International Women's Day: Empowering women in travel

This International Women's Day (8 March), explore how travel can support one of the world’s greatest climate crisis mitigation tools: empowering women...

3 mins

Back in 2020, the independent climate research organisation Project Drawdown listed empowering women and girls in developing countries as the second of 76 solutions for curbing global warming. The project estimates that providing girls’ education and family planning could decrease carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 68.9 gigatonnes by 2050. 

It makes perfect sense when you consider the ripple effect of access to education, family planning and birth control, as slower population growth relieves stress on ecosystems and reduces emissions. The report also found that women in rural areas are more likely to farm sustainably, cultivating a greater variety of crops that support biodiversity and are resilient to climate change, rather than planting monocrops purely for profit. 

Alessandra Alonso, managing director of Women in Travel, an organisation that both trains and supports disadvantaged women to fill multiple roles in the hospitality industry, explains: “Women, globally, not only sit at the heart of communities but are educators. They teach children about the impact of the climate crisis and the importance of respecting our planet. It is impossible to divorce female empowerment and inclusion from sustainable development.” 

When you consider the role that travel can play in making a positive impact, seeking experiences that empower women is an excellent place to start. As with all responsible tourism, look for empowerment and long-term thinking rather than handouts. There are certainly plenty of options.

Female guides are finding more work in Mongolia thanks to Eternal Landscapes (Shutterstock)

Female guides are finding more work in Mongolia thanks to Eternal Landscapes (Shutterstock)

Meet women in Perugia, Italy with Trafalgar tours (Shutterstock)

Meet women in Perugia, Italy with Trafalgar tours (Shutterstock)

Social enterprise tour operator Eternal Landscapes Mongolia is a beautiful example of what’s possible. Having spotted how difficult it is for women to get on the ‘circuit’ of guides that dominate tours in Mongolia, Eternal Landscapes runs a free training programme for Mongolian women seeking work in tourism. Whether joining the training to find economic independence, learn new skills or gain confidence, Eternal Landscapes is proud to say that all its guides are female. These keen recruits also help shape itineraries, ensuring that they support the needs (including those of women) of local communities in the long term.

Large travel businesses are showing leadership too. Through its non-profit partner, Planeterra, G Adventures invests in community projects, including several involved in gender equality. In one of its most popular destinations, Peru, trips support a Women’s Weaving Cooperative owned by 46 local women and positively impacting 440 local people. Similarly, tour operator Trafalgar’s new Women’s Only Tours invite guests to meet and support female makers, producers and entrepreneurs, such as Marta Cuccia, a fourth-generation weaver in Perugia, Italy, and the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative, which makes pottery, soap and fabrics in Jordan. 

Hotels can also facilitate meaningful change. On the tiny island of Sumba in Indonesia, Maringi Ecolodge doubles up as a hotel school, training locals to ensure they benefit from the island’s burgeoning tourism. A recent graduate, Angeline Lamunde, sums up its benefits nicely: “Previously I was afraid of dreaming, but now I’m a person dreaming big!” And in London, Inhabit Hotels works with Women in Travel to offer disadvantaged female jobseekers a four-week placement and mentoring, an invaluable opportunity for refugees, immigrants or single mothers struggling to find work. 

Lastly, over in Sri Lanka, on the wild, coastal edge of Yala National Park, housekeeper Thushari Priyangika is enjoying her new role at the green-minded hotel Jetwing Yala. “This job means the world to me, as my husband lost his job during the pandemic. Now I am the sole breadwinner,” she explained. Thushari’s job is part of Jetwing’s new drive to provide roles for middle-aged women eager to pursue new careers post-pandemic and post-child-rearing. So far, the hotel group, which operates throughout Sri Lanka, has provided training and employment to 20 women. It’s one step among many heading in the right direction. 

G Adventures supports the Women's Weaving Cooperation in Peru (Shutterstock)

G Adventures supports the Women's Weaving Cooperation in Peru (Shutterstock)

Post pandemic struggles

Financing women through our travel choices is even more critical as destinations recover from the economic after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. As Zina Bencheikh, managing director of EMEA for Intrepid, explains: “The pandemic disproportionately impacted women working in travel because many of them work in informal roles and have no access to government support.” Intrepid’s ‘Women’s Expeditions’ is just one example of a trip offering local women not just financial support but making a meaningful connection – and there are others out there.

Helping Africa's women

Work is being done across Africa to empower women to work in travel. We shine a light on a handful of the businesses and foundations shaking up the stereotypes.

Female guides

Recognising that women are under-represented in the scores of expedition leaders ascending Mount Kilimanjaro, tour operator Exodus Travels has set up the Mountain Lioness Scholarship, which enables ten women to graduate as mountain guides each year.

All-women camp

Working life is dominated by men in Tanzania, particularly in rural areas and in the tourism sector. By becoming Africa’s first all-women-run safari camp, the Serengeti-set Dunia not only provides an opportunity to the 23 Tanzanian women it employs, but challenges the wider industry at large.

Anti-poaching

In 2019, the Zeitz Foundation launched East Africa’s first All-Women Anti-Poaching Ranger Academy at Segera Conservancy in Kenya. To date, 27 female rangers have passed the intensive training. 

Girls’ education 

Some 83% of women in rural Morocco are illiterate. Most never had access to schooling, which is why Education for All (run by Intrepid’s foundation) arranges safe boarding and nutritional meals for girls to attend school beyond their primary years. So far, 50 of its students have enrolled in further education.

Janet Sakala (Conservation South Luangwa)

Janet Sakala (Conservation South Luangwa)

Janet Sakala is a 35-year-old ranger working for Conservation South Luangwa’s (CSL) K9 Unit. She tells us why having the opportunity to become a ranger in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park changed her life.

“I became a ranger because of my love for nature. I have wanted to protect Zambia’s wildlife since childhood… but I lost my parents when I was 15 years old, and life was never the same again. Everything changed, to the extent that my sister, brother and I could not go to school for some time. Fortunately, things went back to normal when I started working for CSL. After spotting that they were looking for new recruits, I was selected for a three-month paramilitary training course. I am now the household breadwinner and able to support my relatives. I am one of CSL’s eight K9 Unit detection dog handlers. We are a special team because of how unique our work is. Thanks to the dogs’ sense of smell, we can detect illegal wildlife products, such as bushmeat, animal skins and ivory, no matter how well hidden they may be. What may take humans hours or days to find, the dogs sniff out in seconds. This makes us one of the most effective anti-poaching teams working in the area. I am so proud of this work.”

We spoke to Janet via Holly Budge, founder of World Female Ranger Week, which salutes women working to protect nature.

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