environmental conservation

Leading ladies: Women shaping environmental conservation


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Leading ladies: Women shaping environmental conservation
These three women are working to conserve Philippine biodiversity

Women’s Month highlights the vital role of women and is celebrated every March through Philippine Presidential Proclamation Number 227. 

There were an estimated 7.95 billion people on Earth in 2022, with four billion men and 3.95 billion women. With the fairer sex comprising nearly half the world’s population, disempowering women curtails global productivity.

For the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the United Nations Development Programme’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (UNDP-BIOFIN), gender equality, women’s empowerment and inclusive leadership are central tenets to truly sustainable development.

“Women’s empowerment and gender equality are vital to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which envisions a world of universal respect for human rights and individual dignity,” said UNDP Resident Representative Dr. Selva Ramachandran.

To celebrate Women’s Month 2024, DENR-UNDP BIOFIN sat down with three leading ladies working to conserve Philippine biodiversity.

Women as community leaders and educators: Mary Paduganao and the Cabladan Bantay Gubat Association 
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LOLA RANGER. Mary Paduganao helped set up and recruit some of the first ‘Bantay Gubat’ or Forest Wardens to protect the Sibalom Natural Park in Antique. After 46 years in service, Lola Ranger’s team has now grown to almost 80 members, comprised of both women and men. (Angelique Ogena / DENR-UNDP BIOFIN)

At 71 years young, Mary Paduganao has become one of the “Lola Rangers” of the Sibalom Natural Park, one of Antique’s rapidly-rising ecotourism destinations.   

“In 1978, I was the captain of Barangay Imparayan. We set up the very first batch of ‘Bantay Gubat’ or Forest Wardens for the park. Today, after 46 years, we’ve grown to almost 80 wardens – both women and men – who regularly patrol the park to thwart logging, wildlife poaching and the occasional brushfire,” she recalled.

Through the years, Lola Ranger has worked with various environmental groups such as the Haribon Foundation and DENR-UNDP BIOFIN. “These groups empowered us with the skills and knowledge to become effective forest wardens, environmental educators and tour guides, especially now that more visitors are coming,” she said.

Working with Lola Ranger is the Cabladan Bantay Gubat Association (CBGA), representing one of four barangays ringing the protected area. In Barangay Cabladan, female forest wardens serve as chief educators on the importance of protecting the park, becoming conservation advocates to their fellow residents.

“We share everything we learn from BIOFIN’s ecotourism workshops and training sessions,” said CBGA board member Mergie Elloran. “We share them whenever we attend Barangay Cabladan’s assemblies.” 

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FEMALE FOREST WARDENS. (L-R) Jonalyn, Mergie, Evelyn and Rosa are just some of Barangay Cabladan’s female Forest Wardens, working to protect and conserve the Sibalom Natural Park in Antique. (Angelique Ogena / DENR-UNDP BIOFIN)

The CBGA’s female forest wardens also provide additional ecotourism services to park visitors through tour guiding and catering. 

Together with allied people’s organizations like the CBGA, Lola Ranger and the other Bantay Gubat are working to help protect the Sibalom Natural Park, home of the Philippines’ multi-hued Rainbow River and endangered wildlife like wild pigs, deer, and Rafflesia, the largest flower on Earth. 

Here and in other protected areas across the Philippines, both women and men work in harmony to protect the country’s natural resources. 

Women in science: Lisa Paguntalan
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WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTt. Having studied everything from the bats of Negros to the seabirds of the famed Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan, Lisa Paguntalan has spent loads of time in the field. Lisa heads PhilBio, a group that works to conserve threatened or endangered species and their habitats. (Godfrey Jakosalem / PhilBio)

Wildlife biologist Lisa Paguntalan is no stranger to the outdoors, having studied endangered Philippine wildlife since 1996. 

“My drive for conservation began in college. We were studying bats in the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes when I realized that three of the four bats we collected were endemic or found nowhere else but the Philippines. However, I also noticed that many of our local forests are receding, meaning some of our endemic species might become extinct. Unless of course we do something about it,” she said.

