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Celebrating gender equality in conservation

Mirriam Plaatjies

OPERATOR | De Hoop Nature Reserve

What training have you undertaken to perform this role?

Chainsaw Operator training

Brush-cutter Operator training

Road Maintenance training

Snake Identification and Awareness training

Basic Fire Fighting training

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Knowing how to operate the machinery efficiently and navigating the challenges that comes along with machine maintenance. Every day, there is something new to learn.

How does your job promote gender-equality?

As a woman doing what was once thought to be a man's job, I feel great and brave at the same time. This shows that if you put your mind to something, you will almost certainly achieve it.

What is your motivation to young women who would like to do what you do?

I believe that men and women did not have equal rights during the apartheid era. Thankfully times have changed, and women can now achieve whatever they want. Women have tons of untapped potential, they just need to be self-motivated and self-assured. There are no boundaries to what you can do except the ones you set for yourself. One of the lessons I learned as a child was to always be loyal to yourself and never allow others to discourage you from your aspirations.

What are your achievements in your job?

I consider my training, roughly 18 years of experience as an Operator, and the time I have spent at CapeNature to be achievements. I have also made direct and indirect contributions to the management of Protected Areas.

What is a challenge and how do you overcome it?

It was something I have never done before. However, I overcame all challenges by remaining positive and focused.

Challenges are a necessary part of growth.

Elna Pietersen

PUPIL FIELD RANGER | Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve

What training have you undertaken to perform this role?

Bird identification, basic firefighting and herbicide applicator courses.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The knowledge that I am contributing to conserving our natural environment.

How does your job promote gender equality?

The idea of doing a job traditionally done by men was initially daunting. But, once you get into it, you realise that you can tackle ecological projects as a team and gender does not factor into it. Our abilities to collect and capture data are not gender driven.

What is your motivation for young women who would like to do what you do?

The only limitations are the glass ceilings we set for ourselves.

What are your achievements in your job?

During the 2019/20 financial year, the reserve’s conservation team were acknowledged for the quantity and quality of the State of Biodiversity data we collected. Another huge feat is our contribution to a weather data set that dates back to 1898!

What is a challenge and how do you overcome it?

In our line of work, a colleague is bound to have faced similar challenges previously. Never be too proud or shy to ask and consult.

Any sage advice?

Never leave for the field without your camera. You never know what you might encounter.

Leandré Welkom

MACHINE OPERATOR | Riverlands Nature Reserve

What training have you undertaken to perform this role?

I received training in first aid, health & safety, firefighting, gabion stacking, security, brush cutting, pre-sea, snake handling, computer programmes, herbicide application and office administration.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy that it challenges me. The fact that we work in nature conservation puts us in the field all day and we often experience challenges. This excites me because I get to learn regularly.

How does your job promote gender equality?

It feels good to fulfill a role which people thought were only meant for men. I know people might underestimate my skills and capability given that I work with a chainsaw four to five hours a day. My colleagues have told me the way I’m cutting and handling the chainsaw “kan n man sy skoene agterna gooi”. The woman who trained me and to whom I look up to is Nicole Breda, Field Ranger at Riverlands Nature Reserve.

What is your motivation to young women who would like to do what you do?

Just do it! Men have two hands and ten fingers and so do we.

What are your achievements in your job?

I can fight fires, do fence maintenance and operate a chainsaw and brush cutter. I can also identify plants and animal species and I take pride in this.

What is a challenge and how do you overcome it?

Two years ago my biggest challenge was operating the chain saw. My fear got the best of me. I overcame my fears, and I am stronger than ever due to using the machines daily. Practice makes perfect!

Who inspires you?

Women who do men’s jobs are my heroes. I salute these women. Nothing is impossible.

Mary Marianka George

PUPIL FIELD RANGER | Stony Point Nature Reserve

What training have you undertaken to perform this role?

First Aid 1 & 2, Pre-sea Safety, Occupational Health and Safety as well as Fire Fighting training.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

That I am able to make a difference by reducing the number of criminal activities relating to the harvesting of natural resources.

How does your job promote gender equality?

It can be challenging, because as a woman you need to prove yourself and that you are good at your job. Fortunately, this is a test I’ve passed with flying colours, as I am committed to positive results.

What is your motivation to young women who would like to do what you do?

Never underestimate yourself and believe that you can do anything you put your mind to!

What are your achievements in your job?

I’ve made a name for myself through my excellent spoor tracking skills, of which I had no formal training. Due to my commitment to the job, I have been fortunate to develop this valuable skill set.

What is a challenge and how do you overcome it?

I have no formal training in Law Enforcement, however, with exceptional observations, I was able to learn these skills by observing others and asking questions. This exposure allowed me to be the best that I could be.

Any sage advice?

If you can acquire recognised training, go for it! This will open doors for you to become even better at your job.

Thingazwa Mgqibelo

FTE SUPERVISOR | Walker Bay Nature Reserve

What training have you undertaken to perform this role?

Supervisory Course, Basic Firefighting, Health & Safety, First Aid level 1, Plant Identification, Field Safety & Survival,

Herbicide Application and Mapping (GPS).

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like that it gives me the opportunity to gain additional skills and that I get to work with different people. I also really enjoy being a supervisor.

How does your job promote gender-equality?

A long time ago there were mainly men in the position of supervisors. Fortunately, now we have the same opportunities as women.

What is your motivation to young women who would like to do what you do?

Be patient when people give instructions; do not panic. When there are no supervisors around, feel confident enough to speak to the Manager and request tasks for that day.

What are your achievements in your job?

I started as a General Worker and now I am a supervisor. I have achieved a lot. I know skills such as how to erect and mend fences. I used to think it’s a man’s job to fix water pipes, but I now know how to do it myself!

What is a challenge and how do you overcome it?

When providing instructions to the teams, this can sometimes be misinterpreted and result in conflict.

Any sage advice?

Women’s Month means a lot to me, because it highlights how much women actually have on their plate. I am a single mother, raising three children with a single salary. I’m very proud that my first child is now at university.

Rozanne James

PUPIL FIELD RANGER | Outeniqua Nature Reserve

What training have you undertaken to perform this role?

Snake Awareness and First Aid Level 1.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

That I am able to learn, observe and conserve.

How does your job promote gender-equality?

It can be challenging as a woman physically. You must be willing to learn and to work in difficult terrains.

What is your motivation to young women who would like to do what you do?

You must have a passion for nature and genuinely enjoy what you do.

What are your achievements in your job?

I am currently working towards becoming a Field Ranger.

What is a challenge and how do you overcome it?

It can be challenging to work in steep areas, because of loose rocks, high-lying vegetation etc. I overcame these challenges by staying motivated by the Field Rangers.

Any sage advice?

One earth, one chance. Let’s continue to observe and conserve our nature! Soil is life.