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Gender Mainstreaming in the Forest Sector



The Rovaniemi Action Plan for the Forest Sector in a Green Economy emphasizes the importance of gender mainstreaming for providing decent green jobs in the forest sector. It promotes the development of national gender strategies and incorporating gender aspects into relevant forest policy strategies. Gender aspects will also be included in monitoring, reviewing and analysing, the necessary skills of the workforce in the future. In more general terms the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) defined gender mainstreaming in 1997 as:

“the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality” (ILO, 2013).

Why Gender Mainstreaming is important

Gender inequality in the workforce persists in all countries. Women participate significantly less than men in the labour market. Whereas the male employment-to-population ratio was up to 72.2 per cent globally in 2013, the female ratio stood at 47.1 per cent. Furthermore, if women are part of the official employment sector, they earn only about 60 to 75 per cent of the average income of men (UN Women, 2015). The origins for the prevalence of male dominance in most societies across time and space are diverse and complex. They have led to structures and social habits that advantage men and disadvantage women (Jackson, 2016).  Activities that are perceived as masculine are often economically higher valued than so-called feminine activities. One way to overcome this gap, could be that women are encouraged to enter male dominated working areas. However, the inequality in the workplace could still persist unless men got also more involved in rather female dominated working areas. Thus, gender mainstreaming addresses both genders, not only women.

Gender mainstreaming can be foremost justified by the moral imperatives of equity and fairness, but there is also economic reason behind it. According to the OECD “greater gender equality in education attainment has a strong positive effect on economic growth” (OECD, 2012, p. 17). Especially in developing countries the empowering of women has important spill-over benefits for family households and communities, like food security, health and education (for more information see Forests, food security and gender: linkages, disparities and priorities for action by the FAO).

Women in the Forest Sector

Within the UNECE region, gender inequality in the forest sector might be confronted with different challenges. However, inequality in income and labour market participation persist here as well. Across Europe, women account for only 20% of the overall workforce. However, this varies between countries and sectors with a higher participation rate in the paper industry and a lower rate in the forestry sector itself (Lawrence, 2016). The very limited amount of data on gender issues in the forest sector make in-depth analysis a difficult task. The available information suggests “that women in the forestry sector are primarily employed in administrative and support roles, with ‘professional` women foresters tending to have specialist roles (i.e. research), or first-line junior management positions” (UNECE/FAO, 2006, p. 11). There are many reasons why the gender representation in the forest sector is as it is, including the following:


  • the forest sector is subject to the same perceptions of male and female roles that have endorsed gendered divisions between caregiver and gainful work.
  • as women choose forestry programs significantly less than men at university and other educational institutions, the industry has difficulties to promote forestry as a good career option for women.
  • as forestry is often perceived as a male dominated sector, women may find that their opportunities for career development may be hindered.

How to achieve more Gender Equality in the Forest Sector

Gender issues gain more and more attention across countries, levels and sectors. UNECE/FAO has identified different approaches and examples on how women can be attracted to the forest sector by policy tools, adjustments in the education system and building up networks of women in forestry. In Sweden, the Equal Opportunities Act from 1980 asks employers among other measures to strive to recruit applicants of the underrepresented sex of a certain defined working area. In addition to that, in 2004 the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs published a report about gender equality in the agricultural and forestry sectors providing data, for example, about women’s representation and income distribution. This data helped to further investigate the roots of inequality.

The role and the level of awareness of gender issues in a sector are also reflected by the role they play in education and training institutions. Courses on gender relations provide the foundation for further research on that topic. The forestry faculty of the University of Freiburg in Germany for example started to offer courses on women’s work in forestry, where female professionals shared their experiences in the forest sector with students in 1999.

Informal and formal networks can significantly contribute to the empowerment of women in the forest sector. One example of an existing network is a voluntary, non-governmental organization “Association of Women Foresters” in Slovakia, founded in 2001. Its main objectives are to protect and develop the personality of women, to organize meetings where women can exchange their views and experiences in the workforce among their peer group and to hold seminars on environmental and rural questions.

There is a lot of work to be done in order to achieve gender equality in the forest sector. However, the first step has been made in almost all countries: the awareness that gender equality is not something that comes automatically over time, but something that requires the will and effort of all (UNECE/FAO, 2006). 



Time for Action. Changing the Gender Situation in Forestry. Report of the UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Gender and Forestry (2006).


FAO (2013). Forests, food security and gender: linkages, disparities and priorities for action. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/mg488e/mg488e.pdf

ILO (2013). Gender Equality Tool in. Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/gender/newsite2002/about/defin.htm

Jackson, R. M. (2016). Analyzing the Persistence of Gender Inequality: How to Think about the Origins. In: Down So Long ...: The Puzzling Persistence of Gender Inequality. Book manuscript retrieved from http://www.nyu.edu/classes/jackson/sex.and.gender/Readings/DownSoLong--Persistence&Origins.pdf

Lawrence, A. (2016). Social aspects of the forest sector workforce: a review of research in support of the Rovaniemi Action Plan. 

OECD (2012). Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship: Final report to the MCM 2012. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/employment/50423364.pdf

UNECE/FAO (2006). Time for Action. Changing the Gender Situation in Forestry. Report of the UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Gender and Forestry. Retrieved from http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/timber/docs/publications-other/Time%20for%20Action_Gender%20and%20Forestry.pdf

UN Women (2015). Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment. Retrieved from http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures#notes