On the 29th of October 2020, the kick-off event entitled "Forests in Women's Hands - Yes, We Can" gathered more than 130 participants from 17 countries. The purpose of the conference was to present the new Fem4Forest initiative in the Danube Region, present examples of good practice of women in forestry in the EU and beyond, promote further integration of women in forestry and start talks and establish a new stakeholder network in the forestry sector. The participants were forestry experts, decision-makers, and other stakeholders in the forestry sector from all partner countries. The majority of participants were women (88%), but also there was a significant number of men (12%) which shows their interest and understanding of the importance of the topic as well.
The conference was opened by the lead partner, Dr. Nike Krajnc from Slovenian Forestry Institute (GIS), by welcoming all projects and associated partners. Nike shortly presented an overview of the project structure naming all relevant project data such as the number of project partners (14), project objectives, methodology, and main outputs. At the end of her presentation, she asked all participants two questions:
Do you agree that the more active role of woman unlocks the door of better practices and increased capacities of the forest sector?
Do you agree that more efforts should be given for better integration of women into decision-making processes?
The response to these questions was incredible: 97% of the answers were affirmative!
After Nike's introductory words, it was time for the second lecture entitled: "Women in forestry in Austria: Facts and examples of good practice" and the presenter was Dagmar Karisch-Gierer from FAST Pichl, Austria.
Dagmar shared her experience working in the Forest Training Center Pichl and her look at the forestry sector regarding women in Austria. Forest Training Center Pichl works hard to build an image for women in forestry and make women in forestry visible, by offering training for personal and professional skills. Currently, the total share of female participants in training and education in Austria is 27%, and at the Federal College for Forestry, there are only 17% of female students enrolled for the year 2020/21. However, this is much more than before (2008-2018), where there were only 6% of female participants. Dagmar underlined that now is a good time to develop new offers with gender-sensitive access and raising awareness in the context of gender equality together with professional and experienced partners. Dagmar ended her presentations with a question for all participants regarding education and training for women in the forestry sector. The answers were interesting, as 34% of them stated that they have such education and the same share that they do not have such an education. The participants did not know does this type of education exists in their country.
Lecture number three was "Women for forestry in Bavaria", presented by Kathrin Böhling and Beatrix Enzenbach, from LWF, Germany.
Kathrin gave a brief introduction with background info on forests and forestry in Bavaria. In Bavaria, from the total number, 30% of forest owners are women and 30% of graduates from forest study programs are female. However, in Bavarian forest administration works only 14.8% female workers and in Bavarian state forest companies, 16.7%. Kathrin presented a set of activities for awareness-raising, career development, and sustained networking to build a more active role of women in the forestry sector in Bavaria. Some of the activities were: collaboration with local state offices to facilitate female ownership in ongoing activities, creating more training opportunities for women, organizing annual female foresters’ meeting, etc. Beatrix explained why female forest owners in Bavaria started to network and what are the benefits from it. Beatrix also introduced participants to The Community of Interest of Female Forest Owners that is a great example of a network that wants to give a voice to women in forestry. Kathrin and Beatrix asked participants of the conference whether women in the forestry sector should be taught specific leadership skills, a large majority of participants (85%) answered that they agree.
The next lecture, fourth in a row, was entitled: "Does the forest require a man or is it enough of a woman? Reflections based on 25 years of research experience in the field", presented by Gun Lidestav, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden.
Gun gave a personal view on a list of very interesting and frequently asked questions, such as:
How does women’s forest ownership differ from men’s forest ownership?
Does women’s management practice differs from men’s management practice?
Do women forest owners think and act ”greener”?
How does the process of socialization into forest ownership (forestry professions) look like for girls/women and boys/men?
Is gender equality a goal or a means?
After the presentation, Gun asked all gathered whether gender affects their interest in the forest and forestry. Half of the participants said that gender has a moderate impact on their interest in the forest and forestry.
Lecture number 5 was presented by Ajla Dorfer from Forestry and Environmental Action, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The lecture was entitled: "Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina from college to forestry service - a reality". Ajla gave a brief overview of education institutions for forest professionals in BiH and introduced participants to the organization of the public forestry sector in BiH.
The forestry sector in BiH is an extremely traditional industry (economy branch). Public perception is that forestry is considered as primarily a physical work intended for men. Approximately every third person who enrolls in forestry-related high school or faculty is a woman. The employment of women in the sector varies from about 10% in the FBiH to 20% in the RS. Women’s political participation is very limited – women in decision-making positions are few. Also, there is a small number of female PFOs due to the traditional patriarchal lifestyle where women rarely share the land with husbands and/or they give up their inheritance rights. There is a lack of initiatives or budgetary support which would encourage women to work in private forest sector or a rural area as well as lack of programs for women's empowerment in forestry and rural area in general. Because there is much to be improved regarding women in the forestry sector in BiH, Ajla underlined the importance of initiatives such as Fem4Forest.
Lecturer Ajla Dorfer asked the participants if they think that women in their country have fewer chances of success in the forestry sector. As many as 66% answered that this was the case, 11% were not convinced, and 23% thought it was not true.
The final and fifth lecturer was Jess Kaknevicius, Co-Founder of Women in Wood, Canada. The lecture was entitled: "Women in Wood: Breaking Down Barriers in Forestry".
Jess shared her experience on how it is to be a founder of "Women in Wood" and emphasize the importance of building a community of women who work in, with, and for the woods, encouraging women to pursue careers in the forest, wood, and related sectors and how much is important that successful professionals in their career help others, by collaborating for
success, sharing information, improving skills, and navigating the workplace.
Jess asked the question: "Do you think that social networks play an important role in connecting, educating, and advancing women in forestry?" 90% of participants agreed with this, which means that social networks are the right way to reach the target audience.
We are pleased that we achieved the desired effect with the conference, as the participants stated that they are very satisfied with the content itself. Most participants believed that we need an initiative such as Fem4Forest in this part of Europe, so everyone warmly welcomes it.
All presentations from the kick-off event can be found at the following link: http://www.interreg-danube.eu/approved-projects/fem4forest/documents .