Anyone who knows me knows that uplifting and empowering women is a passion of mine which makes it such an honour to be asked to write for this special newsletter focusing on women in forestry.
Forestry is perceived as a male-dominated industry and often is, but I am always encouraged when I attend meetings or walk the passages in companies (pre-COVID, obviously) and see and hear the colour that women bring with them to the Sector.
Women’s month in South Africa is celebrated to highlight the struggles that women have, and are, experiencing, which can range from not being treated as equals to being the victims of domestic and sexual violence. It is not a light topic and shouldn’t be treated as such. Women have had to fight and fight hard to get where we are today. Perhaps, because we don’t fight in the way men do, it has taken some time to get to where we are today and some necessary ‘wins’ for equality are still a long way off. The important point is that we are still standing, we are still striving to make a difference and we are still pushing for ultimate equality. I would like to salute all the fabulous women, who have come before us and are around us, who continue with the struggle.
The Forestry Sector has indeed made great inroads to diversifying across and within the Sector. A few years ago, I accompanied my husband to an awards ceremony for the broiler breeder industry and there was one woman who received an award, and to add insult to injury, she was accompanied by a man to collect her reward, as though she didn’t earn the award herself. Similarly, I regularly attend bull sales, and very, very rarely do you see women bidding and purchasing. Generally, the women are where they are “expected” to be, serving tea and lunch! So, I do commend the Forestry Sector for being brave and bold enough to uplift and elevate women and believe that when it comes to addressing gender inequality of the past, forestry is leading the way, both in the country and within the Agricultural Sector where the old ways are still very entrenched and many are resistant to change.
My challenge to the Sector is to engage with the women already employed and see how they can be uplifted. Let them feel safe to voice their opinions and make them feel valued. Appreciate them for all that they are and all that they bring to the table. This may be the critical step to encouraging more women into the sector.
There is a fabulous quote “Behind every successful woman, is a tribe of successful women who have her back” and this couldn’t be truer in any industry. The stories in this newsletter and the posts in the #WomenInForestry campaign illustrate this. Some of these fabulous women who deserve a mention include FSA’s Judy, Suzanne and Precious who are often behind the scenes weaving their magic. I would be remiss not to include all the wives who support their husbands in the Forestry Sector, especially during the tough times, like fire season. And of course, Katy Johnson, who is always ready to support other women in the industry and, because of her hard work, we get to see and celebrate all these amazing, wonderful and inspiring women this month.
Former President Obama said, “So the simple truth is when women succeed, America succeeds. And we should be choosing policies that benefit women because that benefits all of us.” The same can be said for South Africa and its Forestry Sector.
I am looking forward to a year where anything is possible, particularly if you are a woman. My wish is to celebrate more women and more wins for women in August 2021.
FSA: TIPWG Secretariat