In 2020, Nayla Azmi and Jessie Panazzolo started the Srikandi Women Empowerment Fellowship for female conservationists to find their community in North Sumatra. Srikandi, meaning heroine, seemed like the perfect name to encompass a program that aimed to empower dedicated conservationists who risk their social standing to protect Indonesia’s remaining wildlife and forest ecosystems.
Jessie herself has been praised by Indonesian men as being “like a man” in her forest field site, as fieldwork is considered to be a masculine role as opposed to the social norm for women, which comprises caring roles such as parenting, teaching and housework. Simultaneously, Jessie and Nayla have both faced sexual harassment for being women in the field, facing the conundrum of being both too masculine and too feminine at once, according to society’s standards. Jessie and Nayla believe that women deserve to be praised on their own merits and skills, without being compared to other men in the field site or sexualised for their bodies.
The first Srikandi Fellowship funded four women to spend a week in Bukit Lawang with Nayla in a completely locally-run program comprising of talks, activities and community building between the women involved. Sponsored by Kathmandu, the four women had access to new gear and field clothes, and thanks to Nayla, the new gear paired nicely with a new wealth of experience, education and a safe space to grow in the industry.
The four women involved in the Srikandi fellowship in 2020 were; Selvi and Wulan, who founded Nature for change, Bridgita, who founded Sea Soldier, and and Leli, who founded Mata Air Padang Lawas. None of the women involved has ever had formal conservation training but they have already trailblazed through North Sumatra as community leaders in conservation.