Women in conservation :The story of Professor Patience Gandiwa
Updated: Mar 10
In this article
Who is Prof. P. Gandiwa
Some of her duties
Who inspired her to pursue a career in conservation
What motivates her to do the job
Challenges being faced by women in conservation
What can be done to provide more support to women in Conservation
Advice to girls who are thinking of following a career in Conservation
Most exciting or memorable experiences in her job
Most challenging experiences her job
Why it is important to Protect and conserve wildlife ?
Favorite Wild Animal
Tapiwa Prosper Chimbadzwa: Editor
Women have traditionally been seen to belong in the kitchen, to have children, and to be second-class citizens incapable of doing anything but relying on men. The danger of a single story, a single point of view, is that it can lead to incorrect default assumptions, conclusions, and judgments, as well as misinterpretation. Operating in the confines of a single tale can prevent us from seeing a situation in a more complicated, nuanced light. How about we tell you the story of wonder women in conservation. As Wildlife Conservation Action , we believe that women can make a difference in wildlife protection.
Who is Professor Patience Gandiwa ?
Born and raised in Zimbabwe. Patience Gandiwa has 15 years of working experience in the field of wildlife conservation. She started her career in conservation when she enrolled for a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Hons.) Degree in Wildlife and Rangeland Management at the age of 17 in 2002. She joined the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) as a Research Assistant for a combined period of 18 months where she participated in various community based natural resources management projects and transboundary conservation initiatives involving Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe (The Zambezi Heartland). She joined Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) as an Ecologist in 2007, a time when she was also finalising her Master of Science Degree in Environmental Policy and Planning. Patience worked in Gonarezhou National Park handling the portifolio of research and ecological monitoring under a partnership arrangement with the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), rising through ranks to the position of Senior Ecologist in the Southeast lowveld of Zimbabwe. She joined Zimbabwe’s Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) Unit as a TFCAs Coordinator in 2013, then appointed International Coordinator for Greater Mapungubwe TFCA on secondment to the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), a position she held for 4 years, serving Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe governments and stakeholders alike.
Patience earned 15 postgraduate professional qualifications from South Africa, Japan, USA, The Netherlands, Brazil, China and UK. Patience has published 57 peer-reviewed scientific papers in international journals and 2 Book Chapters in diverse fields of conservation. She was appointed Executive Technical Advisor, then Director responsible for International Conservation Affairs in 2018. Patience is involved in the coordination of 6 Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) where Zimbabwe is a partner country and is also actively involved in the implementation of various multilateral environmental treaties at national level. She has produced over 40 technical reports and has represented Zimbabwe at diverse multilateral environmental fora (regional and global level). Patience is a recipient of 3 pan- African Awards from CEO Global in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Honorary Professor Award, Oxford, United Kingdom (2019), Excellence in Business Leadership International Award- California, USA (2019) and Name in Science International Award-United Kingdom (2021). She was appointed (on merit) to the UNDP National Steering Committee for the Global Environmental Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) in 2018 (now Chairperson since 2021). Patience provides oversight on administration of several other donor-funded projects and partnerships in the Director General’s Office at ZimParks. She is a Trustee/Board member for the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust involving Frankfurt Zoological Society and Matusadonha Conservation Trust involving The African Parks Network. Patience is a member of various professional and technical advisory bodies within the SADC region and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) expert groups. Patience is passionate about sustainable financing for protected areas and she is currently a Co-Chair of Africa Protected Area Directors Working Group on Sustainable Financing. She is a fellow for Women for Environment in Africa. Patience is a mother of two wonderful boys Theo (7) and Eman (3), she is a free-spirited person who believes in sustainable development through trans boundary conservation initiatives and innovation for securing protected areas.
Prof. Patience Gandiwa is currently the only female Director within ZimParks. She is the Director International Conservation Affairs & Technical Advisor in the Director General’s Office at ZimParks Head Office
Some of her Duties
Professor Patience Gandiwa is responsible for Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs), Multilateral Environmental Agreements (Conventions), Binational Joint Commissions focusing on wildlife conservation and Cooperate Compliance at ZimParks. Apart from being the Head of a Department of International Conservation Affairs in the Director General’s Office. I am also a Technical Advisor to the Executive at ZimParks to make sure ZimParks delivers on it’s conservation mandate through implementation of the approved strategic plan and meeting its obligations as assigned by principals.
Who inspired her to pursue a career in conservation
Question: Who inspired you to pursue a conservation career ?
Answer : I always joined the Environment Club in school, even if there were several other clubs, my interests were always with the environment issues, and I found myself somewhat fascinated with wildlife. Growing up, I was not privileged to visit the big National Parks in the country as my family could not afford such luxury during holidays. I remember only visiting Imire Game Park in Wedza on a school trip and I was only 11 years old, apart from that the other place I grew up visiting is the Lion and Cheetah Park and Kuimba Shiri at Lake Chivero, that’s it. It was a bit of a surprise for my family to see me choose a career is wildlife conservation as they did not know anybody in the family history who was into that kind stuff. Nevertheless, my Mum supported the career choice I made and she has always been my number 1 cheer leader through and through…however, now I think my husband Edson is my Hero. I feel blessed to have him in my life, he always encourages me to reach for the stars and is very supportive!
Professor. P Gandiwa's mum her inspiration and life mentor
What Motivates her to do the Job
Question : What motivates you to do the job ?
