A woman ranger pursues her dream and shatters gender myths in her profession
Live your life to the fullest
October 15, 2019
“So, this is my workplace!” – Lusine laughs, spreading her arms across the paramount ravine stretching behind her back. The 25-year-old ranger is standing at the top of Samshvilde Fortress in the heart of Algeti National Park in central Georgia. From here, she can see the whole territory under her maintenance – the entire 184 hectares of wild forest growing on the steep slopes of Khrami Gorge. She points at two majestic birds of prey circling below. “I believe they are griffon vultures. They nest down in the ravine, and this year they had a chick. I saw it the other day, it was learning to fly.”
Lusine Dostibegiani is one of four women among nearly 400 rangers working for the Agency of Protected Areas of Georgia. Every weekday she walks the 20-kilometer-long trail around the depths of two ravines that encircle the plateau with ruins of the ancient city Samshvilde. She is patrolling both – natural monuments and historic sites.
“A few years ago, I came across an article about the first Georgian ranger woman who works at the high mountainous National Park of Tusheti. I saw her picture, mounted on horseback, and I thought, wow, this is so super cool, I want to be like her.”
Lucine made her dream come true in July 2018. “When I entered the Administration of the Protected Areas to pass the ranger’s exams, there were only men in the waiting room. I thought – no way I am getting through. The member of the commission asked me if I considered myself strong enough to walk the wilderness and run after poachers. I said it was my dream job. And, well, I got it!” - remembers Lusine.
Her colleague, Dato, was slightly bewildered when he found out that a young woman was going to be his counterpart. “I do remember myself thinking – a woman ranger? How is she going to manage? But very soon she proved all the doubts wrong. She is an excellent professional, and people here have a lot of respect for her,” says Dato.
Natural reserves and protected areas of Georgia cover over half a million hectares, about 9 percent of the country’s territory. The urgent need for protection of declining local biodiversity and the growing popularity of tourism in Georgia make the rangers’ job particularly important.
“My daily duties include patrolling as well as checking the photo cameras installed around the territory. I keep the visitors company and host educational sessions for local schoolchildren. Sometimes, though, my work turns more dramatic,” she says.
Her first of many encounters with poachers happened when she was on a group patrol with two other colleagues. “We were coming down the river. I went slightly forward, leaving two other rangers behind,” remembers Lusine. “All of a sudden, I saw two men fishing with an electric device in the river. I was scared, but I managed to contact others and together we’ve caught the poachers.”
With the support of UNDP and the Governments of Sweden and the UK, this November, Lusine will head to Nepal as Georgia’s representative at the 9st World Rangers Congress. This will be Georgia’s first-ever appearance at the World Rangers Congress.
“I am so excited!” she exclaims. “I will meet over 300 of my colleagues from more than 40 countries, whom I will tell all about the progress that Georgia made in protecting its nature, but also about the achievements that we have made in breaking the stereotypes surrounding women performing this profession. It is my goal to show that doing a good job makes these stereotypes gradually disappear.”
“Georgia is a country bursting with female talent, female potential, female ingenuity. But because of gender clichés, we are wasting this potential on a massive scale,” argues Louisa Vinton, Head of UNDP in Georgia. “Half of Georgian women do not participate in labor market and those who work are paid 36 percent less than men, just to give one example,” says Vinton.
Lusine has a message for other women who’d wish to join the rangers’ ranks. “Girls, if you love your country and its natural beauty, and you feel you were not born to spend your life indoors – this job is for you. You only live once and please, do not allow anybody to tell you that you are not fit to do something.”
Georgia ranks 99 out of 149 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index. Women remain underutilized in the Georgian economy, especially in rural areas and underrepresented in public life – 44% of women are economically inactive and outside the labor force; of those employed – on average women earn 36% less; only 13% of local councilors are women; and the number of women in parliament remains as low as 15%.
With financial assistance from the Government of Sweden, UNDP isupports women’s entrepreneurship and engagement in public life as well as works actively to shift public perceptions on gender roles in politics and business.