Author: Tracy Melvin
With generous funding from the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust, Aaranyak, Global Wildlife Conservation, and the International Finance Corporation, the Women in Nature Network (WiNN) hosted their fourth annual global networking event, “WiNN India 2019”.
From January 28th to February 2, 2019, 60 women from 12 different countries came together in Guwahati, Assam - situated south of the eastern Himalayas along the Brahmaputra and Barak River valleys – a northeastern Indian treasure. Here, surrounded by success stories from a state that has conserved the one-horned Indian rhinoceros from near extinction and one of the last wild habitats for the Asian elephant, these women started building an international community of 21st-Century conservation practitioners. The event was held with the leadership of Purnima Devi Barman, WiNN partnered Aaranyak (www.aaranayak.org), a Guwahati based NGO, and with the Kamrup District Administration, Kamrup Police, and Assam Forest Department.
The conference was an immense success; participants felt mobilized and empowered as a sisterhood of conservation leaders, inspired through an intimate space for discussing our shared experiences, unique challenges, and collective hopes for the future of global conservation. The event centered around keystone messaging and field-based learning, including the amazing community women’s group organized by Purnima Barman, called the “Hargila Army” from Dadara, Pacharia, and Singimari villages - women who are saving the world’s rarest and Endangered species: the enormous 5-foot tall Greater Adjutant Stork, known locally as “Hargila” (“bone-eater”). Participants were honored to be a part of the Dadara Village Bird Rally with school children, the Hargila Army, and actual Hargila, circling above us.
The event also included prominent conservation speakers, panel discussions, four workshops, and a special visit from His Excellency, the Honorable Governor of Assam. The Sally Ride Conservation Symposium included four inspiring talks by women conservation leaders: Claudia Sobrevila, Program Manager for the Global Wildlife Program, World Bank, USA; Huyen Do, Gaia Nature Conservation, Vietnam; Shriparna Roy Saxena, Barkatullah University, Bhopal, India; and Dr. Oinam Sunanda Devi, Scientific Officer, Assam Biodiversity Board. Dr. Kashmira Kakati, wildlife biologist and activist; gave a riveting Keynote Presentation on the incredible diversity of life in Northeast India, and her equally incredible field experiences from over 20 years as a field biologist.
The Symposium also featured two panel discussions: “Creating women leaders in conservation” and “What emerging leaders need.” Workshops. Four workshops offered training for participants: 1) Community Conservation, by Purnima Devi Barman, India, 2) Beyond 3R: a way towards a zero waste life style in conservation, by Kanchana Weerakoon, Sri Lanka 3) Conservation Leadership by Jessica Deichmann and Leeanne Alonso, WiNN, and 4) Environment Education by María Susana Rocha Mier, Gente Sustentable A.C., Mexico. Intimate and powerful panel discussions included “Challenges and success stories from women in natural resource management”, and “Can women leaders have it all? Balance between work and personal life”. Lastly, a beautiful exchange of experiences included an early-morning, mist-laden community trip to Deepar Beel Wetland –a Ramsar Site frequented by wild elephants, 219 species of birds, and home to giant water lilies. We were also impressed by an evening presentation using puppetry as an environment education tool, with the performance of “How Green my world is…” by Drishana Kalita, and the talented women weavers of Dadara Village.