Insights and Analysis

The Women Defending Indonesia’s Forests

March 8, 2023

By Tracie Yang and John Rieger

The Aceh Women Forest Defenders patrolling the Leuser Forest. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Its name means “above the clouds.” The Leuser Ecosystem is a mountainous tropical forest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Its rugged 6 million acres are the last place on earth where the highly endangered Sumatran elephant, rhino, tiger, and orangutan still roam together in the wild. But the forest is also under pressure from poachers and illegal loggers, who strip the land of resources, causing floods and landslides that choke vital water sources and endanger villages downstream.

Now, a band of forest defenders, organized and led by women, is demonstrating that social forestry can stop this kind of destructive exploitation by engaging the communities whose lives are entwined with the health of the forest. Beginning with a handful of women in the Aceh village of Damaran Baru, 1,000 forest defenders in 15 villages now patrol the forest. Their remarkable success is due, in part, to an Indonesian NGO called HAkA, which helped the village women win the government’s blessing to manage their forest. Joining us today to talk about social forestry and the Women’s Forest Defenders movement is the cofounder of HAkA, Farwiza Farhan.


On April 26, The Asia Foundation will honor HAkA and the Aceh Women Forest Defenders in New York with our annual Lotus Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to women’s and girls’ empowerment and gender equality in Asia and the Pacific. We encourage you to learn more.

Watch a short film on the work of the HAkA and the forest defenders.

(Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Related locations: Indonesia
Related programs: Lotus Circle, Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality


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