Increasingly significant female presence in the forestry sector

On the occasion of the International Women's Day on 8th March, the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), the association that has been safeguarding trees and forests in Italy for more than 20 years, affirmed that responsible forest management does not exist without full gender equality. It asked three exceptional witnesses to talk about the gender gap - and the ways to overcome it - in the Italian forestry sector.

© Olya Kobruseva

Forestry consultants and technicians, lumberjacks, nurserymen, planners, managers and employees of companies in the wood sector: the economic world that revolves around forests has always been a “men’s business”, although something is changing. This is confirmed by the initiative of FSC® Italy, which on the occasion of the International Women’s Day on 8th March, takes stock of female empowerment in the world of forests.

Starting from the numbers: in the 27 countries of Europe, the forest economy today employs 446,000 men and only 63,000 women (12.4%) (2020 data from the European Institute for Gender Equality, EIGE), while in Italy just over 50,000 operators are employed, 5,500 of whom are women (10.8%). A few examples, however, speak of a scenario that is slowly changing, and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) asked three women in the sector about this: Maria Rita Gallozzi, vice-president of the Association and auditor; Alessandra Stefani, Director of the General Directorate for Forestry of the Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (Mipaaf); Maddalena Senter, president of the Confederation of University Associations of Forestry Students of Italy (Ausf Italia).

Promoting equal treatment and opportunities between women and men in all areas, including labour market participation, terms and conditions of employment and career advancement, is one of the European pillars of social rights: “Generally, however,” explains Maria Rita Gallozzi, “it is difficult to find women employed directly in the forests, both in Italy and in other countries: they are usually assigned to administrative activities in forestry companies or in timber companies”. EIGE confirms that no country in the world has completely closed the gender gap and that discrimination occurs on several levels, including issues such as employment rates, working conditions and wages. “I remember that during an audit in some Eastern European companies we found women working in flip-flops and without safety equipment, whereas their male colleagues were working on the machines. Of course, I can say that I have never been discriminated against in an obvious way in my work,’ she continues, ‘but it is true that a female forester is often greeted with a bit of scepticism.

Alessandra Stefani, head of the General Directorate for Forestry at Mipaaf, who has spent her life in the State Forestry Corps, also gives a significant account of how things are slowly changing. When I attended the faculty of forestry sciences,” the Ministry official told FSC, “only one in seven students was a woman; today there are about half. In fact, today the presence of women in university education exceeds that of men (57%, Source: Talents Venture 2021), but it stops at 37% in environmental, mathematical or technological courses, despite what emerged, for example, from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), which identified the environment as one of the 12 areas of greatest contribution for women. “But this is not enough: we need transversal changes and measures to support change, not only in the world of work but also in society: family policies, work-time balance, reorganisation of the welfare system and, more generally, a cultural leap on the part of everyone”.

Maddalena Senter, the young president of Ausf Italia, offers a glimpse into the future. Many girls enrol in forestry and many go on to become scholarship holders, PhD students and lecturers. The greater sensitivity of the younger generations to environmental issues has certainly helped to flatten the differences, concentrating on the goal: protecting and preserving natural capital. Of course, there are still myths, such as the myth of the male woodcutter in the plaid flannel shirt, chainsaw and beard, but they are just that: stereotypes unable to describe the changes taking place. When asked what is missing to achieve a more complete recognition of the role of women in the forestry sector, Senter has no doubts: “We are a forestry country: all we need is a greater awareness of this to achieve a greater appreciation of professional figures – and the role of women – in this field too.

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