The participation of women across the Forestry Sector is a target the Amended Forest Sector Code is tasked to facilitate, although sadly, recent research commissioned by the Forest Sector Charter Council (mandated to report and monitor B-BBEE implementation), suggests female participation is still marginalised.
This is unsurprising, as the Forest Sector traditionally was a male-dominated industry and while modern forestry practices mean gender discrimination of the past no longer applies, it appears that it is hard for our industry to shake its male-only stereotype.
Yet, there are inspirational and passionate women taking the centre stage across the forestry value chain, from academia, research, management, entrepreneurship, processing, silviculture to name a few. This is something we should be showcasing and promoting as a Sector, as it shows the transformation that has occurred over the past few decades and could help us achieve the long-term objective of encouraging other women to consider “Forestry” as a career or business of choice.
At my last Forestry South Africa (FSA) Annual General Meeting (AGM), I was fortunate to meet Ms Busi Mnguni, currently the Vice-Chairperson of FSA, a woman who combines the wisdom of age with the ‘youthful’ enthusiasm of someone new to the industry. Ms Mnguni shared her vision of recognising the contribution of women involved in forestry and her desire to promote both the success of existing women in the industry and the Sector as a career path or business opportunity to the next generation of female foresters. Ms Mnguni’s wish to recognise the women of forestry has not been dampened by the current COVID crisis that has rocked the world and our industry since the FSA AGM last year. She regularly calls to share her thoughts and how the concept can be refined to fit the current times.
It is not just Ms Mnguni who would like to see more of the ‘female face of forestry’. The Deputy Minister, Ms Makhotso Sotyu, of the new home for Forestry, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) has also made it clear that she supports the Forest Sector Charter Council’s stance that women have to take centre stage.
The question is, how do we promote the women of our sector, who are already successful across a wide range of forestry operations, so they are more visible to those on the outside?
As the Forest Sector Charter Council, we know through our interactions with the industry that there are many women whose contribution to the Sector is enormous. Their efforts, influence, strength and collective potential has to be highlighted if it is to be realised.
Women carry vast knowledge about the Sector too and as such there should be a strategic means to impart the knowledge from one generation to the next. Innovatively so, celebrating, acknowledging their contribution and advocating for their continuous promotion and empowerment is a “must” for the 21st century. By drawing aspirations from such achievements, we can ignite the passion in future generations of women wishing to enter the industry and looking to these women for the confidence to say, ‘I can do it too”.
Forestry is an accommodative career choice, providing opportunities for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled personnel. It is an industry where one may manoeuvre from being a general labourer to a forester and even a manager in a specialised field. This is something we should be promoting to the ever-mobile future generations who wish to grow like our trees but are more resistant than previous generations to put down roots. It is also an incredibly important Sector in rural areas where inequality and unequal opportunities still exist, and I believe this is where the women of our Sector can make a difference. By taking responsibility as women in the creation of networks that promote the transformative agenda of achieving equality, we will have a lasting impact on both the Sector and our country.
So, to all the women out there, let us be true role models, the sources of inspiration and the support networks that strengthen us all. Together we have achieved so much already, but there is still room to achieve so much more.
Happy Women’s Month to all our wonderful women.
Executive Director, Forest Sector Charter Council