Answer: I believe mine is more than a job, it is a life commitment for nature conservation. I would do this even if it was not a job, I would still do it! The more I learnt and got involved in conservation, I realized saving nature is saving ourselves as humanity and that gives me the energy to soldier-on. When I joined ZimParks as an Ecologist for Gonarezhou National Park in 2007, it was at the height of socio-economic crisis in the country and I could barely access my salary for several months as there were shortages of money in banks and many people were leaving the country seeking better opportunities outside the country. It was not easy and the non- monetary motivation from within kept me going and that made me enjoy my job so much and produced results even under very difficult circumstances with very little resources I lived in a house without electricity, cooked with firewood, baked bread in a dover stove, stayed in a place without cellphone network coverage, walked several kilometers with rangers in the bush collecting ecological data and more importantly hosted my family and cousins in the national park, something I felt was so special. My belief in wildlife conservation motivates me, it’s a cause that I chose pursue for the rest of my life. We were made Stewards for nature right from the beginning and I am proudly one such Steward at heart. Mine is a divine assignment
Challenges being faced by women in conservation
Question : What the major challenges being faced by women in the conservation field ?
Answer : Like every sector you can think of, there is none that doesn’t have its own challenges, the conservation industry is not an exception. I will categorize the challenges into three
First: Self-perception of what women can do for conservation: There are many women out there who believe the wildlife conservation industry is for men. To date, we have very few women pursuing careers in the wildlife conservation and that can only change when women believe in their capacity to play a more significant role in nature conservation.
Second: Stereotypes-and these are mainly shape by the society we live. There are few women in leadership positions in the wildlife conservation sector worldwide. The moment the society realizes women can do it even better! It will be a turning-point for many species on the brink of extinction because when women make a commitment to getting the job done, they do it with great care and passionately. When a woman falls in love with anything, including wildlife! it’s not easy for them to let go and I believe that make us vulnerable and such vulnerability should never be viewed as a weakness, it is powerful! Those women that develop ‘thick skin’ from working with men are sometimes not regarded as women-enough but as men due to the perceived bravery
Third: Sexual Harassment and Abuse: Women working in the wildlife conservation industry are working in male-dominated environments. Some of the working environments are not always accommodating for women, particularly those that are in very remote and harsh places, lacking proper sanitary disposal facilities. My interactions with other female counterparts gathered a number of issues from inappropriate comments, being asked to cook or dishes whilst on field missions simply because it’s a woman, other male counterparts making sexual advances or making love proposals to married women and such women being punished when they turn-down such proposals based on their value systems
What can be done to support women in the conservation space
Question: Given the challenges that you have mentioned above , what can be done to provide more support for women working in conservation?
Education and Support: There is need to continue encouraging women to pursue sciences in the education sector as that prepares them well to pursue careers in conservation.
Mindset transformation: We need more supportive societies that encourage women to join the conservation sector instead of discouraging them. We need to speak-up against stereotypes and the media can play a significant role in shaping out society with progressive and positive framing about the role of women in conservation including celebrating the successes of women in conservation no-matter how small that seems.
Safe spaces: We need to create safe spaces for women who find themselves alone and lonely in the jungle, just giving then the assurance that they are never alone and there are many out there who are admiring them including men who are accommodative and not intimidated by women who excel in the field of conservation. The conservation industry should also embrace women leadership in this sector and support more female leaders as that is the smartest thing to do
Advice to other females who would want to pursue conservation career
Question: What advice would you give to girls who are thinking of following a career in Conservation?
Answer: That’s the wisest decision that you will never regret, I am here to share my story and my experiences with you. It is an endeavor worth pursuing because the future of conservation lies in your hands as expected by your children’s children.
Most Exciting memories in her job
Question: What are the most exciting or memorable experiences in your job ?
Answer: I have several experiences that I found so exciting for me and one of them was the research project which involved Biotelementry of elephants. Having had some research experience from the Zambezi Valley when I did my internship with the African Wildlife Foundation back in 2004-2005, I had interest in wildlife corridors and when the opportunity to do similar research in the southeastern lowveld of Zimbabwe, I was so excited. I also remember the first time I was called by my country name at a meeting, Oh! it brought me so much joy in my heart, I remember calling my mum that day and telling her ‘at this meeting people are calling me Zimbabwe’, now I am kind of used.
Collaring elephants in Gonarezhou National Park in 2009
Most challenging experiences in her job
Question: What are the most challenging experiences in your Job ?
Answer : Well, I have several and would need a whole day to talk about them Learning diplomacy and getting to grippe with global conservation politics…It’s not something that I am schooled to do, I had to learn-it-on the job and stumbled several times, stepped on people’s feet and learnt my lessons in the process I can also talk about striking a balance of my time for family-husband and kids, work and education, that is certainly not a walk in the park. I am blessed my husband is so supportive and understand the kind of work I do. My work involves field missions and travel, yet my kids also need to play with Mum at home
Why is it Important to protect and conserve wildlife ?
Wildlife is our heritage and we cannot afford to loose it. We cannot guarantee our survival if we make the planet inhabitable for wildlife, if wildlife perishes, we perish along with it as wildlife and people are both in the animal kingdom. It is our duty to protect wildlife and we are accountable to the Most High on our stewardship responsibility
Favorite Wild Animal
Question: What is your favorite animal and why ?
Answer: I love Eland because it is my husband’s totem and it is so beautiful, both male and female have horns. Folklore also says in the Eland families of the shona culture, both men and women rule, and among those with the totem Eland, the women are very powerful and influential since time immemorial.