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Women in Animal Welfare – International Women’s Day 2020

To celebrate International Women's Day 2020 and the #EachforEqual campaign, we welcome a guest blog from Faye Griffin, a Naturewatch Foundation volunteer. Faye draws our attention to women who have, and are, dedicating their time to advancing animal welfare!

The first International Women’s Day (IWD) was organised by Clara Zetkin in 1911. Its purpose was to advance women’s suffrage by recognising their huge contribution to humankind. Over one hundred years later, its core value has not changed but expanded to include animal-kind! Since the inception of IWD, women have stood up and offered their voice to the fight to protect animal rights and ensure their welfare, whether this be through activism or academia. Here are just a few of these amazing women.

One of my favourite stories is that of Jenifer Graham. In 1987, fifteen-year-old Jenifer refused to dissect a frog in her science class in California, stating that it went against her moral and religious beliefs. Her request was denied and her grades suffered as a result of her moral standpoint. She sued the district and by taking a stand, started a reform of the education code. As of 2019, eighteen states have passed Student Choice Laws, giving kindergarten to high school students the right to request a humane alternative to animal dissection, showing that a small act can have a long-lasting impact on how people view and interact with animals.

More and more, society is recognising that we cannot continue to exploit them for our own gain and often it is scientific research which kickstarts this shift. Professor Marian Dawkins has been credited as one of the first to explore animal welfare as a research topic. Having released papers and books on animal rights since the 1980s, Dawkins' focus is on improving living conditions for livestock animals. An important area of her research is showing that improvements in animal welfare can have untold benefits for humans, as well as animals. While it is a human-centric approach, her research counters arguments that animal welfare is not economically viable, which could be vital in changing conditions for these livestock animals.

Following in Dawkins footsteps on the other side of the world is Professor Diana Reiss. In 2016, the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was released (in the presence of Stephen Hawking!). Reiss was a key contributor to the paper which stated that non-human animals possess the neurological structures and functions which are thought to generate consciousness. The paper called for scientists to re-evaluate previously held misconceptions on animal behaviour and targeted the issue of animals used in laboratory testing. Beyond her work on the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, Reiss has dedicated her life to the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals. She aided in the rescue of the famous humpback whale, Humphrey, when he became stranded in the San Francisco Bay area. Reiss has also advocated for the end of drive hunts in Japan, where dolphins and whales are captured and either slaughtered or sold to aquariums, a practice which has been condemned as inhumane.

Then there are the women whose tireless campaigning ensures the continued improvement of living conditions for animals. It would be impossible not to mention Women United for Animal Welfare (WUFAW). Founded by five inspirational women, the charity is dedicated to improving the welfare of animals both locally and abroad. Having first met after campaigning against the Asian Dog Meat Trade in 2016, they formed WUFAW just two years later in 2018. With a presence abroad in countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Puerto Rico, these women believe education is the key to helping the animal population and their current project is a spay/neuter programme in Vietnam. This focuses not only on reducing the number of stray cats and dogs on the streets but also educating the locals on how to keep the animal population down safely.

There is a strong female empowerment theme throughout the charity and men are encouraged to be an ally. WUFAW supports fellow women in the same field by partnering with ARYA Pets, founded by Jennice Duran, which carries out projects such as rescuing and rehabilitating stray animals in Puerto Rico. I highly recommend checking out WUFAW’s website to learn more as these women have incredible backstories and the charity does so much to help animals abroad.

There is a long way to go before all animals are treated humanely and given the rights they deserve. But slowly, things are improving through the hard work of academics, campaigners and volunteers. It is inspiring to know that all over the world, there are women who are dedicating their time, and even their careers, to bring this vision of happy and safe animals to life.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are that of the contributing author, Faye Griffin.