If you Stand Out – Use it to be Heard

Bosnia and Herzegovina: In the beginning of her carrier in Global forestry Elmedina Kasesevic, 39, felt that she was “sticking out” because she is a woman, and she decided to use that extra attention to make her voice heard.

Name: Elmedina Kilašević
Age: 39
Education: Master’s Degree in Forest Policy and Economics. Fulbright Scholar at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Profession: Senior Program Officer, Forest Conservation Program, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Elmedina: “There are two sides to my relationship with forests. The first one is a professional connection. We know that we all depend on forest ecosystems and the services they provide. Forest dependent people rely on forests for shelter and food, and their daily survival.  Communities more broadly depend on forests for clean air and water and protection from natural disasters. And we as a global community look at nature and forests for solutions to the global environmental crises such as climate change and biodiversity loss, while also wishing to promote sustainable and green development. I utilize this particular understanding of the importance of forests to human health, livelihoods, and well-being every day to come up with solutions and influence governments’ and private sectors’ behavior to adequately utilize forest resources.

The second connection with forests is a personal one. Although my workdays are mostly spent in the office or travelling (pre-COVID), where I sometimes end up in the forest, I go back to the forest in my free time to seek peace, inspiration, and adventure whenever I can. Nothing can ever make us feel more connected to life than experiencing all kinds of forests. Forests are majestic! This may sound a bit nerdy, but my tree and plant species guessing game while hiking through the forest brings me great pleasure.

That being said, we need to always recognize the connectivity of nature and regard forests through its broader landscape and connections with other types of ecosystems.

Focus on Global Forestry

I work on forestry and forest conservation issues all around the globe. Starting from my home country, Bosnia, to the Western Balkans region, and then to Latin America, East Africa, and some parts of Asia. For most of my career, I have worked in multidisciplinary teams. On some occasions, I am the only forester in the room. Then again, sometimes I am the only woman in a group of foresters. Having both affiliations is an interesting experience. At the beginning of my career, I felt that I was “sticking out” more because of it. I decided to see this as a good thing: If you have more eyes on you, use it to be heard, and add value.

For the most part, the forestry profession has been traditionally dominated by men in most places and geographical areas where I have worked. This trend has been changing in recent decades, however, at varying speeds. The forestry profession has been evolving more rapidly. More and more evidence shows that openness to other sectors brings progress to face the contemporary challenges of managing forest resources with changing societal demands on them. Women, and young women, in particular, powered by multidisciplinary education, and various technological developments all around the world have become more involved and have been taking the stage in this sector.

Additionally, there are many different ways a woman with a forestry background can add value to forest-related issues while working in what is traditionally considered the forestry sector. They work in public, non-profit, and private organizations and at various levels, as policymakers, scientists, managers, communicators. I would even go as far as to say that the level of forest sector development correlates to women’s participation in the sector.

Same treatment is not equal treatment

I don’t think that women and men differ in terms of motives, goals, skills and practices in the forestry sector. Women and men are not binary categories. We all come in ranges, and, as people, we can have a similar or different set of skills and motivations. Importantly, we may need a different kind of support to achieve our similar goals – motherhood and raising children are good examples. This is why it’s vital to support our women colleagues appropriately. Just because women might be treated the same, that does not mean they are being treated equally.

Further, I do not think that women have different competencies. But, importantly, we need 100% of us, both men and women, fully employed and challenged to respond to the magnitude of issues facing our forests and our society from climate change and the poverty crisis.

Sisterhood to gain equality

If you ask me if I have been confused as somebody’s assistant or secretary instead of being a supervisor, asked to take notes in a meeting by a male colleague, or heard that my idea was brilliant only after a male colleague repeated it, then I would say yes!  However, I’m sure that many women, including those reading this right now, can relate. This is not inherent to the forestry sector only. There are still so many obstacles that women face in the professional world, and they are more felt the higher women aim with their professional careers. This is the reason why sisterhood is meaningful. That women support each other, mentor other women, and always keep the pressure on for a better and more just society for both our girls and our boys.”

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.