Today, Lisa leads the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Incorporated (PhilBio), which addresses the long-term conservation of native and threatened Philippine species by working closely with local stakeholders. “Part of the work we do is engaging local governments and agencies to invest in conserving less-popular threatened or endangered species and their habitats.” 

Lisa encourages more ladies to enter the field of conservation. “Women are at the heart of the conservation arena in the Philippines. We need more boots on the ground to save our natural treasures.”  

Women in governance: Neneng Andres
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RISEN FROM THE RANKS. Biodiversity Management Bureau OIC Assistant Director Neneng Andres (middle) in the field. (DENR)

As a scholar of the 1980s-era Bureau of Forest Development (BFD), Armida “Neneng” Andres immediately jumped into government work after graduating from the University of the Philippines Los Baños in 1985. 

“While most staff were men, I can remember no distinction between tasks. Both women and men were expected to conduct thorough resource inventories, site assessments, project monitoring and evaluations of our country’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries,” Neneng said.

Neneng shared one of her many field adventures. “We were assessing the expansion of the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park in Mindoro when the 1986 EDSA Revolution broke out. We were stuck for over a week in the mountains surviving on whatever plants we could harvest around us. We ate bananas, taro leaves, even tubers! I had to study for my forestry licensure examination under a kerosene lamp. Fortunately I passed, topping the board in July of 1986.” 

Neneng recalled that in the 1990s, there were already more women than men in the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), now called the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB). “It was a privilege to have worked with strong-willed lady leaders like Dr. Cora Sinha, Dr. Mundita Lim and many others.” 

Today, Neneng is the OIC Assistant Director of BMB, helping develop policies for biodiversity conservation, networking and advocating for mainstream biodiversity conservation, plus much-needed finance solutions across all sectors. “I’m also part of the team which conceptualized the recognition of women in biodiversity through a publication entitled Igniting Passion, Finding Fulfilment, Inspiring Stories of Women in Biodiversity. It contains moving narratives of women taking part in biodiversity conservation and management.”  

Neneng expressed hope that women leaders continue to multiply in number and be empowered at all levels of governance. “Behind every woman in government is a story full of struggles, fulfillment and contributions to make our country a better place.” 

BIOFIN’s 10th year in Philippines

Lola Mary, Lisa, and Neneng are just some of the many women and men DENR-UNDP BIOFIN works with. 

Launched in 2012, BIOFIN is a global initiative supporting the development and implementation of national Biodiversity Finance Plans to transform how biodiversity finance is mobilized and allocated. 

This includes the mobilization of $200 billion in annual domestic and international biodiversity-related funding from public and private-sector sources, plus raising international financial flows from developed to developing countries by at least $30 billion yearly.

Celebrating its 10th year in the Philippines, BIOFIN has so far raised over $10 million for 107 Legislated Protected Areas by pushing for increased congressional financing, while over USD300,000 was raised for terrestrial reforestation through the Mynt and GCash GForest Programme

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ALL-WOMEN TEAM. BIOFIN’s team in the Philippines is incidentally all-female. Since 2014, BIOFIN has been working in the Philippines to help finance conservation initiatives and support government efforts to enhance the management of protected areas. (DENR-UNDP BIOFIN)

“There’s still a lot of work to be done for Women’s Rights. There are 800 million women in the Asia-Pacific region who are looking for jobs. Including them in our workforce can add trillions of dollars to our region’s GDP,” said DENR-UNDP BIOFIN National Project Manager Anabelle Plantilla, who heads the all-women team of BIOFIN in the Philippines.

“Through Gender Equality, we can maximize the chances of a better life for all families living in our region.” – Rappler.com

BIOFIN was launched in 2012 and seeks to address the biodiversity finance challenge in a comprehensive manner – building a sound business case for increased investments in the management of ecosystems and biodiversity, with a particular focus on the needs and transformational opportunities at the national level. For more information: www.biofin.org.

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. 

In the Philippines, UNDP fosters human development for peace and prosperity. Working with central and local governments as well as civil society, and building on global best practices, UNDP strengthens capacities of women, men and institutions to empower them to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the objectives of the Philippine Development Plan. Through advocacy and development projects, with a special focus on vulnerable groups, UNDP works to ensure a better life for the Filipino people. Learn more at ph.undp.org or follow at @UNDPPH.

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