I’ll never forget my first sequoia tree. We were walking through a forest in Drumnadrochit, heads full of the Loch Ness Monster when we stumbled upon the most marvellous tree I had ever seen. It was unfathomably tall; its branches reaching up as if to touch the Giant’s Kingdom, its trunk vast enough to make a comfortable home for some fairies. The tree was so grand the air itself stilled around it, encasing it, and indeed me, in a pocket of silent reverie and awe. My partner, the facts guy, picks up a pine cone and gently throws it against the tree, an act that produces a satisfying thunk. Sequoias have naturally fireproof bark which is spongy and sits forwards from the trunk, which is why it sounds so hollow. I reached out my hand to touch the bark, praying first for permission from this God of all trees.
Many people have spiritual or awe striking experiences when walking through forests. Perhaps this comes in the form of serenity, or joy, or perhaps it brings out the playfulness in us. However, as with all ecosystems, forests are hugely affected by gender dynamics.
Forests have been traditionally viewed as spaces dominated by men where they make all the decisions and do the majority of the forestry. But, women have always played a role in forest management, from collecting resources such as firewood and water for their homes, to mapping and understanding the forest ecosystem. In many countries, women are the primary caregivers and the health and well-being of forests are crucial for their livelihoods and the sustainability of their communities. The separation between men as decision-makers and the women community leads to differing priorities in conservation and management, as discussed in our mangrove entry. This is especially important now that climate change has had such a massive impact on forests worldwide. Integrating gender perspectives into forest management policies is crucial to prevent forest degradation and loss of biodiversity. Additionally, promoting women’s participation in forest-related activities and leadership positions can help ensure that their perspectives are heard and their knowledge is utilised.
Indigenous peoples manage at least 25% of the world’s lands and steward around 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Through ancestral knowledge and women-led entrepreneurship, indigenous communities consistently manage forest lands better than governmental bodies. Preserving their culture and protecting the heritage of their families is interwoven with sustainable and just forest management techniques; one cannot survive without the other.
Feminist theory provides us with a unique way of looking at the forest itself. Ecological feminism, or indeed any feminism which addresses ecological issues, is complex and multifaceted. One more essentialist ecofeminist view argues that women are more in touch with nature and have a greater understanding of it due to their personal experience of symbiotic relationships during pregnancy. This of course ignores the experiences of trans women, and other women who cannot, or choose not to, have a pregnancy, as well as children. Another eco-feminist view rejects the ‘masculine logic’ of decisions, which prioritise human advancement over the wellbeing of the planet. They argue that not factoring the planet into all political and social decisions is a massive oversight. As women are also frequently not factored into those decisions, some feminist theorists claim that they have a greater affinity with the exploitation of the rights of the planet, and suggest a more inclusive approach to decision-making. This is taken one step further through the Gaia hypothesis, which rejects the view of the earth as an inert resource, proposing that it is instead a self-regulating, dynamic system that provides physical environments for living organisms to thrive. Essentially, the Earth is not a dead thing you can claim.
Forests are great communities of individual trees, shrubs, plants, and organisms that thrive on togetherness and interdependence. In many ways, forests are a lens through which to view our own society. Just like in the forest, our communities are diverse and profit from the diversity of thought, religion, culture, class, and creed. We all depend on each other for the provision of our needs such as food, shelter, and security, as well as friendship, love, and justice. However, there are also power dynamics at play. In the forest, some species dominate others or are more valued but nature finds a way to enable the lowest of the food chain to survive just as well as the highest. In our society, certain groups, usually white, cis-het, able-bodied men, hold more power than others. To reach equity, this power imbalance must be addressed.
There is so much that could be said about the amazing trees and forests that bless our earth. But if you take away one thing from this entry, let it be this: forests have been nourishing us since life began. Their oxygen lets us breathe, their shade protects us, and their beauty inspires us. Let us not destroy something that has only ever given us power, let us instead look to the wisdom of the trees on how to govern and care for our own society.