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From African Traditional practices soaked in earth care to using exceptional education to empower others – these were some of the facets of our fascinating Regional Interfaith Dialogue (RID) on women in (environmental) leadership on Wednesday 3 August.

The Dialogue was timed to coincide with Women’s Month, ahead of South Africa’s Women’s Day on 9 August.

We asked three highly successful women in conservation how their faith impacted their careers. 

Dr Jessica Thorn of the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, told us that Africa’s biodiversity is a strategic asset and that Africa contributes just 3% to the global GHG emissions. As one of the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Thorn has had the opportunity to contribute meaningful scientific inputs to help create the balance, equality and just society that she passionately believes in.

We learned from Dr Thorn that the economic value of Africa’s biodiversity makes this a strategic asset which is in the process of being undermined due to urbanisation, climate change, war and industrialisation.

Dr Thorn’s roots are in Judaism, and she listed six ways in which her spirituality impacts her work as a female environmental scientist. Here are a few:

  • Stewardship and indigenous cosmo-visionaries – In her field work throughout Africa, Dr Thorn finds guidance and wisdom from the indigenous wisdom keepers whose knowledge is used in everyday life in the villages. Minority and disadvantaged communities should be carefully protected from cultural appropriation; Jewish history has often seen the Jewish community in vulnerable positions of minority and protecting the integrity of the Jewish identity has been an important factor in its survival.
  • Tikkun Olan – loving kindness, looking towards future generations and ensuring equitable access and benefits of resources. This Jewish teaching speaks into the ethics of responsibility in all walks of life but most particularly for those less fortunate.
  • The need to accept change. Dr Thorn spoke about commercial resistance to change, such as gender based lack of parity in salary structures. She said: “According to the UNDP, the risk to die in a disaster is 14 x higher as a woman or girl than that of a man.”

Makoma Lekalakala from Earthlife Africa is no stranger to CTII, as the co-lead of the team that successfully stopped the 2017 corrupt trillion dollar nuclear deal. 

Makoma detailed some matriarchs of African Spirituality and surprised us by sharing a substantive list of African women leaders in the field of environmental justice, who are active today. It was immensely encouraging and moving to hear these stories from a person who is herself intimately involved in trying to redress the grotesque imbalances between nature and the commoditisation of her resources.

Finally, SAFCEI’s Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis spoke into SAFCEI’s commitment to including and encouraging women faith leaders. In every arena of eco justice, women are sorely undervalued and disadvantaged. It is important not only to honour and highlight the critical role that women play, but also to applaud the men who are aware of the imbalances and are working with women to address these injustices.


By Rev Berry Behr

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