Profiles for change: Trang Nguyen, WildAct

Named one of the Top 30 under 30 most influential social entrepreneurs by Forbes Asia in 2020 and one of the Top 100 most inspiring and influential women in 2019 by the BBC, Trang Nguyen is founder and CEO of WildAct Vietnam, an environmental non-profit organization empowering young women and men in conservation.
Growing up in Vietnam, a hotspot for illegal wildlife trade, Trang witnessed from a very young age how these animals were treated and, after seeing a neighbor’s work on his bear bile farm, she was horrified and realized she wanted to be “someone who protected animals in their wild habitats”. As a young conservationist, she now provides capacity-building training to young Vietnamese women and men that share the same vision and passion for conservation as her, inspiring many women to join a sector that has predominantly been male-dominated.

Advocating for safer working environments for women in conservation

Trang was aware of and has experienced the inequalities and barriers that women face in the conservation sector. But it was not until one of the female students of her 2018 national capacity-building training reached out to her for guidance on how to deal with sexual harassment that Trang fully realized that there was a need to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV) at the workplace. As Trang recounts, during her first field work experience, this bright young woman was sexually harassed by a male superior in the partnering organization, and her male line manager not only failed to intervene,  but told her that it was something to be expected if she wanted to work in conservation.

Hear from Trang on why it is important to address sexual harassment in conservation workplaces.

A survey conducted by WildAct Vietnam with 114 respondents found that 5 out of 6 experienced sexual harassment, however 3 out of 8 did not report it. Additionally 1 out of 10 respondents mentioned that they had witnessed rape or attempted rape. While the majority of incidents were verbal, 5% of respondents had experienced attempted or actual sexual abuse at work, and 30% of them were told that it is “normal” in their sector by other colleagues (Spicer, 2020).

In 2020, USAID’s Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) awarded a grant to WildAct Vietnam to address GBV in conservation organizations. Trang aims to create a baseline to better understand the risk of multiple forms of GBV and the circumstances and contexts where they take place to raise awareness among environmental organizations and help set up safeguarding policies and grievances and redress mechanisms to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in conservation workplaces.

Joining forces to tackle GBV in conservation

Successful conservation not only requires the valuable work of biologists, but a change in social norms and behaviors that underpin illegal wildlife trade. Addressing gender and GBV norms is key to secure women’s participation in these conservation efforts.

As IUCN’s GBV and Environment Linkages Center (GBV-ENV Center) continues bridging the knowledge gap on GBV and environment linkages, advocating for GBV policies and programming in the environment sector and providing technical support to do so, Trang wants other peers to know that it is fine not to know how to address these issues. She emphasizes the “need to reach out to people that know how to do it”. For example, CARE Vietnam is collaborating with WildAct Vietnam in the project to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and other forms of violence in conservation organisations.

Hear from Trang on the goal of WildAct in addressing gender-based violence and sexual harassment in conservation workplaces.

Deconstructing gender norms

Trang is also breaking gender social norms through literature. In March 2020, she launched the first of a series of children’s books that tells the story of a young girl and her adventures to rescue a female bear from a bear bile farm. Inspired by her personal story, she sold 3,000 copies during the first month and will be translated to English and published in the United Kingdom and the United States during mid-2021. Despite suggestions for including male characters in the book, she was adamant with her decision of having female main characters.

“One of the messages I want to send through the book… is that girls are amazing …don’t let them fall out of their dreams as they can do amazing things”

This story was developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and thanks to Trang Nguyen. All photo credits in this story belong to WildAct Vietnam. For more on the global challenge, visit RISE and the GBV-Environment Linkages Center hosted by IUCN under its Advancing Gender in the Environment (AGENT) partnership.