant.

This trip defined how Susan lived her childhood, always outdoors, traveling the fishing and hunting grounds with her parents and farming dams. Her childhood experiences shaped her passion for wildlife and conservation.

Raised in the village of Katoka north of Rupununi, Susan has always felt an obligation to protect the environment, inspire others to care for their homes, and help shape the development of her community and North Rupununi. However, she soon realized that in order to do this, she had to become more.

As she got older, her main goal was to complete her education and find a good job, as that is never a given in Rupununi, where job opportunities were limited, especially for women, whose options at the end of their studies were limited to either leaving their community to work in Lethem or Georgetown in Guyana, neighboring Brazil or staying at home relying on traditional livelihoods, such as agriculture.

Today, Susan, a witty and dynamic Makushi mother of four, lives at the foot of the Pakaraima Mountains in the village of Aranaputa, employed as the Communities Fisheries Officer under the North Rupununi Fisheries Management Plan with the North Rupununi District Development Board, supported by the Sustainable Wildlife Management Program in Guyana.

SWM Guyana is part of the global Sustainable Wildlife Management program, a major international initiative to improve food security, conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forests, savannahs and wetlands in 15 countries.

Four years ago, SWM Guyana began supporting the implementation of the North Rupununi Fisheries Management Plan. Piloting the draft of Guyana’s first inland fisheries management plan includes several activities, including raising awareness of fisheries guidelines through village meetings and river patrols, implementing a comprehensive system fish monitoring, collection of fish consumption data, review and update of and advocacy for inland fisheries regulations with government stakeholders and other partners.

Susan’s job as the Communities Fisheries Officer involves publicizing the fisheries management plan through village meetings with the 20 villages in northern Rupununi, conducting river patrols and stock assessments of fish, providing feedback and updates on activities to communities, producing programs in Makushi to explain the fishing plan and activities through the local radio station, Radio Piowomak.

Susan is one of 177 women who have benefited from SWM employment opportunities so far, representing 34% of all hires. Promoting gender equality and empowerment of women within SWM Guyana is a critical aspect of achieving program objectives.

Community fisheries officers at work.  Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO

Susan and her team from the North Rupununi District Development Board are about to begin the fish stock assessment. Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO

Understanding gender roles is key to providing culturally appropriate solutions to sustainable wildlife management issues. SWM takes a community rights-based approach and gender equality is its cornerstone. Gender and gender roles in society influence a person’s interactions with the environment and its natural resources. As such, gender has a significant impact on the ability to participate in and benefit from initiatives aimed at sustainable wildlife management.

SWM actively implements activities that support the empowerment of women by providing increased female-focused employment opportunities and activities that will increase knowledge and experience in sustainable wildlife management for women, such as than environmental education.

GDS activities that promote female employment are environmental education, citizen science, and research and monitoring. For these activities, SWM has adapted the recruitment process so that formal education is not a prerequisite. It was discovered that by requiring educational certificates, the program was unintentionally limiting the pool of applicants, particularly women. By removing these requirements and providing comprehensive training for the jobs, the number of women who applied increased. This strategy has not only increased the number of female applicants, but it has also increased human resource capacity in the communities where SWM works.

Four years after its implementation, SWM Guyana has contributed to the capacity building of 491 women on topics related to wildlife management, research and monitoring, ecotourism, sustainable livestock management, environmental and business education.

Susan is grateful that SWM provides training and builds the capacity of local communities as this is important for the sustainability of activities and the empowerment of local communities, especially women. Enabling women to fully participate in training gives them the skills and knowledge to improve their representation in their communities and fosters self-esteem and confidence.

Susan finds her work rewarding but sometimes challenging because she feels there is still much to be done to reach the wider community about what, how and why sustainable wildlife management is important for their future and their food security. SWM Guyana has enhanced its portfolio by working with the many different partners implementing the program through Rupununi, building networks within conservation and sustainable development at inter-regional and international level. She sees herself as the link between communities and the outside world, identifying SWM Guyana as key to broadening her perspective of sustainable resource management.

Susan’s enthusiasm for her work is accompanied by the hope that one day soon, inland fishing regulations for Guyana will become a reality, developed with and for the local communities who depend on fishing for their food and their income. She highlighted the link between economic livelihoods and conservation for local people as she believes that without the aspect of livelihoods, conservation and sustainable management will never work.

Susan is committed to ensuring that the livelihoods of people who depend on fish are incorporated and secured in inland fisheries regulations. Her dream of participating in determining her own future and the future of her home while educating and inspiring others on how to manage resource sustainability is alive and well.

It hasn’t always been easy for Susan to often work away from home, but she is grateful to her family and husband for their continued support and encouragement. Susan is one of many women involved in shaping the region’s approach to sustainable wildlife management, without whom SWM Guyana would not have progressed so successfully.

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