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Meet Sergeant Maggie - Leading the All-Woman Team Championing the Fight Against Poaching in Zimbabwe

Sergeant Margaret Darawanda at the Akashinga office (the first unit of women involved in animal conservation) in Phundundu Wildlife Park, Hurungwe, Zimbabwe (Photo: Farai Shawn Matiashe / Thomson Reuters Foundation)

In a male-dominated world, an all-woman anti-poaching unit based in Zimbabwe is trying to save wildlife and empower the rangers.

The world is still accustomed to seeing men as wildlife rangers, however, the conservation landscape is changing. Wildlife conservation, once a sector dominated by men due to traditional gender hierarchies that prevail in societies, has started changing. Women are now taking a stand on the narrative around their role in conservation, working tirelessly to protect wildlife and habitats and defying traditional norms.

Even though there's still a long way to go, women still come up against scepticism, opposition, and even disapproval from members of their own communities. The women rangers' efforts in conservation are proving to be a great success in the fight against poachers, habitat destruction, climate change, and illegal wildlife trafficking.

During a webinar on Women at the Forefront of Conservation Operations, Margaret Darawanda, also known as Sergeant Maggie shared her experience of having to overcome gender-based stereotypes to become a successful ranger. She emphasised that women can also work as rangers and contribute to the conservation of wildlife and the environment. Darawanda discussed the challenges she faced, such as societal pressure and cultural norms that traditionally restrict women from certain professions.

However, she spoke about the importance of perseverance and determination in pursuing one's passion, regardless of gender. Darawanda's inspiring words shed light on the importance of promoting gender diversity in conservation efforts and breaking down barriers for women in male-dominated fields.

Sergeant Maggie, as she's fondly known, is a shining example of the dedicated efforts of rangers worldwide. She was part of the first Akashinga team in August 2017. Akashinga is the first armed unit of women involved in animal conservation in the country. Akashinga is derived from the Shona language and is loosely translated to "The Brave Ones." The unit aims to change the face of conservation.

Sergeant Maggie is now in a leadership position overseeing a large team and going out every day for daily guard duty of up to five patrols a day. Her achievements are emblematic of the many successful rangers worldwide who work diligently to preserve nature and clearly portrayed through her tireless work ethic and dependable nature. She is always eager to take on additional responsibilities and host community outreach initiatives to educate on wildlife conservation.

Sergeant Maggie started as a ranger and was then promoted to a sergeant position. She's now a role model to youth and children. "They admire us when they see us, they also want to be like us despite the risks of the job," she said.

"I'm one of the original Akashinga rangers that started the programme in Zambezi valley in the area of Phundundu," she said. "We went through a tough, difficult time, having to be molded and be prepared to enter the ranger job because it's not an easy job. It is a dangerous game out there."

After completing her training in lifesaver and survival training, Sergeant Maggie says it was their time for women's empowerment as women were not valued in the local communities.

"The men were the only ones being given a chance to do the jobs, but for a female, it was only for you to just be married. You were not even given any chance to go to school so that you can fulfill whatever you need to do in your life," she added.

Akashinga came as an opportunity for most of us and it's very important for us since we are doing this for our community, said Sergeant Maggie. Maggie says that she can see the great impact that came through with the programme since it started. She said that they were no animals in the area because the people around survived by hunting.

"After our enrolment here in the park, we can see some changes, the animals are growing up. They're coming up in big numbers. We can see the elephants, buffaloes, elands, lions, and leopards that we did not know when we were growing up. It's a chance for us to know these animals and it's also a chance for us to help the animals to be protected."

Sergeant Maggie added that at Akashinga, "we are striving to show up to the world that even a woman if given a chance can also make greater changes through conservation like we are doing and also is giving us the opportunity to be recognized as people who can also bring up some changes through leadership."

The launch of an all-female ranger programme was not without its challenges.

Maggie explained that even though at first the community doubted their capabilities in handling a "man's job", it is not the case anymore since they are seeing the results and they are making waves across the conservation world. "They are seeing that we are achieving, arresting a lot of poachers and showing the world that we are doing it, they are now believing and supporting us."

Akashinga is not the first female-led team of rangers in Africa. Several female teams exist across the continent, including the Black Mambas in South Africa and the Lionesses in Kenya. In fact, the story of the Black Mambas, who work to protect wildlife in Balule Nature Reserve and Kruger National Park, inspired this project in Zimbabwe.

Source: By Melody Chironda for AllAfrica


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