A conversation with geographer Fiona Wilmot.
In April I met up with Fiona Wilmot, a longtime friend and collaborator of EcoViva and the Mangrove Association. She presented a paper at the American Association of Geographers conference in San Francisco in the panel Addressing the Interior in Socio-ecological Systems: Affective Transformation and Intentional Acts of Biophysical Rehabilitation.
Her presentation was on women’s participation in mangrove conservation. She drew on her experiences and observations from the Bay of Jiquilisco and the Bajo Lempa of El Salvador and conversations with a Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, a marine scientist from the Philippines who has been active in mangrove conservation efforts.
KA: In a nutshell, can you summarize the key takeaways from your presentation?
FW: I wanted to highlight the role of women in mangrove conservation efforts in the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco in El Salvador and on the island Panay in the Philippines, and explore three perspectives on mangrove rehabilitation by women: The Lived, The Thought and The Felt. Through the perspective of “the lived” I sought to tell the stories of the campesina women who worked alongside the men of the community on Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR) projects. Through the “thought” I wanted to discuss attitudes and ideas about the mangroves, and through the experience of the “felt” I wanted to evoke the emotional response to the feeling of being in the mangrove forest.
KA: Let’s talk a little about women’s participation in restoration efforts in El Salvador.
FW: It’s actually rather unusual for women to participate in those efforts and El Salvador stands as a great example. Women in the EMR projects in El Salvador worked alongside the men, doing the same physically challenging work of clearing obstructed waterways to allow the fresh water to flow and blend with the salt water of the bay to get the salinity just right so that mangroves could flourish. So, the women did the same sort of work and were paid equally for their efforts.
Through the work the women developed a sense of “taking care of the environment” and of understanding that the act of caring for the mangroves was important in the context of fighting climate change.
KA: Why has EMR succeeded?
FW: When I was doing my fieldwork I spoke to a sociology student who I think said it best when I asked her the same question. She said, “it [EMR] involved the people. It made them aware and above all because it was a process more than reforestation. It was about how the mangroves function, […] the dynamic of the water, where does it come in, where does it go out, what kind of water it is.”
KA: Fiona, thanks again for all of the great work that you do and thanks for your support and collaboration with EcoViva and our partners.
Fiona Wilmot is a restoration geographer. Her research is informed by political ecology and she has conducted extensive research on community-based mangrove restoration initiatives in the Lower Lempa of El Salvador. She earned her Ph.D. at Texas A&M University and is the author of a chapter on environmental governance in El Salvador in The Carbon Fix, to be published by Routledge in August 2016.