The just-concluded International Conference for Women Birders 2023 (IC4WB) held on 6th-8th December 2023, at The Sheraton Kampala, Uganda has left a lasting impression, uniting women from around the world in a celebration of nature, empowerment, and the vibrant world of birding. In a historic gathering, the inaugural International Conference for Women Birders unfolded its wings, hosted by the esteemed Uganda Women Birders. Proudly recognized as the world’s largest group of women birders, this landmark event was a celebration of diversity, empowerment, and the boundless joy of birding. The conference owes its success to the unwavering support of sponsors, with special gratitude extended to Bird Uganda Safaris and Private Sector Foundation Uganda. This blog aims to capture the essence of the conference, exploring the themes of empowerment, engagement with nature through birds, and the vital role of women in the world of birding.
Empowering Women in Birding
The central theme of the International Conference for Women Birders was “Empowering Women for an Equal Birding World” but also in the general tourism industry. The event showcased the diverse experiences of women from different corners of the world who have been actively engaging with nature through birds and bird watching. From beginners to seasoned experts, the conference emphasized the importance of equal participation and recognition for women in the birding community. Uganda Women Birders pioneers shared their stories how they begun their careers in birding. The Chairlady of Uganda Women Birders Ms. Judith Mirembe shared how the club begun in 2013, just as an idea encouraged by our founder and mentor Mr. Herbert Byaruhanga Bird Uganda Safaris. The club is now proudly over 120+ members strong, stationed all over the country. Uganda Women Birders travelled from all over Uganda to attend the conference. Groups like Bigodi Women Birders, Karamoja Women Birders, Bwindi Women Birders, Mabamba Women Birders were all in attendance for the 3 days of the conference.
The conference for women birders gives a chance for women to share their stories of how despite all the challenges, they are happy to be women birders and have embraced their roles in the tourism industry. Ms. Harriet Kemigisha one of the very first Women Birders in Uganda shared how she cannot believe that despite not going abroad to market her business, she is fully booked for birding trips all year round. She is now a proud owner of two lodges, including the serene Guereza Canopy Lodge in Kibale Forest National Park. Other pioneer women birders who shared their wonderful inspiring stories include Ms. Prossy Nanyombi, Ms. Abia Atukwatse, Ms. Miriam Magada, Ms. Adrine Nankunda and Ms. Prossy Nanyombi. They have made their names as Bird Guides of Uganda with clients, especially hard-core birders, requesting that these ladies guide their trips! Other Women Birders from Africa were represented, and they too shared their stories with us. We had Ms. Phyndy from South Africa, Ms. Martha from Kenya, Ms. Polshi from Tanzania, and Ms.Jenish from Rwanda all of whom had inspiring stories to share their view as African women bird guides. It was touching and inspiring to hear the stories of these phenomenal women who juggle their family lives with the hectic world of guiding and being away from their families.
Conservation and Community Development
Beyond the joy of birding, the conference delved into critical discussions on conservation and community development. Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga of Nature Uganda shared about the State of Birds in Uganda- Challenges and Opportunities. With a focus on recognizing the efforts of women who have played a pivotal role in conservation initiatives, the event highlighted the integral role women play in safeguarding bird species and their habitats. Dr. Diana Nalwanga of Eco Trust shared about “Empowering Women in Bird Conservation: A Call to Action for Sustainable Tourism and Biodiversity Protection”. Local communities were a focal point, discussing the positive impact of birding tourism on community development and the conservation of the rich biodiversity of Uganda. Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusooka of Conservation Through Public Health shared about “Promoting Gorilla Conservation Through Responsible Tourism.”. She works with the communities in Bwindi who come in close contact with the mountain gorillas.
Exploring Uganda’s Avian Riches
Kampala, the bustling capital of Uganda, provided an ideal backdrop for the conference. Delegates had the opportunity to explore the country’s diverse bird species, with pre-conference tours and post-conference tours. Delegates had the opportunity to view the iconic Shoebill to a variety of unique avian wonders.
