The journey towards gender equality in the developed world is one thing—but in the developing world, it’s another thing entirely. Lola Akinmade Åkerström explores some of the global initiatives that are empowering women, and asks what travelers can also do to help.
Decades ago, the mere mention of the year 2020 would have brought with it bold, hopeful and high-tech visions of the future—from innovation and artificial intelligence to societal evolution, sustainability, and equity.
We’re finally in 2020, but one issue we thought we’d have figured out by now—gender equality—continues to be a work-in-progress.
While many countries, especially the Nordics, are making strides when it comes to gender equality, women continue to be disenfranchised and marginalized across the globe—particularly in the developing world.
In some countries, women have only a fraction of the rights of men. We still earn less than men for work of equal value and comparable skill sets. We continue to face gender discrimination when it comes to establishing our own sustenance through business ownership.
According to the Women, Business, and the Law 2020 report from the World Bank, which analyzed laws and regulations affecting women’s economic opportunity in 190 economies: “Equality of opportunity allows women to make the choices that are best for them, their families, and their communities. It is also associated with improved economic outcomes.”
This means bringing women in as active contributors to the economy of a country is not only the right thing to do, but essentially one of the smartest moves a country can make financially.
In the report, one of the countries that has exhibited the most progress towards gender equality since 2017 is Nepal. I’m not surprised by this. In the Nepali foothill community of Panauti, I’ve witnessed first-hand the economic empowerment among its women. By collectively banding together and opening up over 17 Nepali households as host mothers for homestays, the women are empowering and enriching themselves through tourism.
“The goal is to really prepare the next generation of women for employment and further studies.”
Hala Benkhaldoun, PEAK Morocco
Supporting women today is more crucial than ever, and the travel industry can play a significant role in opening up space for local women and helping grow their personal economies as well. “Tourism creates one in 10 of the world’s jobs,” says Amy Bolger, interim general manager at The Intrepid Foundation, the charitable arm of Intrepid Travel. “We see travel as an opportunity—and our responsibility—to improve livelihoods, especially for women.”
That’s why The Intrepid Foundation highlights initiatives creating economic opportunities for women through tourism jobs and training women to fill them. This ethos is reflected by The Foundation’s parent company, too: In 2017, only 150 of Intrepid Travel’s leaders were women. Intrepid doubled that number by mid-2019.
Through their Be the Change campaign, The Intrepid Foundation has raised almost AUD $30,000 from Intrepid travelers. “We wanted to put the spotlight on our projects that specifically target women as direct beneficiaries,” adds Bolger. “When more women work, economies grow—making the world a better place to live and travel for everyone.”
In rural regions of Morocco, roughly 83 per cent of women are illiterate. Education For All, an initiative supported by the Foundation, enables girls to continue their education through the establishment of boarding houses in the High Atlas region. This also includes further support as they head off to universities or seek employment opportunities.
“The goal is to really prepare for the next generation of women for employment and further studies,” shares Hala Benkhaldoun, general manager, PEAK DMC Morocco (an Intrepid-owned destination management company). “Many of them would have had to walk an hour just to get to school. These boarding schools help them focus on learning.”
“It’s not written anywhere that a lady can’t, or shouldn’t, be a ranger.”
Anne Maloi, ranger
According to Benkhaldoun, the project currently supports roughly 120 girls across six boarding houses that are managed by the local house mothers, with a 100 per cent graduation rate.
Education For All also encourages the girls to consider careers in tourism. The majority of tour leaders in Morocco are men and, oftentimes, it can take lobbying against exclusive government policies to make them more inclusive of women in traditionally male roles. “Through active lobbying by Zina Bencheikh [general manager, Intrepid Travel Morocco] and colleagues from Intrepid Travel with the help of the Australian Embassy, the government was able to change its requirements and start issuing official tour guide licenses to women too,” says Benkhaldoun.
Putting more women in roles traditionally associated with men is one of the significant threads within the fight towards gender equality. In East Africa, the world of wildlife protection in Kenya has long been dominated by men, who risk their lives to protect endangered species.
But local women like Anne Maloi are being trained to work as professional rangers through Kenya-based organization Big Life Foundation, which works with local communities to protect land and wildlife.
Supported by The Thin Green Line Foundation (TGLF), Big Life provides rangers with adequate living wages and proper working conditions.
Taking it one step forward towards gender equality, TGLF has partnered with The Intrepid Foundation with goals of training over a dozen female rangers every year, funded by donations from travelers.
“It’s not written anywhere that a lady can’t, or shouldn’t, be a ranger,” Anne Maloi told Adventure.com in 2019. “Everything that men can do, women can do too. As long as you’re passionate, you can do it. In fact, you can probably do it better”.
“More rights and better access to resources for women does not mean less for men or anyone else.”
Amy Bolger, Intrepid Foundation
On the other side of the world, in rural regions of Nepal, educating women hasn’t always been a priority. Least of all, teaching them how to earn and manage their own financial stability. Nepali women are often expected to slide into their traditional roles of marriage and childbearing without question, and women with disabilities are often further marginalized by default.
One organization aiming to empower women is Seven Women, which provides education and literacy programs, including skills training and income generation. Acting as a safe haven for local women of all class and caste, the Kathmandu-based grassroots organization has supported over 5,000 women in literacy classes, skills training and income generation programs.
They offer cooking classes for travelers, demonstrating how to make local fare such as achar (pickle) and dal bhat (rice with lentils), as well as sell handicrafts to support their communities in financially sustainable ways. In essence, creating support structures in place so they have more freedom to choose their own destiny.
“We do not believe that equality is a pie,” says Bolger. “More rights and better access to resources for women does not mean less for men or anyone else. We want to lift women up so that they can have the same opportunities as everyone.”
You can visit these other womens’ empowerment initiatives with the help of The Intrepid Foundation and Intrepid Travel:
Rehash Trash turns plastic bags into repurposed products for sale in Cambodia. This offers employment to the women as well as tackle environment issues in parallel.
Small Projects Istanbul (SPI) is a social enterprise which supports refugee women starting over and rebuilding their lives through education and skills-training in Turkey. The enterprise has helped support their own fashion and jewelry brand.
Manos Unidas is another social enterprise which offers education and training, this time to young adults with disabilities in Peru. Its café is open to travelers to help sustain the project and it is staffed by its trainees.
Friends-International supports at-risk youth and caregivers through training and employment for the hospitality industry in Cambodia. They offer cocktail-making classes and food experiences for travellers which helps its beneficiaries earn sustainable income.