Forestry has traditionally been one of the professions in which men have been most firmly and exclusively entrenched. It is not long since forestry schools - and hence the profession itself - were, in many places, open only to men. Arguments that the nature of the work makes it unsuitable for a woman persisted in forestry long after they had disappeared in other "manly" professions. The situation is changing fast. Women now make up a substantial part of the forestry student body in many if not most countries. And women are now practicing as foresters in both public and private service in sufficient numbers to have largely dispelled the earlier myths - though as contributors to this issue point out, these myths still persist in some places.
But the principal issues that need to be addressed in any consideration of forestry and women go far deeper than the question of career and job opportunities in the forestry profession, important though that is. More fundamental are issues relating to forestry and forest products in the lives of rural women in developing countries. Three-quarters of all families in developing countries depend on wood in cooking their food - fuelwood which is used and collected mainly by women. Forests are the source of foods enriching a predominantly cereal diet with protein, vitamins and minerals; they also yield a wealth of products that women can gather and sell. Plants growing in the forest provide most of the available medicines. Trees give shade to the home, and their foliage feeds the small animals that women widely keep around the home as a further source of food and income. In many countries, women are also involved in the manufacture of minor forest products at home.
The issue of women and forestry is thus centrally embodied in the broader relationships of women, food and agriculture highlighted in every country on 1984's World Food Day, 16 October. In devoting this issue of Unasylva to the World Food Day theme of "Women and Agriculture" as reflected in forestry, FAO wishes to do more than just raise awareness of the concerns and needs of rural women. Its purpose is to stimulate action to rectify past neglect. Similarly, this issue is intended to draw attention to what needs to be done to make forestry more relevant to rural women. Since fuelwood accounts for roughly nine-tenths of all wood used in the developing world, women are the principal users of forest products. As such, they would have good reason to expect forest management to be closely tailored to their needs. In practice, the reverse is usually the case. When foresters seek local advice they turn, as men, to the men in the household or village - men whose perceptions of what is needed or suitable will often be quite different from those of the women. Even when women act as heads of households, as is the case surprisingly often, they tend to be ignored in forest management. By failing to involve women, foresters not only fail to meet their needs but also lose the opportunity to benefit from their unique knowledge of what trees are appropriate.
As is argued in contributions to this issue, one of the measures needed to change this state of affairs is to increase the number of women foresters - particularly extension foresters - to facilitate communication and participation. But it would be unfortunate if women's interests came to be seen as just the concern of women foresters. An understanding of what needs to be done in this respect must pervade all of forestry. To this end, information assembled about women and forestry in different parts of the developing world is being disseminated by FAO. A short publication entitled Rural women, forest outputs and forestry projects, which contains the information available to date, invites readers to add more from their own knowledge and experience. In this special issue of Unasylva we extend the invitation to the wider audience of readers of this journal.