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Women Pioneers in Forestry and Sustainability


According to the career website Zippia, only 19% of forestry workers are women. Although women make up a small percentage of workers in the forestry industry, their impacts are incalculable. This Women's History Month, let's look back on the impressive and influential careers of several women foresters, environmental activists, and leaders worldwide.

  • Margaret Stoughton Abel was the first woman forester in the United States Forest Service. She graduated from Iowa State College in 1930 with a bachelor's degree in Forestry and worked at the Appalachian Forester Experiment Station in Asheville, North Carolina. Abel published an article called "A Glimpse of the Appalachian Forest Experiment Station" in 1933. In "A Glimpse..." Abel describes wildlife studies and sites along a tour of the station and research conducted there. Although she left the forest service in 1937, Abel helped make way for women in forestry.
  • Wangari Maathai broke barriers on another continent by being the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate. While serving as the chairperson of the National Council of Women (1976), she developed a grassroots organization called The Green Belt Movement, "an environmental organization that empowers communities, particularly women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods." GBM encourages women to participate in reforestation in their local communities by planting seedlings and trees, which have numerous benefits. Maathai has significant accolades to her credit, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for Sustainable Development, Democracy, and Peace. According to the Nobel Institute, "she saw tree-planting in a broader perspective which included democracy, women's rights, and international solidarity."
  • In Honduras, activist Berta Cáceres fought for environmental justice for indigenous people, namely against illegal logging and mining in the rainforests. With the help of other activists, she stopped construction on a dam (Agua Zarca) that violated indigenous peoples' rights to water, food, and medicine. As a result, she received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for protecting freshwater in South and Central America. Cáceres was tragically murdered in her home in 2016, and seven men were found guilty of her murder and sentenced to 30-50 years. Nevertheless, her activism gave her international standing and recognition throughout the Americas.
  • Lastly, Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet is the Co-Founder of Cameroon Ecology and President of The African Women's Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF). Her work with REFACOF promotes gender equality in forest management across 20 African countries. The group's focus is to secure land tenure for women, especially as they battle climate change and poverty. She is also a member of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration advisory board, which aims to revive deteriorated landscapes. In 2022, she was honored as a Champion of the Earth in the Inspiration and Action category, the United Nation's highest environmental honor.

If you're interested in helping women in Forestry, you can support the Women's Forest Congress or the Women's Earth Alliance.