The Sheraton Kampala Hotel, the conference’s official venue, served as a hub for knowledge exchange, networking, and fostering a sense of community among women birders. Ms Sanne Williams of the European Union shared collaborative opportunities aimed at empowering women they have been carrying out and will continue to eradicate gender disparities, create an inclusive environment and transform women’s lives. Prof. Margret Kigozi highlighted the numerous investment opportunities in Birding in East Africa,
The event’s main sponsor, the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) was represented by Mr. Steven Asiimwe. He expressed his happiness at seeing delegates from all over the world as far as Tasmania in attendance. He thanked all organizers and board members. He emphasized how women are the catalysts for community transformation, fostering economic development in the societies they live. Through engaging nature through birds, women birders can spearhead the conservation efforts for sustainability.
The guest of Honor, the Minister of State of Tourism Hon. Martin Mugarra Bahinduka was happy to be in attendance. He retaliated about the importance of tourism in the growth of the economy and women should be at the forefront. He was impressed that Uganda Women Birders is the biggest club of Women Birders in the world and encouraged us to keep it up. He pledged continuous support for Women Birders with trainings, and equipment. He went ahead and launched the Uganda Women in Tourism Association which was well received by the delegates.
Partners and Friends International Conference for Women Birders
The International Conference for Women Birders facilitated a strong network of women and friends of women birders, with a shared passion for birding. Anyone who appreciates the efforts of women in birdwatching is family. Throughout the event, participants engaged in discussions, shared their experiences, and recognized the importance of collaboration in advancing the field. The conference also featured renowned speakers who shared their expertise, providing valuable insights into the world of birding, tourism, and conservation.
Ms. Jamie Canningham of Sabrewing Nature Tours took us through her life as a woman birder and showed us some of her amazing work with her Into to Nature Photography workshop. Mr. Jeff Bouton, renowned birding expert and representative of Kowa Optics taught us how we can use DigiScoping to take amazing nature photographs.
Ms. Peg Abbot of Naturalistic Journeys USA, Dr. Tonia Cochran of Inala Nature Tours in Tasmania, Prof Wendi Haugh a cultural anthropologist, Ms Bella from China all shared with delegates their experiences as women birders and guides in their countries. Their stories were moving and inspiring. As we could clearly see, with years of experience, how birdwatching has changed their lives. These efforts of women from around the world inspire us to continue pursuing our careers.
They donated much-needed equipment to the women birders club including binoculars, cameras, laser pointers, birding books, hiking shoes and more. We were so excited to receive the equipment as one of the main challenges we face is a lack of funds to buy the birding equipment. With the donations, many more enthusiastic birders, including the young birders we are recruiting, can get the opportunity to learn more about the beautiful birds of Uganda.
The conference underscored the symbiotic relationship between birding tourism and conservation efforts. Women birders, through their active involvement, contribute significantly to the promotion of responsible tourism, particularly in nature and bird guiding. Birds are an indicator of the health of an environment. Birders notice every detail in the environment and pay a keen eye to the destruction of habitats, as this means fewer birds are seen. We can spearhead conservation efforts to protect these fragile environments. Discussions on the role of women in tourism, partnerships with local communities, and the economic benefits of sustainable birding tourism were integral components of the conference.
The International Conference for Women Birders 2023 (IC4WB) in Uganda was a testament to the growing influence of women in the world of birding. Special thanks go to our mentor and founder, Mr. Herbert Byaruhanga for not only encouraging and supporting women birders but also being the brainchild of this conference and coordinating, lobbying and organizing all aspects from the beginning to the end of the conference. From empowering experiences to in-depth discussions on conservation and community development, the conference showcased the diversity of talent and passion within the women birding community. As we reflect on the event, it’s evident that women play a vital role in shaping the future of birding, and events like these provide a platform for collaboration, knowledge exchange, and the celebration of the incredible world of avian wonders.
Written By Carolyne Mutesi
Guide, Uganda Women Birders