I only experienced equal treatment

Tanja Sparrewath Hansen is 29 years old and works as a forester at Danish Forestry Extension in one of the five local forestry association offices located in the middle of Jutland. “My background is not typical for a forester; I did not grow up in the countryside. But the Forest and Landscape Engineer education sounded interesting. I found it appealing because it offered a great variation and because it was based on class teaching and outdoor teaching and not on lectures,” Tanja explains. Tanja’s husband is also a forester and works for one of the other local offices at Danish Forestry Extension.

Tanja started working for Danish Forestry Extension as an intern, as a part of her four year education and she became really fond of the job:  “It is quite nerdy to get really emersed into the subject of how the forest works and no two work days look the same. We advise people based on their interest in their own private forest. One person might wish to use his forest for production, another sees his forest as his pension fund and yet another wants to use the forest for hunting, which means that we need to clear some areas for hunting trails. Members have different wishes and we collaborate with them on that.”

The only female forester

In Tanja’s office, there are only male foresters and when she began her work she imagined that she would have to prove herself that she was as good as the men, but that was fortunately not the case.

“The main focus is what I can offer as a professional forester based on my education, not as a woman. I have sometimes met surprised looks from my colleagues and from private forest owners as to how I ended up here. But when I tell them that I am here because of my interest in nature and people, most of them can easily relate to that, and then they don’t ask any more questions,” Tanja says.
Tanja met a similar attitude when she was studying: “The main focus was on how good you are at the subject matter. I was not one of the best, I might as well admit that, but that was the focus and not that I was a woman. As a point of departure, I was equal to everyone else, I was not seen as different just for being female,” Tanja reflects.

Women don’t talk about Christmas trees

Tanja mostly works in the Christmas tree production and both here, and in the forest sector in general, she experiences that the vast majority are men. “We live a bit in the old times, where the man’s job was to look after the forest. We do have female members with an interest in forestry, but in my experience most times they have inherited the land, or they are widows taking over from their late husband. I don’t think I have met a woman who went out alone to buy land that included a forest out of their own interest,” Tanja explains and continues: ”Women don’t talk about growing Christmas trees. They don’t have friends who have forests, so therefore it is not a topic which is discussed in female circles, and for this reason I don’t think women ever think about having a forest or even see it as a possibility.”

Tanja would like to be part of showing other women that the forestry sector could be a place for them. “I think it is a pity, if they just reject the thought, because it is a typical male profession and male dominated, that they let themselves be limited by this. I feel it is my duty to say “it isn’t like that at all.”

According to Tanja, nowadays, there are a lot of women studying forest and landscape engineering, but most of them choose the branch called Open Landscapes and Nature Management, not traditional forestry. “I remember when had I to make the choice between the nature subjects and forestry. Forestry sparked an interest in me that I didn’t know I had. It was something I just had to investigate, even if I was different from the others in my class,” Tanja smiles: ”It is easy to imagine that nature subjects are softer topics, but in reality I don’t think they are. The demands are the same in both subjects.”

On the job, Tanja does not see herself as having a different approach or way of doing things just because she is a woman: “It is more the individual personality related abilities that are different. We are different as individuals, not by gender. We actually work a lot with personality profiles at my work, that is how we create work groups, instead of considering the gender distribution in the group.”

Women and the Climate

It is obviously important as a forester to consider climate and climate change, and in this area Tanja also does not feel that gender plays a major role: “I don’t think that there is a difference between how men and women work with climate, not where I am. We are more influenced by our educational background and our job, and that is the point of departure when we discuss the topic with the private forest owners. I base my opinion on where I come from education-wise and where I grew up.”

I don’t think I have met a woman who went out alone to buy land that included a forest out of their own personal interest,”

Also the vision about sustainability that Tanja’s workplace holds plays a role in the way she approaches climate change: ”At Danish Forestry Extension, we advocate that we use the forest in the fight against climate change, without having to convert it all to undisturbed forests. Some forest areas can be designated as undisturbed forests but for the majority we have to find a balance. I experience that my male colleagues and I agree to a large extent.”

In relation to the need to incorporate gender in the development of the forest sector in the future, Tanja believes that it would be constructive to incorporate the two sexes better, but she does not see this as a necessity. However, she would welcome a forum for forest professionals that cuts across the public sector, that has more women, and the almost entirely male dominated private sector ”private and public sector work differently with the forest, so it is important for the future of forestry that we gain insight into each other’s approaches and ways to see the forest.”

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.