Women Making a Difference: lively debate and shared testimonies at EFIMED’s Scientific Seminar

When planning for this year’s Scientific Seminar, the EFIMED Advisory Group decided to tackle the issue of gender and women’s participation head on by devoting the entire day to discussing gender issues in forestry.

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93 participants from 16 countries attended the Seminar in Tunis on 14th June entitled “Women Making a Difference: Women in science and innovation working towards sustainable natural resources management in the Mediterranean region”. With 19 women and 1 man presenting and participating on panel discussions, statistics were turned on their heads with two thirds of delegates female. However, like the AGORA Final Conference, there was a refreshing blend of presentations and interventions from established researchers and the next generation.

Photo: Sarah Adams

Ms Sonia Ben Saida, Head of Cabinet in Tunisia’s Ministry of Women & Family, opened the seminar before inviting the President of COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology), Dr Ángeles Rodríguez Peña, to deliver the opening address. Dr Rodríguez Peña described opportunities available through COST’s intergovernmental funding framework and called on women to become better networkers for improved career progression. Dr Gillian Petrokofsky from the University of Oxford, UK, reflected on women’s participation in evidence-based forestry, looking at sources of bias and analysis of research for decision-making. A panel discussion followed on women making a difference in research. 

During the second morning session the role of women in innovation rural areas and sustainable management of natural resources was discussed with presentations from women working in Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria and across countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region). Both sessions gave rise to lively debate and discussion from delegates – both male and female.

In the afternoonSS_NL6.jpg : 90.5703125Kb, Dr Laura Secco of the University of Padova presented data on gender structures in forestry organisations in Italy while Dr Soukeina Bouraoui and Dr Saber Ben Mbarak introduced case studies from the Zaghouan forest in Tunisia, where the Centre of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) is supporting 180 women in microcredit, agricultural development, capacity building and water resource management. The afternoon session concluded with a panel discussion, “Focus on the future!” by five young scientists and practitioners from Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon. 

Photo: Sarah Adams

As the day progressed, women increasingly spoke from the floor to share their own story: experiences of challenge and frustration were aired alongside inspirational testimonies of significant achievement, robust science and innovative practice; more than one delegate expressed the view that she did not experience gender discrimination in her professional life. These women also paid tribute to male colleagues who had mentored, supported and inspired them. Indeed, many male delegates shared enlightened perspectives on the topic and demonstrated a real commitment to gender equality in forest research and practice.

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Closing the conference, Prof. Dr. Margaret Shannon (Project Coordinator, FOPER II), recounted how she has never seen gender as a valid obstacle to learning and achievement. From insisting on work experience in the US Forest Service to challenging the establishment to accept women in leadership roles and organising the first national conference of the Society of American Foresters on Women in Natural Resources in the mid eighties, she described a lifelong commitment to transgressing gender boundaries.

Of course, as was acknowledged repeatedly, the time to celebrate will be the day when the need to discuss gender imbalance will be obsolete, when there is no longer a need to create a platform specifically for women’s participation. For now, this Scientific Seminar represented a significant advance for women in Mediterranean Forestry and their male colleagues who support and work alongside them.                                                               Photo: Sarah Adams

More information: Margaret Shannon, name. surname@efi.int

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