Women4Oceans: Bridging the Gap by Empowering Sustainability Heroes

Photo by Women4Oceans

Photo by Women4Oceans

This week Sea Going Green will dive into the topic of bridging the gap for women working towards ocean conservation by facilitating awareness about gender equality to encourage women to be a part of the solution, no matter what their educational background, ethnicity or socioeconomic status is.

For Farah of Women4Oceans, bridging the gap means empowering women to get a seat at the table allowing them to gain equal exposure and recognition for their efforts in ocean conservation.

Check out the rest of the blog to hear more about Farah’s motivation for starting Women4Oceans as well as projects and initiatives that they are doing to promote female visibility!

Please introduce who you are and what inspired you to start Women4Oceans.

My name is Farah Obaidullah and I am in service to our ocean. The ocean covers 70% of the planet, regulates our climate, provides us with food, jobs and half of the oxygen we breathe. My love for the ocean, it’s force and mystery, runs deep. Over the years I have spent a lot of time wondering what it will take to mobilise people into action for our ocean and therefore our home. It became clear to me that environmentalism and ocean activism are often viewed as fringe activities, not rewarded by our current system of money and power. Moreover our depiction of environmentalists is often of one demographic: white and male. But this portrayal is grossly inaccurate and, in my view, hampers mass engagement in environmental issues from around the world. I have had the good fortune of traveling the globe, visiting coastal communities across Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Europe and the Americas. Everywhere I have been I have met amazing people, often women fighting to protect life in the ocean.

What is your mission and what can we do as women to support it?

My mission is to mobilise as many people as possible for the ocean. Women4Oceans does this by making ocean heroes visible from across geographies, cultures and ethnicities, and by highlighting the many different ways we can all engage with the ocean. Whilst we are all indebted to the ocean, we don’t all need to be marine biologists or working for a major charitable organisation to have an impact. Everyone, with their unique skills and interests can get engaged. From scientists to journalists, artists and concerned citizens, we all have the potential to inspire those around us to take action for our ocean.

Tell us about how Women4Oceans is specifically trying to bridge the gap for women in ocean conservation. Where are the major gaps to be filled?

To be clear there are plenty of women in ocean science and conservation. The gap, in my view, is that we rarely take the spotlight and are therefore less visible. Most importantly we are still missing at levels of decision-making at both the international and local levels. When it comes to the fate of the natural world, effective governance will require that all voices are heard. Women4Oceans was established in 2017. Given our limited resources we have focused on communicating this need. For example I am invited to speak at conferences and to take part in interviews like this one. We have also developed some specific tools to lift our visibility in the ocean space. Our online directory for example allows you to search women by topic, name, city or country. This dispels the argument, which I have heard some conference organisers give, that there aren’t enough female experts. Moreover the directory allows us to connect with each other based on common interests, facilitating information exchange, which in turn accelerates positive outcomes for our ocean. We have also developed a Gender Balance Bingo App. This app is an entertaining yet powerful way of applauding conference and event organisers for being inclusive and calling out those that can do better. You can download it for free here.

The W4O database and maps look like great tools for spreading awareness on and showcasing a wide variety of female contacts doing ! What are your future plans for the platform and how can we get involved?

There are two main areas that we are focused on this year. One is to create and promote storytelling through video. For projects and the women who lead them to get support, they must be made visible. Video is today’s most powerful tool for engaging and inspiring audiences. If we can raise enough funds to help us realise our plans, women can either submit their own high quality video of their journey and work, or we will help them produce it. The other is to upgrade our existing directory, making it easier to use, and to give access to members so that they can update their own information. Everything we do is voluntary. There are several ways you can get involved. If you work in the blue space, add yourself to our directory. Download our Gender Balance Bingo App (men too, please!) or check out what else you can download in our toolkit. If you think you have a project that needs to be seen, get in touch! If you would like us to speak at an event, let us know. Support us and increase our visibility by buying a t-shirt (organic cotton and fair trade). Finally and very importantly, you can help us immensely by making a donation and spreading the word!

Regarding sustainable tourism, in your opinion, in what ways can we better integrate our initiatives for ocean conservation and responsible tourism into local communities, especially targeting and engaging women?

This is such important question that has been studied by many. Tourism everywhere is on the rise. More people have more means to visit places that once seemed remote. So firstly all tourism must be responsible which means it must be inherently linked to conservation efforts and to community livelihoods. Secondly, conservation efforts that attract tourists must engage with and benefit local communities. This cannot be overstated. All too often projects, however well intended, fail to adequately recognize or engage local communities. The consequence of this goes beyond disadvantaging the community itself but in fact sets the project up for failure. True conservation can only be successful if the custodians of it are those that live by and rely on the resources that that area has to offer. Projects that provide opportunities for tourists in the way of volunteering, training in fieldwork and so on are fantastic ways for people to engage with nature, collect credits for college or gain invaluable new experiences. However, these opportunities often cost money, money, which local prospective participants may not be able to afford and local people are key to the long-term success of any conservation project. So my plea is that conservation tourism provides equal if not greater opportunities to the local people and that project leaders listen carefully to local knowledge. To your question targeting and engaging women. Women are influencers. In a community setting, we are the ones that raise the next generation and shape community life. So, it stands to reason that women should not only be engaged in conservation efforts but we need a seat at the table when it comes to decision making. We also need to be visible so we can inspire those around us to join. On a global level, women are also the greatest consumers. We have the power to shape our world in terms of the products we buy. This point obviously goes beyond tourism, but if you think about it, each one of us is so powerful through the choices we make.