Women in Forest Business 

Gender equality and women’s role in building a sustainable future were on the agenda for a powerful and inspirational 1.5 hour session on women in forest business. 

By Ida Rehnström, FSC Denmark

“There seem to be a narrow conception that forest work should be limited to men.”

The words are coming from FSC International Board Member Martha Nuñez, who opens this session sharing her experiences with gender balance and women’s rights. “We cannot ignore women’s role in forest management and management of national resources,” she said, as women hold the key to the future generations as well as to dealing with pressing UN sustainability goals: “Women take care of families, children, invest, and make commitments that strengthen communities.”

Its not about womenits about equality

Discrimination on sexual orientation is also part of the fight for equality. Nuñez points to this part of the equality debate to remind everyone that the fight for equality does not have to do with women in particular, but with equality for all. Unfortunately, discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation is very present – according to her, “omnipresent in this sector”.

The FSC Principle on gender (2.2) states that “The Organization shall promote gender equality in employment practices, training opportunities, awarding of contracts, processes of engagement and management activities.”

But, as Nuñez explains, indicators on, for example, sexual discrimination (2.2.2) are not even possible as local legislation in many countries around the world does not recognize other sexual orientations. She urges FSC and the network to have a continued focus on gender issues.

When women develop, everything else develops

Supporting Nuñez’s thoughts on women holding important roles and resources in global change, María Inés Miranda, Co-founder WISE, SSC AMERICAS, pointed to the fact that 11 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are actually linked tightly to gender equality: “It’s not like other things are more important in sustainable development. Women’s equality is a precondition or it won’t be possible to reach those goals.”

Miranda also highlighted the concept of ‘sticky soil’, which is especially the reality for women living in rural areas. The fact that they have to take care of the family, and often even the family’s small-scale agriculture or farming, makes it difficult for them to advance in society. And even if these women do advance, there is the so called ‘glass ceiling’ still preventing them from advancing to the top of organizations.

Berty van Hensbergen, President, SSC Forestry, took the stage to share his experiences with women in forest industries: “We can’t do without half of the minds of the planet,” he said. Women’s unique way of thinking is one of the strengths he sees in recruiting women. “So, why are there so few women in forestry? The answer is often that it is too dangerous, that women can’t be lifting logs. My answer is – men shouldn’t be lifting logs either!” In other words, if there is a health and safety issue it should be dealt with.

Women proving themselves

Elizabeth de Carvalhaes, Presidente Executiva IBA Industria Brasileira de Arvores, represented women who have broken the glass ceiling. Being a successful women in leadership herself, she recognizes the challenges, but is at the same time very positive on behalf of women of the world. Taking an example from her last recruitment where 9 of 10 relevant candidates were women, she sees women moving forward proving themselves – getting faster and better education than men, working harder, and showing up prepared. “Women are more flexible and agile and women are proving their competences and skills,” she said.