Empowering Women in Sustainable Wildlife Management: Meet Susan George

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

Susan George (pictured) decided she wanted to live in nature on her first trip to Guyana’s Kanuku Mountains at the age of four. Mora Trees, with large red crabs, where the fish is abundant.

This journey describes Susan’s childhood, always outdoors, fishing and hunting with her parents, and building back dams. Her childhood experiences shaped her passion for wildlife and conservation.

Growing up in the village of Katoka in the North Rupununi, Suzanne has always felt a responsibility to protect the environment, to inspire others to take care of the place they call home, and to shape the way her community and the North Rupununi have grown. However, she soon realized that she wanted to be more in order to do so.

Growing up, her main goal was to finish her education and get a good job because that was never offered in the Rupununi, where there were limited job opportunities, especially for women, who had limited options to leave their community after they finished school. Work in Letham or Georgetown in Guyana, neighboring Brazil or stay at home relying on traditional livelihoods such as agriculture.

Today, Susan, a wise and active mother of four, lives in the village of Aranaputta at the foot of the Pakarima Mountains, working as a Community Fisheries Officer under the North Rupununi District Development Board in the North Rupununi Fisheries Management Plan, which is supported by Sustain. Wildlife Management Guyana Program.

SWM Guyana is part of the Sustainable Wildlife Management Global Programme, which works to improve food security and the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in forests, savannas and wetlands in 15 countries.

Four years ago, SWM Guyana began supporting the implementation of the Northern Rupununi Fisheries Management Plan. The project included the piloting of Guyana’s first inland fisheries management plan, including raising awareness of fisheries guidelines through village meetings and river conservatories, implementing a comprehensive fish control system, collecting data on fish utilization, assessing and updating fish production. Planning and promoting local fishing regulations with governmental stakeholders and other partners.

Susan’s work as the Community Fisheries Officer is to raise awareness of the fisheries management plan with 20 villages in the North Rupununi through village meetings, river conservation and fish stock assessments, providing feedback and updates to the community, and organizing programs in Makushi. Discuss fishing plans and activities on local radio station Radio Piomac.

Susan represents 34 percent of the 177 women who have benefited from SWM’s career opportunities so far. In SWM Guyana, promoting gender equality and empowering women is a critical aspect of achieving the programme’s objectives.

Communities Fisheries Officers at work.  Photo by Luke McKenna/FAO

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

Understanding gender roles is critical to providing culturally appropriate solutions to sustainable wildlife management issues. SWM takes a community rights-based approach and has gender equality as its cornerstone. Gender and gender roles in society affect a person’s relationship with the environment and its natural resources. Thus, gender has a significant impact on participation and benefits in sustainable wildlife management initiatives.

SWM actively implements activities that support women’s empowerment by providing women-focused employment opportunities and activities that increase women’s knowledge and experience in sustainable wildlife management.

SWM activities that support women’s employment are environmental education, citizen science and research and monitoring. For these tasks, SWM streamlined the hiring process and made formal education unnecessary. It was discovered that the program was inadvertently limiting the number of applicants, especially women, by asking for educational credentials. By removing these requirements and providing general training for the jobs, the number of women who applied increased. This strategy not only increased the number of female applicants, but also increased the workforce capacity in the communities where SWM operates.

Four years into its implementation, SWM Guyana has contributed to empowering 491 women in the areas of wildlife management, research and monitoring, ecology, sustainable livestock management, environmental education and business.

Suzanne is grateful that SWM builds the capacity of local communities by providing training, which is important for the sustainability of activities and the empowerment of local communities, especially women. Enabling women to participate fully in training equips them with the skills and knowledge they need to improve their representation in their communities and promotes self-esteem and confidence.

Susan finds her work rewarding but sometimes challenging because she believes there is much more work to be done in terms of communicating to the wider community what, how and why sustainable wildlife management is important to their future and food security. SWM Guyana has grown its portfolio by implementing the program in the Rupununi, working with several partners, on conservation and sustainable development regionally and internationally. She sees herself as a bridge between communities and the outside world, describing SWM as key to expanding Guyana’s vision of sustainable resource management.

Susan’s enthusiasm for her work comes with the expectation that one day soon Guyana’s inland fisheries regulations will become a reality, with local communities dependent on fisheries for food and income. She emphasized the relationship between the economic livelihood and the local residents because without the livelihood aspect, conservation and sustainable management will never work.

Suzanne is committed to ensuring that the livelihoods of people who depend on fish are included in local fisheries regulations and are safe. Her dream of being involved in determining her own future and the future of her home is alive by educating and inspiring others on how to manage resources sustainably.

Working away from home so often has not always been easy for Susan, but she is grateful for the continued support and encouragement of her family and husband. Susan is one of the many women involved in shaping the region’s sustainable wildlife management system, without whom SWM Guyana would not have been as successful.

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