In honour of International Women’s Day, I would like to answer two questions that staff at Finca Cántaros have been asked: Doesn’t everyone matter equally when it comes to conservation work? So why are women the main focus of one of our environmental education programs?
Answer 1: Of course. We are all in this work to help the planet together, no matter our gender, race, religion, etc.
Answer 2: Empowering women and girls around the world is listed among the top ten most important actions for conservation. Two of the most critical strategies directed at female empowerment are creating access to education as well as family planning resources.
According to the United Nations, girls and women alike in every part of the world continue to suffer violence and discrimination. Many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscore that improving social and environmental conditions globally requires providing women and girls with greater access to education, jobs, health care, and economic and political representation.
The marginalization of women around the world limits their control over reproductive health choices and family planning. This can lead to large family sizes that both further perpetuate a cycle of poverty, and strain local environments as natural resources must be extracted to meet basic survival needs.
Women bring unique, important skills and perspectives to the environmental field, but are more likely to be undervalued for their knowledge and contributions, and as in all labour sectors, face sexual harassment and experience different forms of discrimination such as lower wages.
For these and so many other reasons, it is critical to create spaces for women to develop professional skills like leadership as well self-efficacy, which in turn build self-esteem. Such tools and confidence can help facilitate the flow of all their qualities and commitment (not only to conservation but to other causes), along with the capacity to confront and overcome barriers.
Last September, Finca Cántaros launched the environmental education program “Las Jóvenes Comprometidas con la Tierra” with the aim to address the importance of female empowerment, both in the context of conservation and positive youth development. As coordinators of the program, Carla Azofeifa (head of Environmental Education at Finca Cántaros) and I wanted to create a space to get to know the young women and understand their goals, strengths, challenges and lived experiences, in order to collaboratively develop program activities with them that could help support meaningful emotional and professional growth.
We also wanted to be open to feedback from the community, so when women of many different ages began inquiring about the program and whether or not they could participate, we decided to respond to this interest by opening up the space to all women. We continue to welcome women of all ages to join us!
For the moment program participants meet every Wednesday morning to share learning and fun focused around agroecology activities. Agroecology is a framework that combines agricultural sciences and ecology, aimed at supporting environmental sustainability and socially equitable food systems. The program also includes other activities scheduled outside of weekly sessions, such as observing biology field work up close through mist-netting and data collection focused on bats.
And this is only the beginning; we have big plans for the months and years to come. As women, we have the ability to set and achieve big goals, and make a positive difference in the world.
This International Women’s Day and beyond, let’s celebrate that.