Feminist History-Makers: “You can do whatever you set your mind to” — Jane Goodall

By Jessica Randall, NOW/PAC Intern

What distinguished woman begins every lecture with a greeting in chimpanzee? Well, the leader in chimp education and conservation, Dr. Jane Goodall, of course! Goodall has led the way in learning about one of humankind’s closest relatives since the 1960s, starting when she was just 23.

Since she can remember, Goodall has been interested in learning about wildlife and dreamed of someday living amongst the animals, even though this was an unheard of career — especially for women. But with the support and encouragement of her mother, Goodall would take her first trip to Africa and be given her first observation assignment by famed archaeologist and paleontologist Louis S. B. Leakey.

Goodall was the first to recognize that chimpanzees are omnivorous rather than herbivores as previously suspected. The most influential discovery she made, however, was that chimps use tools, just like humans. Until this point, anthropologists saw tool making as a defining trait of humankind.

After receiving her doctoral degree from Cambridge University, Goodall continued to work in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania. In 1977 she established the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), which stands as a global leader in the effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.

The institute not only focuses on helping to save the endangered chimp population but also helping educate the local people in ways to develop more environmentally sustainable lifestyles. As Goodall says, “How can we even try to save the chimpanzees and forests if the people are so obviously struggling to survive?”

Among these practices are sustainable farming methods, fuel efficiency, micro-credit programs, and health care and education primarily directed to women and girls in both Uganda and Tanzania. Essential health issues covered include family planning services and education on the spread of HIV/AIDS. Community-Based Distribution Agents (CBDAs) have also been specifically formed and entrusted to educate the communities on reproductive health issues, sexually transmitted infections and access to health centers.

Goodall is not just a friend of our ancestors — she is actively using her resources to help bring thousands of women and their families out of poverty while being conscientious of the natural environment. The strength and determination that Goodall possesses allowed her to follow and achieve dreams that few other women or men might have considered possible. That is why NOW and the NOW Foundation named her an honoree at the Third Annual Intrepid Awards Gala in 2005.

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