Gender and sacred natural sites: The role of women in sacred sites protection and management in Vhembe region, Limpopo Province of South Africa

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Most sacred natural sites around the world have traditionally been the territory of men, with minimal or no participation by women. As a result, little scholarship has examined the role of women in sacred natural sites and their contribution to biodiversity conservation. The aim of this study was to evaluate the relationship between women and their sacred natural sites and how this relationship has contributed to biodiversity conservation. Data was collected between April 2020 and November 2021 through semi-structured interviews and observations. Interviews were conducted with the custodians of Vhutanda and Thathe sacred natural sites, Dzomo La Mupo (Voice of Nature) members, and local communities in the Vhembe region of Limpopo Province, South Africa. The respondents were selected using a purposive sampling approach. Data obtained from interviews were analysed using thematic content analysis; information collected through observation helped to corroborate the results obtained from interviews. The study showed that rituals that are performed by women empower resident spirits to govern and manage sacred natural sites, and in return, humankind gets good health, rain, protection, patronage and blessings. This type of governance and its associated customary laws and taboos have allowed sacred natural sites to emulate ‘explicit nature conservation’; these sites thus serve as refugia of biodiversity. The study also found that women have formed a social movement to fight against the destruction of sacred sites and this initiative has not only raised awareness but also challenged existing legislation; it has also stimulated broader discussion around the issues of sacred natural sites, sustainability and indigenous rights. The study recommends that gender-specific restrictions imposed on women in other sacred natural sites should be lifted.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02099
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Conservation
  • Gender
  • Governance and management
  • Sacred natural sites
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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