2023 International Women's Day
“The best way to innovate is to collaborate”
Wise words spoken by Rocio D. Condor-Golec, a Forestry Officer with FAO’s National Forest Monitoring Team from FAO'S Forestry Division, for the International Women’s Day theme of “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. Aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”, this year International Women’s Day is celebrating the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education.
The reasoning for it is simple - including women and other marginalized groups into digital and technology fields results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. However, major gender inequalities still persist in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and education. An UNESCO report found that only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields are female and only 28% of all of the world’s researchers are women.
This situation could place women even more at a disadvantage within the forestry sector. Given the realities that the sector is often already associated with men and contains various political, social, economic and cultural inequalities, women (and often other marginalised groups, such as indigenous peoples, the poor, youth, and handicapped, etc.) could face issues of double discrimination, further limiting their ability to fully participate in, contribute to, and benefit from REDD+.
It is precisely these inequalities and barriers which the UN-REDD Programme looks to address in its gender work, taking active steps to systematically promote gender equality and a human rights-based approach in its work since its formulation in 2008. And just as is the case with REDD+, maximizing the reach and power of STEM requires utilizing the widest pool of talent to promote innovation. Leaving out women and other marginalized groups in this process can create sub optimal results and is a loss of a resource for all. As recent research has illustrated, in 32 countries studied, just over a third of women were connected to the internet compared to almost half of men. This digital gender gap has a cost. A total of $1 trillion USD in GDP was missed out as a result of women’s exclusion from the digital world. In other words, a digital economy, with the full participation of women, is not just a good development policy, it is smart economics.1
This situation is one that Rocio knows well. “I remember that when I was a student at university, I was passionate about reading and learning more about biotechnology. In the first years of my career, I did not yet have access to the internet, however, when I had to do my thesis, I was able to access the internet for the first time and consult many scientific journals. This opportunity changed my life forever.” Access is power.
The root causes of these disparities come from multiple sources. Stereotypes in many schools and families lead to unfounded beliefs that boys are more likely to succeed in STEM-based jobs, that heavily male-dominated STEM careers are not suitable for women or that investing in education is more important for boys than for girls.2
“Girls and women can also excel in innovation and technology”, as Ret Thaung a Biodiversity and Science Manager from Cambodia so poignantly points out. In addition to this, women also bring their dedication to protecting forests within their efforts on REDD+ action as well. In fact, in rural areas, women play critical roles within forests, as users and custodians: women’s knowledge and practices of forests sustain household economies and healthy ecosystems alike. Their equitable involvement in REDD+ design, implementation, monitoring and reporting is crucial to REDD+’s success.
Brenda Nagasha, a biomass supervisor with Uganda’s National Forest Authority, demonstrates this critical role of women well. “It’s important to have accurate maps and reports on the status of the forests so that management teams can make wise decisions. For my job, I sometimes camp for thirty days straight in the forest and walk up to 15 kilometres a day. But I love nature and I am happy that through my work I can help protect the environment.”
1 Alliance for Affordable Internet (2021). The Costs of Exclusion: Economic Consequences of the Digital Gender Gap. Web Foundation. Available at: https://webfoundation.org/docs/2021/10/CoE-Report-English.pdf
2 Marcus, Rachel. “Reducing gender inequalities in science, technology, engineering and maths”. ODI. Accessed on 28 February 2023. Available at: https://odi.org/en/insights/reducing-gender-inequalities-in-science-technology-engineering-and-maths/