Conflicts between local communities & forest officials in Mt.Elgon forest (Kenya) stem from a lack of trust & resource conflict. Forest officials must engage & empower women across ethnic groups because despite being formally disempowered, women are interconnected and trusted influencers. Braiding Trust uses beauty courses to incentivize hairdressers to learn about forest conservation & women’s empowerment & spread this info through their networks, slowly building trust with forest officials.
Conflicts between forest departments & local forest communities hinders conservation efforts worldwide. Since 1946, 71% of African protected areas have had conflicts. If forest-based peoples and protected area officials collaborate, it will drastically improve forest management. Globally, we are losing 18.7 m ha of forest annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute. Greater community participation in forest mgmt can reduce the over-exploitation of forest resources.
In a polygamous society, women influence vast networks across their clans and families.
Hairdressers spend 2-3 hours on each client’s hair and serve 3+ clients per day. This intimate moment is ripe to guide conversations toward forest issues that can help to instill trust in the KFS.
We have identified the women of Mt.Elgon’s local communities as subtle, but powerful influencers of society due to their multiple roles as wives, teachers, mothers, teachers, etc. Hence, they can become the local actors leading the changes.
Some unique aspects of this society are:
– She interacts not only with her husband but with the other wives too
– A society where school teachers generally tend to be women.
Inspite of a busy life, the one leisure activity which she engages in is braiding her hair at the local saloon. This is a 2-3-hour long activity and is a personal as well as social experience where she tends to engage in conversations with the saloon assistant. During these conversations, we propose to work with the saloon assistants to weave in messages related to conservation and, gradually, make her receptive to messages from KFS and participate in their outreach activities.
Our user would be the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Currently, KFS’ conservation efforts are thwarted due to:
- Internal systemic issues like corruption
- Lack of trust from local communities.
- Lack of women inclusion
As KFS works on improving its internal issues, developing trust with local communities would ensure that its conservation efforts are complemented with their assistance.
Though a number of organisations have tried to resolve this conflict very few have tried to build relationships with the women. In addition to leveraging this unique insight, we have also identified a key activity when she is receptive to information – while braiding her hair at the local saloon.
Our biggest competitors are male members of the community who might not be comfortable with the idea of women engaging in conservation-related activities with the KFS. Though conservation organisations and KFS have tried to improve relationships between KFS and local communities, a few factors have been holding this back: Women have generally not been a part of the process. Another challenge is a factor like corruption within the KFS.
We define short-term impact by people reached by positive mentions of KFS by women’s networks, and long-term success by a shift in local attitudes towards KFS and active integration of women within KFS. In the short-term, if we reach 9000 local hairdressers, they will reach ~27,000 women/day directly and ~250,000 people/day indirectly through their clients’ networks (co-wives, husbands, children). We will measure impact through surveys of women before & 1 year after the start of the initiative.
Pilot this in Mt.Elgon. We will do this by understanding the finer details of the region such as number of community saloons, time spent by women in each saloon. We will work with KFS to develop content to deploy to saloon owners which she would talk with community women during braiding sessions.
Connections to funding opportunities
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