Word from the CEO

Yolan Friedmann, CEO


As we mark Women’s Month in South Africa, with Women’s Day being celebrated on 9 August annually, it is worrying that a 2022 report by the UN states that gender disparities are, in fact, worsening globally and that it will take nearly 300 years to achieve gender parity at the current rate of global gender transformation. Despite efforts by NGOs, community groups and government agencies around the globe, drivers that have amplified this negative trend include the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, climate change and a backlash against the rights of women to own and manage their own reproductive health. As a result, most countries stand no chance of achieving the targets set under SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) number 5 by its 2030 deadline.

In many countries, there are not even laws that ban violence against women or protect their rights in marriage, and it is feared that this may continue to exist for generations to come. The UN warns that at the current rate of progress, it will take up to 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws, 140 years for women to achieve equal representation in leadership positions in the workplace, and 40 years for the same to happen in national parliaments. Instead of seeing a rapid and meaningful decline in poverty and poor education of girl children, by 2030, it is estimated that more women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa will live in extreme poverty than today.

One of the tools that needs urgent and focused attention with significantly increased resource allocation is, of course, education. Each additional year of schooling can increase a girl’s future earnings by up to 20%, according to the report, with further impacts on poverty reduction, better maternal health, lower child mortality, greater HIV prevention and reduced violence against women. A study in 2013 on education and fertility in Ethiopia estimated that an additional year of schooling in Ethiopia would lead to a 7% reduction in the probability of teenage birth and a 6% decrease in the probability of marriage. Furthermore, the same study showed that 61% of women with no schooling have a child before turning 20 compared to 16% of women with eight years of schooling.

Additionally, women with eight years of schooling would have a fertility rate 53% lower than those without schooling at all, and female education has a greater impact on the age of marriage and delayed fertility than male education.

The EWT has a range of initiatives aimed at empowering and supporting women and girls to own their own bodies, own their own lives and own their own futures. The ICF-EWT Partnership has constructed private, dignified girls-only toilets in communities in Uganda, thus supporting girl children to attend school when they have their periods. It has also handed out hundreds of environmentally sustainable sanitary ware products to girls in rural communities in Limpopo with the same objective. We run several projects to train and empower women to earn their own livings and feed and support their own families. Across many of our programmes, gender equality is supported through workshops, education drives and awareness programmes that empower girls, offering them opportunities for further education and development. We are proud that we are one of the few female-headed conservation NGOs in the country and have a ratio of 50:50 women to men in the organisation.

However, we also recognise the startling fact that this is not enough and that more needs to be done if society is to make inroads towards gender balance and the promotion of the equitable and just treatment of women. Even when women are empowered to take their rightful places in society in business, politics and academia, they remain more likely to be the subject of cyberbullying, workplace harassment, discrimination, violence, and hostility, even as educated, empowered members of society.

During Women’s Month 2023, the EWT pledges to do more to promote the fair, equitable and dignified treatment of all women. And of all men. This goes for our staff, volunteers, communities, colleagues, partners, and everyone we interact with. We pledge to do this every day and for every year hereafter, for until we have a world that values and respects all human forms of life, we cannot ever expect or hope to achieve this for our wildlife and animal counterparts.  


Yolan Friedmann