Celebrating Malaysia’s Inspirational Wonder Women of Conservation
With the exception of Goodall, these women remain relatively unknown, despite being leaders in conservation. While the conservation field is largely dominated by men, more and more women are being recognised for their contributions and expertise in the field. These women have risen above and beyond in the face of adversities and obstacles; doing their job with the passion and fervour that are at par with their male counterparts.
For Denise Westerhout, the Lead for the Sustainable Markets Programme in WWF-Malaysia, conservation and wildlife have always been a subject close to her heart. Realising that she wanted to contribute to making a greater change for the earth, Denise opted to take the path less travelled, left the corporate world and joined WWF. Now, she considers herself lucky to have both a rewarding career that helps prove her self-worth and one that directly contributes to the wellbeing of the planet for her children’s future. According to Denise, “Conservation isn't really about saving a specific species like the orangutans or the tigers. It also isn't only about saving the forests, rivers and oceans. To me, it's really about saving the humans through conserving the delicate balance in the ecosystems on earth.”
One of the prevailing sentiments in the conservation field is that men are seen to have more substance in their opinions. This has also been one of the biggest challenges faced by Daria Mathew, Freshwater Lead for Klang Valley and Setiu Wetlands.
“Fieldwork can be quite lonely and uncomfortable, as often there are very few women in a group dominated by male colleagues or counterparts. Because women often represent the ‘minority’ and due to social norms, it can be a challenge for us to be recognised and our voices to be heard. I had to learn to build the skills to multi-task and strike a balance without compromising my roles and responsibilities,” explained Daria. Nonetheless, she stressed that the key to overcoming situations of such nature is to be tolerant, focused and adaptable, while at the same time having the support of her male colleagues.
One of the things that come to mind when talking about WWF is our focus on the environment and species. That is not just the extent of our work, as WWF also concentrates on educating the nation’s young minds on sustainable development. As a Manager with the Education for Sustainable Development Programme, one of the biggest challenges that Nor Shidawati Abdul Rasid faces in this area is not sexism, but keeping up with the latest conservation issues happening globally. With the ever-increasing pace of technological and educational advances in conservation, Nor Shidawati keeps herself on top of these issues by being a good listener. She explains, “One of the prerequisites of being a good conservationist is being a good listener. Hence, I overcome these challenges and am able to make sound decisions by having a lot of conversations and discussions with team members, network partners, stakeholders and target groups, and also through reading and asking a lot of questions to relevant people.”
What does it take for a young female to make it in conservation? For Denise, challenging and changing the bias towards females in conservation is a reward on its own, especially when you excel in what is seen as a male-dominated industry.
“Conservation is not only about saving animals and landscapes. You can contribute through other areas such as policy, supply chains, legal, marketing and fundraising. Don’t allow yourself to be pigeon-holed. Challenge conventional norms, always,” Denise advises.
One of the highlights of working in conservation for Daria are the perks which come with the job. “In this line of work, you get paid to carry out activities that many people don’t think of or imagine themselves doing, and going to places that not many people get the chance to visit. For example, night patrolling along the painted terrapin and marine turtles nesting beaches, setting camera traps in the forest and hiking on the mountain range or many other remote places to collect data – these are all the activities that are rarely undertaken by the masses, more so by women. That is something us women in conservation should be proud of,” she said.
Daria’s advice resonates with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day campaign – #PressforProgress. While gender equality in conservation may seem like a long way away, the good news is that globally, women are making positive gains and strides day by day. Celebrated annually on 8 March, International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity, with the campaign theme continuing throughout the year, to garner continuous action and support. For more information, please visit www.internationalwomensday.com
- Ends -
For more information, please contact:
Communications Manager, Sustainable Markets Programme
Tel: +603-7450 3773