Nature conservation remains a nascent field, particularly for women in Pakistan who face a number of socio-cultural constraints including stepping out of their home to taking up a job in an organization. Despite this, many women have overcome challenges and strived to achieve great things. Such a story is that of Lal Bibi who has devoted her life to the conservation of nature and well-being of a small fishing community of Gaddani town in Lasbela district, Balochistan.
As a little girl Lal Bibi showed great care and affection for nature around her, often crying when a tree felled or when a bird was hunted. This Balochi speaking girl, with a humble upbringing, did not know that she would grow up to work for the betterment of her community.
In a traditional community such as that of Gaddani village, a woman like Lal Bibi was one of a kind. At an early age when she spoke to other women of her village about conserving natural resources, she faced a lot of opposition. The men of her community, not used to women talking about things such as the environment, were ferocious in their resistance.
Realizing that she needed to do more than talk about these issues, to make her dreams come true Lal Bibi established an organization by the name of Sahil Women Welfare Society in Gaddani town. It aimed to make the local women active participants of the community. Through this platform, she started promoting girls’ education in the area and the organization’s platform became a voice for downtrodden women as well.
Lal Bibi’s drive did not stop there and she girded up loins for a long struggle. She soon became a member of many local and district level organizations and was awarded membership of the Board of Directors of the Coastal Association for Research and Development (CARD). Through this platform, she helped around 60 fisher families improve the quality of their fish catch, by providing them insulated fish boxes. As a result, fishermen were trained and post-harvest losses of fish catch were reduced to a sustainable level.
Another feather in her cap was her role in the mass rescuing of 200 stranded pantropical spotted dolphins on 9 March 2009. Lal Bibi single-handedly led a group of fishermen who safely rescued and released all stranded dolphins in the span of 15 hours. This rescue operation was covered widely by electronic and print media of Pakistan.
In order to create awareness on environment and nature conservation, Lal Bibi regularly organizes World Environment Day activities where hundreds of community women participate and learn new things. Furthermore, she has formed a team of volunteers who regularly visit Gaddani and ensure that tourists and picnickers do not disturb the marine life, especially dolphins and turtles. They also mobilize people not to litter the sea so that the coastal ecosystem can remain clean and healthy for marine life. They also discourage the hunting of cranes arriving at Damb and Siranda Lake. Another major contribution by Lal Bibi is the plantation of hundreds of mangrove saplings in Sonmiani, she has also been involved in various cetacean conservation projects. She assisted CARD in conducting a survey of dolphins in Gaddani under WWF-Pakistan’s Pakistan Wetland Programme. She has also been the focal point in the Gaddani area for the Indo-Pacific Cetacean Conservation and Research project funded by the Australian Government. She organized a Tuna Skipper Workshop with the Sahil Women Welfare Society in Gaddani with support from WWFPakistan. Moreover, she has played a major role in consultation meetings held under the aegis of CARD for the formulation of a draft civil society fisheries policy. In this context, Lal Bibi has chaired district level meetings held in Gaddani and Sonmiani and has contributed substantially in the policy formulation process.
Lal Bibi is a testament to the fact that there is great potential for women to make a mark in Pakistan and that it is important to involve local people in conservation projects as they have a closer link to nature. Pakistan is full of such inspiring individuals and it is our job to learn and aid them in their endeavours in the long run.
Asif Ali Sandeelo is Senior Officer Communications, WWF-Pakistan.