Every year, in August, South Africa commemorates Women’s Month. Tribute is paid to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women, which intended to control women and reduce women’s rights even further.
This year, Women Month is celebrated under the theme: “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience.” This links to a global campaign to achieve gender equality by 2030.
Diversity and Gender issues are among the responsible forest management priorities within the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC® ) scheme. FSC’s Global Strategy 2021-2026 makes the case to include both issues extensively within the strategy, showing to what extent FSC takes this as a crucial aspect of its overall approach.
Gender equality indicators have been part of FSC’s forest stewardship standards since 2012 with the introduction that year of a specific criterion on gender (C 2.2) in version 5 in the Principles and Criteria where it states ” Organizations shall promote gender equality in employment practices, training opportunities, awarding of contracts ,processes of engagements and management activities “.
FSC’s strive towards equality and human rights as embodied by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) Goal 5 on Gender Equality as a fundamental right, and ILO Core Conventions 100 and 111 which promote the right to equal treatment and elimination of discrimination within the workforce regardless of gender. It is also mentions that requirements on equal pay and treatment and elimination of discrimination are incorporated in both Forest Management and Chain of Custody standards.
In FSC certified operations, job opportunities shall be open to both women and men under the same conditions, and women are encouraged to participate actively in all levels of employment. Also, same wages are paid for the same work conducted by men or women, and certified operations shall encourage men to take paid paternity leave to support their families. This translates to a practice that FSC-certified forestry strives to provide gender and employment opportunities for women both within forestry concessions and forestry operations, with guaranteed equal rights and wages, therefore advancing in reaching the UN SDG Goal 5 on Gender Equality.
FSC also pays specific attention to gender in its staff composition. For example, 57% of the FSC workforce, attributed to staff not related to auditing nor certificate holders, is female. Closer to home, two of the three sub-regions coordinators are female, namely Ms Manushka Moodley and Mrs. Annah Agasha.
At FSC, a specific Task Force has been created to continue progress on Diversity and Gender as an ongoing process, advancing the issue within FSC’s staff, its network partners and the National Forest Stewardship Standard development groups, ensuring that it is given its due acknowledgement.
FSC has also been acknowledged by ISEAL as a good example of references to gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment in the content of specific ISEAL* members’ standards documents in its Gender Working Group for Sustainability Standards report.
It is very encouraging to see women appointed to leadership positions in the forestry, pulp and sawmilling sectors in South Africa. The “She is Forestry” initiative celebrates this and brings women in the industry together to share their experiences: https://www.forestrysouthafrica.co.za/women-in-forestry/
In our local communities, we are also seeing women playing a leadership role in the Inhlabathi/Avocado Vision funded program in Matatiele. Ma Khonzi Ngejane runs a clearing, harvesting and charcoal manufacturing SMME’s successfully in this region, and has achieved the respect of both female and male members of her team.
In as much as we celebrate National Women’s Month in South Africa, there is still much to do in closing the gender equality gap.
*ISEAL – International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance. ISEAL is an international non-profit organisation that codifies best practice for the design and implementation of social and environmental standards initiatives. (https://www.isealalliance.org)