The International Forestry Students Association (IFSA) was proud to participate in the inaugural Women’s Forest Congress through our seven attendees with two joining in-person and five online. Apsana Kafle and Kamana Poudel (Regional Representative from North America) are both from Nepal and made up the in-person delegation. Theresa Klara Loch from Germany, Barbara Öllerer from Austria, Kadijatu Sheriff, Clarissa Chimeremeze Enyi from Nigeria, and Baliqeez Adebisi from Nigeria all joined remotely. We learned of the Women’s Forest Congress while at an international “Forests in Women’s Hands” conference back in 2021. The theme of the conference was ‘connecting women in forestry,’ and that is exactly what happened as through that networking we became aware of WFC.
If you are not yet familiar with IFSA, our mission is to empower and enrich forestry students’ education. Our new Gender Sub-Commission has been advocating for gender equality within the forest sector. Most recently, the Gender Sub-Commission published the IFSA Open Letter on Gender and Forest Education which encourages gender equality in forest education, a gender-aware learning environment, and strengthening FINTA* within forestry science and practice. During the congress, our in-person delegates had the opportunity to broadcast this open letter as well as gather positive feedback, ideas, and suggestions from other attendees.
At the Women’s Forest Congress, we were thrilled to meet women representing academia, industry, government, and non-profit organizations who were at different stages of their career while we connected and discussed how women can shape the future of forestry. Unlike other forestry congresses and conferences, this congress not only highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion in forestry, but also emphasized storytelling over purely data-driven reports and facts. Women of different ages, color, ethnic background, and skills make up an increasingly bigger part of the forestry sector today. The congress brought them all together to weave plans and strategies for the future of the forest through their own personal and professional experiences – all while growing our collective strength to be allies and support systems.
We found several aspects that made this congress unique. First, the space allowed participants to be vulnerable, allocating spaces for creativity, innovation, wellness, and even for nursing mothers. Second, there was an ease and approachability of all participants despite difference in level of career. Thirdly, was the confidence with which the participants shared their stories and experiences and thereby inspired each other. This contributed to the energy throughout the conference, which was radiating and amazing. Finally, the fact that the whole conference was organized by FINTA* who also made up the majority of participants, made it a very special and empowering event, especially in comparison to traditional forestry conventions.
As noted by the virtual attendee Baliqeez Adebisi “Through joining online, I was able to get a feel of major events for the days, communicating with the online community, sharing our thoughts virtually and even participating in virtual dance sessions. The only aspect I missed was the food and adventure, but it was certainly a great starting point, a model to the world of what is possible when we choose to change the status quo.” In-person attendee, Aspana Kafle, spoke about how she loved the space the congress provided, saying “I could walk in any room with my identity and be confident to share my story and ideas about making a better forestry sector for tomorrow.”
As an international student association, our participants would love to see more countries and regions represented at the next Women’s Forest Congress, especially from the global south. We can imagine space for even more young FINTA* panelists and speakers representing young future foresters and professionals in the discussion.
With the overall IFSA vision for “a world that appreciates forests,” our dream is to have all the people and societies on the earth recognize the full worth of forests. Women’s Forest Congress was a wonderful event that aligned with these goals. We hope to see you next time for more connecting, empowering, and educating the next generation of leaders.
1 We use the term ‘women’, as it has been the phrase chosen by the Women’s Forest Congress. However, we as IFSA encourage to apply a more inclusive language through using the abbreviation FINTA*: Female, Inter-sex, Non-binary, Trans and A-gender. The * stands for all those who do not find themselves in any of the letters in the designation and are marginalized in the patriarchal society.