Forests are Life

Bosnia: Mrs. Danica Cigelj was born in 1959 in Kreševo, a small town approximately 30 km from Sarajevo. She graduated from the Forestry Vocational School, after which she enrolled and graduated from the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Sarajevo. She holds a master’s degree from the Faculty of Forestry in Sarajevo, Department of Ecology.

She started her professional career in the Forestry Enterprise in Kreševo. Here, she gained concrete hands-on experience in forestry and was involved in all stages of production, from marking trees, doing field work for the preparation of forest production plans, to implementing and overseeing the execution of silviculture plans. She advanced in her career to become the Manager of the Forestry Management Unit.

Hands-On Manager

When she was Manager, one of her main tasks, as prescribed by the Law on Forests from 2002, was to merge the Bosniak and Croatian forestry enterprises into one, in a very short time and to establish production as soon as possible – she executed her work without any problems. Many of her colleagues, both forestry engineers as well as forestry workers, were amazed at how she managed it, probably thinking – she is a woman and can do this?

They saw her, in the field, in the woods, in the freezing winter, they were amazed because none of her predecessors, who were all male, ever wanted to go to the forest. Instead they just sent their deputies. She still wonders how her colleagues in this sector can manage to do their work from the office only, and how they are not interested in the situation in the field as well.  

Gender balance is Important

Today, she is the Assistant Minister of Forestry and Hunting at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Danica states that: “she feels that she had to work harder, both physically and mentally, to advance in her career to the position of Assistant Minister, regardless of her competences.”

“Being a woman in the forestry sector means that you have to know and work ten times harder, and still, we as women are not perceived as good as our male colleagues,” Danica states. In her country, no special importance is given to women in the forestry sector. When she started to work in 1984, it was very unusual to have a woman in forestry. In her view, “the issue of gender is important, not only for the Forestry Sector but also for the development of the entire society.

In her opinion, “women are more responsible, more diligent, more capable and have more knowledge and willingness to persevere in the fight for the common good. The big disadvantage is that we women do not lobby for each other; we do not vote for women; we are not in decision-making positions.” She is sure that the situation in the country, and certainly in the forestry sector, would be much better if we could have greater gender balance and greater influence of women.

Fighting for a Legal Framework

She notes that her whole life is connected to the forest and forestry and she says: “The forest is life.” Her most important internal mission is to legally regulate forest resources at the federal level through the Federal Law on Forestry, which has not been in place for the past 11 years. Equally important for her is to leave behind wealthier forest resources for generations to come. In her opinion, this is achievable only with good laws and a legislative framework that can guarantee responsible and sustainable forest management.

She thinks that the forestry sector is not given the significance it deserves, when considering that forest resources are one of the most important natural resources in the country. “The sector is left to itself, for example there are individuals and groups that are getting enormously rich, while forest resources are being depleted,” she says. Despite superhuman efforts of her and her colleagues in the Ministry to try to regulate the sector, unfortunately they are in a situation where some groups and individuals are “stronger” than the state and it is in their interest that the federal law is not passed.

This article is a part of the #womensustain campaign. The campaign contains the accounts of women from Nepal, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Vietnam, from technical experts, university professors and forest owners.