I am a 27 year old anthropologist (undergraduate degree holder) who has been working on community rights for three years now. I am a member of the Sengwer indigenous community, who for a long time have been victims of forceful evictions from our ancestral lands in the name of conservation. These evictions are carried out by the Kenyan government through the Kenya Forest Service. During these evictions, communities are harassed and arrested, and women and children are exposed to many challenges and injustices. In recent times, individual targets have been set on community elders and activists.
Our natural environment is also in trouble: our ancestral lands in Embobut forest have degraded as a result of the community being forcefully evicted more than 22 times. This is despite the fact that our community has lived in this forest, carrying out our cultural practices of hunting and gathering, which has helped in protect the forest and the environment. Although not easily recognised, women have in many ways been crucial in the conservation of the environment, through their traditional knowledge.
My particular interest on the rights of women and children pushed me to carry out research on the Sengwer women’s experience of evictions and their involvement in the struggle for land rights. Sengwer women have been introducing children to nature and teaching the young generations how to conserve nature. Through this traditionally assigned gender role, the Sengwer women have played an important role in conservation. This idea is very well elaborated in this report, which also includes testimonies from the women.
For the three years I worked with Forest Peoples Programme, I fought for the recognition of our community land rights needed to sustain our culture and our traditional way of life. This recognition is important as it leads to the protection and conservation of the environment, which is everything to our community life. Our ancestral lands, including our forests, have been exposed to outside parties who have taken advantage of the conflict between us and the government to destroy our forests. Our ancestral lands which were once very well forested are now “naked”.
My other work experiences include my time with the UN Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2016, where I brought issues of my community to the international context, and with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in 2017, where I advanced my knowledge on human rights and environment. It is through all my work and reflections on my personal life as an indigenous person, that I realise the environment and we are one and the same thing.