June 18, 2024

First female chainsaw operators make the cut at Knysna Municipality

3 min read

Forestry has historically been a male-dominated profession. While women may work in a management capacity, there has been little opportunity for them to work in the field. The battery-operated chainsaw is, however, levelling the playing field – and together, Husqvarna and the Knysna Municipality are now empowering women to build sustainable careers as chainsaw operators in the region.

The driving force behind this empowerment initiative is Pam Booth, who heads up Knysna Municipality’s Environmental Planning. Enabling more women to work in forestry has always been something that has interested her, but she previously never had the opportunity to turn this into a reality. In fact, this initiative evolved due to budgeting constraints in her department that saw the diminutive, grey-haired Pam picking up a chainsaw and qualifying as an operator herself!

Pam Booth in action

“A large portion of our departmental budget was being spent on buying and maintaining chainsaws, so I thought it was only fair to senior management and the operators to see for myself what was involved,” says Pam. “This meant experiencing everything: from buying the right model chainsaw to operating it and fixing it with the right parts and spares.”

Operator training

Pam has a hands-on approach and believes it’s important to understand and experience every aspect of invasive plant management, so when she heard about chainsaw training at a national Working for Water programme, her interest was piqued.

The result was that together with colleagues Nolubabalo (Babsie) Lufundo – who manages the municipality’s operational teams – and Beryl Poggenpoel, she underwent rigorous training and these three ladies became the first women to be qualified as chainsaw operators in the region.

“We’re not particularly big and strong, we’re not impressively built – we’re just everyday women who have decided we can do this,“ says Pam. “Both Babsi and I are moms. She has twins and a young boy and I have a son and daughter, and I’m sure our kids are as proud as we are that their moms are able to do this type of work.”

Lighter and easier to use

Part of the reason women can now work as chainsaw operators is that the battery-operated chainsaw is much lighter than the conventional petrol models. “Although we are not as physically strong as our male colleagues, we compensate for this by the way in which we handle a chainsaw. If we relied on our innate strength, we would not be able to cut for very long so we have to exercise more control, which develops patience and a deeper appreciation of the power of the machine,” she explains.

“I absolutely love the battery-operated chainsaw. I pick it up, switch it on and we’re ready to go. There’s no fuss. No fiddling with petrol mixes and no spillage. I also love the fact that it makes so little noise. It’s so quiet and unobtrusive that I can even use it on a Sunday morning when I’m cutting firewood,” Pam adds.

The future

Pam is delighted that since the initial group of three women qualified as chainsaw operators, a further six ladies have completed the training – and all indications show this has now started a movement in the area.

“Most of the young girls and women who see us operating a chainsaw are inspired to give it a try,” says Pam. “I love to tell them they can also do it, earn a better wage as well as the respect that comes with operating a machine that is traditionally only operated by men.”

When asked where she believes she will be in two years’ time, Pam says she wants to be right where she is, doing more and doing it better. With the innovations that Husqvarna continues to introduce to its battery-powered chainsaws and the ongoing requirements of the Knysna Municipality, it is guaranteed that Pam will be able to ensure even more women are empowered as operators.

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