Aboriginal women hold special knowledge that is vital to caring for Country. Women have particular knowledge of certain bush foods, plants, burning and women’s cultural sites. In addition, they have social skills important to community involvement and decision making. Yet, until recently, Indigenous ranger programs have been dominated by male rangers. While groups are starting to recognize the need to have more women involved, many barriers remain:
- Limited financial support for women's ranger groups,
- Difficulty accessing resources and shared learning/experiences from other women's ranger groups,
- Loss of vital Traditional Knowledge as older people pass away, with an urgent need to pass this knowledge along to younger generations; and
- Work of women rangers less recognized or formalized than that of their male counterparts.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) works with women from the Fish River Station and the Ngukurr to address these issues by:
- Supporting the role of women and girls in land management, community leadership, and decision making,
- Helping maintain and pass along Traditional Knowledge of certain bush foods, plants and cultural practices,
- Providing opportunities for women to spend time on their Country and be more involved in land management; and
- Providing opportunities for community development projects and training.
TNC created Nature's Leading Women, a series of events celebrating the women from northern Australia and the Pacific who work to look after the environment. During the workshops, the women:
- Learned from each other, sharing experiences of being a woman leader in their country,
- Learned important skills in conservation, leadership and business development,
- Visited nearby conservation reserves managed by Queensland Trust for Nature.
- Were supported by women mentors from Australian businesses; and
- Developed a 'Big Idea' for conservation and social enterprise, to take back and implement in their local community.
Fish River’s Big Idea: A key challenge for women ranger groups is to diversify their funding and increase their self-reliance to manage their country. The Fish River women planned to create employment, preserve traditional knowledge, and pass knowledge on to the next generation. Connecting Women to Country, the Fish River group aims to care for both Country and culture.
Ngukurr’s Big Idea: Developing a Ngukurr Bush Campus, a two-way learning center on Country, which will run short courses at the university level on a range of topics using both Indigenous and Western content. As 21-year-old Melissa Wurramarrba told us, "It is empowering to be a woman ranger. We used to stay at home, but being a ranger has opened up a new world—we’re taking steps to make our communities more sustainable.”