Classic | Kenya

International Women’s Day: Jenna Gradidge celebrates three remarkable women

In every field, across every continent, more and more women are breaking down barriers, and blazing a trail for a younger generation of aspiring community leaders. With the many great achievements of women up until today, one can say with certainty that the fight for gender parity – in both private and public spheres – continues unabated.

Although great strides have been made in redressing gender inequality, one simply cannot ignore the fact that women and girls continue to face massive injustices around the world. From the workplace and home to business and government, women remain challenged by policies and systems that have most often been in favour of men.

Observed since the early 1900s and now celebrated each year on 8 March, International Women’s Day is a chance for us to recognise the tireless work and dedication of the real change-makers. Here we celebrate just a few of these inspiring women who are unapologetically revelling in their ambition – chasing after a better world on their own terms.

Estrela Matilde

Shortlisted in the Whitley Awards 2020 for ‘enhanced sea turtle conservation through reduction of single-use plastic’, Estrela Matilde is currently the Executive Director at the Fundação Príncipe Trust – a local NGO dedicated to protecting both the culture and biodiversity of Príncipe, West Africa’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Placing community at the heart of every development initiative, Matilde is showing the world that it is possible to develop a remote destination responsibly by keeping people and planet a priority.

1. Estrela-Matilde

Image credit: Fondation Yves Rocher


Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka

Uganda’s first wildlife veterinarian, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is one of the leading conservationists and scientists working to conserve the endangered mountain gorillas of East Africa. Leading the team that traced the first scabies outbreak in the Bwindi gorillas to poor hygiene in neighbouring communities, Kalem-Zikuska went on to establish Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) – a grassroots NGO focused on enabling people and wildlife to coexist by addressing human, animal and ecosystem health together. The CTPH model is proving successful with the population of mountain gorillas increasing to 1,000 over the past 25 years. As Kalem-Zikuska says:

‘Today, we realize how wildlife, humans and ecosystems are all interconnected. We began with a mission to protect the critically endangered mountain gorilla and are now growing to more protected areas in Africa to ensure that gorilla conservation continues by working directly with local communities, government partners and international stakeholders.’

To learn more about her work with mountain gorillas and community, this video shared by Tusk Trust says it all – Kalem-Zikuska was a finalist of the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa 2019.


©Jo-Anne McArthur (Unbound Project)


Dr Shivani Bhalla

A conservation biologist born and raised in Kenya, Dr Shivani Bhalla of Ewaso Lions is on a mission to forge and nurture a deeper bond between carnivore and human – a relationship that is key to protecting lion populations as habitat loss and human-lion conflict remain key threats to the big cat species. Integrating scientific research with community outreach, Ewaso Lions has launched several impactful programmes, including Mama Simba, an initiative to engage local women in conservation. The programme was a result of Samburu women asking to get actively involved in conservation, just like the warriors: ‘We can do just as good a job as the warriors’, Dr Bhalla reports the Samburu women as having said, ‘if only we were given the opportunity.’ Through education and conservation training, Dr Bhalla and her team support and empower the Mama Simba women to become leaders in their community.


Image credit: Ewaso Lions


So, three remarkable women. Going forward, let us continue to bring more women’s lives and voices into the light, recognising and celebrating their extraordinary contributions as we work together to build a gender-equal world so that the women of tomorrow have every opportunity to realise their full potential.

Indeed, never have women been this fired up for what lies ahead. Now, more than ever, let us celebrate the resilient women in our lives and out there on the ground – the women who are taking charge of their futures and shaping new societies where they thrive.

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