Tapping the power of social change

In this uncertain era of Covid-19, greater efforts are currently being placed in sustaining our healthcare systems and securing the economic landscape that is gradually shifting towards the negative scale.  Naturally, the attention towards conservation has been averted as each individual’s outlook is focused on finding the smallest glimpse of hope that reassures an end to the current crisis. Most conservationists are currently experiencing the drift into unchartered territories as environmental activities are stalled.

TBA alumna, Judith Mirembe, is no exception to this occurrence and she views this pandemic as a hindrance that has in some ways, undone the many conservation efforts applied over the years. However, she still remains optimistic and sets to diversify her actions towards ensuring that conservation is not left behind as other development sections move forward. As with many other scientists, she stands with the notion that the onset of the pandemic should not serve as the end of conservation.  Judith has been pushing forth the conservation agenda, especially in bird conservation, for which she has incorporated citizen science for optimum results in protection of the species.  Moreover, she has been keen on involving women in the practice-a strategy that has played a huge role in engaging women in conservation and enhancing their livelihood activities in Uganda.

Having attended a TBA citizen science course in 2019, Judith has purposed to use the skills gained in changing local communities’ approach towards the environment “The Citizen Science course has allowed me to work with local communities who have constantly continued to give me updates, despite the ongoing lockdowns, on the Shoebill bird species and the threats it’s facing (This is based on an EDGE fellowship project I am implementing, aimed at conserving the Shoebill habitat in Mabamba Bay, Uganda). The course equipped me with skills to design citizen science projects, data collection protocols and also how best the data from citizen science can be analyzed and results made fit for communication to the different audiences.”

Judith’s desire to mobilize local participation, especially from women and her passion for protection of birds emerged from her exposure to the birding practice from a very young age. Attending bird excursions, coupled with further studies in environment, awakened the need to understand the role that birds play in the ecosystem for Judith. This exposed her observation on the role of women in the otherwise male-dominated conservation field

As I advanced in the birding and research career, I realized the gap between women and men was very wide as there were fewer women.  I realized women will often take up challenges after watching other women do it and get inspired. Furthermore, women getting involved in bird watching can earn them a livelihood as well as allow them to contribute to the welfare of the country’s economy.”

These views marked the start of Judith’s direction in creating innovative strategies that allow for alteration of societal values that do not appreciate the role of women in various fields. Following this, Judith co-founded the Uganda Women Birder’s Club in 2013 with the sole aim of growing the number of women in bird watching and conservation. The club regularly carries out bird-watching activities and clinics where more experienced birders share knowledge and groom the new ones. The Club mobilizes support for its members especially those who cannot afford the nature-guides’ trainings while also providing a platform for the women to access better opportunities such as for employment and education.

“Many women have gained employment in tourism after recommendations from the club leaders” adds Judith.

Judith also involves more women in citizen science projects and research especially those from the local communities near the Shoebill project areas for example at Mabamba, Bigodi and Makanaga wetlands, Bwindi. She has trained some of the women in using applications like Ebird and Bird Lasser to submit their records and adding onto this training with skills from the TBA course.

Other than gender inequality, Judith notes that there are several other challenges she encounters as she goes about creating conservation awareness amongst them being that birding is new in Africa and the equipment used is expensive leading to people shunning the practice. In addition, conservation and especially birding is a field-based activity and quite demanding which has led to most women quitting due to home demands.

Despite these barriers, Judith has not faltered in her quest to enhance conservation measures and has lobbied for the overall inclusion of communities in the process. This she continues to push for even with the current pandemic where she actively shares knowledge through her social media platforms.

I look forward to studying more about the threatened species of the world and finding solutions while further inspiring more women and children into bird-watching and conservation in general. The future of conservation for women is bright provided we are given a good environment to learn, share and participate.”