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  • Writer's pictureFor Rangers

Supporting women in North Luangwa, Zambia

We often think about purchasing new equipment, providing extra training, and improving living spaces to make rangers' jobs and daily lives better. These things are critical, but they aren’t the only things that matter – rangers often face other significant obstacles in their efforts to complete their work safely and effectively, and often those obstacles are different for different rangers.

As we strive to boost diversity within all ranger teams, reducing the impact of the challenges faced by individual rangers is a top priority. If the ranger is a woman, they may face additional challenges specific to their gender. In Zambia, the role of Community Scouts is an important employment opportunity for young people, yet women currently make up less than 10% of the country’s 853 Community Scouts. Women motivated to work in conservation face social barriers, such as an opposition to spending long periods away from home, and procedural barriers, such as selection processes that were designed for men. They also face the obstacle of period poverty.

Without access to menstrual products, women may not be able to participate in their work effectively or have to stay at home entirely, causing lasting consequences on their economic opportunities. Worse still, when women can’t afford or don’t have access to menstrual products, their physical and mental health is at risk. Recently, we sent a grant to North Luangwa Conservation Programme in Zambia to address this challenge.

The North Luangwa Conservation Programme (NLCP) is a partnership between the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Zambian Department of National Parks and Wildlife to conserve the North Luangwa National Park and its surrounding areas. The NLCP team protects a 22,000 km² area of pristine wilderness, home to a myriad of wildlife species and, in particular, a fast-growing elephant population and Zambia’s only black rhinos.

Fifty women work at North Luangwa Conservation Programme as Wildlife Police Officers, Community Scouts, Sector Scouts and in the Fence Maintenance team. We believe that each of these women should feel comfortable and safe if they are having a period whilst at work (and home) and should not be deterred from any aspect of their lives because they don’t have access to effective period products.

Traditionally in Luangwa, once a girl reaches puberty, they are taught to use a piece of cloth, torn from an old 'chitenge', during menstruation. A 'chitenge' is a two-yard length of cloth used as a wrap-around skirt or to hold a baby to a mother's back. They are often used in many African countries, albeit with different names, and are similar to sarongs. During menstruation, a long strip may be torn off to use as a belt around the waist. A piece of folded fabric is then added, worn from front to back and tucked into the waistband. It can be bulky and uncomfortable and, as only old chitenges are used, they are often thin, worn and only absorb very little, meaning they often leak.

In October 2021, a ForRangers grant was sent to North Luangwa to purchase 100 ‘ufulu’ pads - a set of washable, reusable sanitary pads to support female members of North Luangwa’s team. These pads will support each woman's health and wellbeing and provide them with the opportunity to continue taking part in physically strenuous and remote assignments during menstruation.

Alongside the ‘ufulu’ pads, Smalls for All, a charity based in Scotland, recently donated 800 sports bras to NLCP’s staff and the women in the communities surrounding the National Park, enabling them to enjoy their daily work, exercise and activities with adequate breast support.

Funding like this is essential to help individual women in their daily lives and improve diversity in wildlife ranger teams, ensuring that women get the support (pun intended!) they deserve to continue doing jobs they’re passionate about. A huge thanks to all the donors that continue to make sure that grants like this can happen and that we can continue improving wildlife rangers' lives.


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