Empowering Women Worldwide
Travel is the biggest industry in the world and has an unrivaled power: the power to bring equality across the globe. Wealthy travelers can come into direct contact with rickshaw drivers, local market sellers, and small business owners. Meanwhile, tourism—traveling for recreation or pleasure—can provide a sustainable, life-changing source of income for people whose greatest assets include the landscape and wildlife around them.
Tourism has another power that many might not realize, and it lies in the fact that much of its workforce is female. As a diverse industry that reaches even some of the remotest corners of the earth, and with a huge range of skills needed in its workers, tourism has the potential to lift many women out of poverty by equipping them with the skills to secure sustainable employment. By learning how to manage a tourism business, many previously impoverished women around the world have created thriving businesses for themselves and are even able to employ others.
All too often, it is women who struggle when inequality restricts access to education; when maternity benefits are nonexistent; when cultural expectations of a woman’s role in society and the home take precedence; or when gender bias excludes women from reaching their potential in the workforce. These issues exist for women to a greater or lesser extent around the world. In some countries, legislation and awareness limit the impacts of inequality; in others, women face an uphill battle to feel the full benefits tourism can bring them.
Responsible Travel is a worldwide organization that helps tourists plan trips that center on doing good, whether that means volunteering or simply buying from local businesses and hospitality specialists while abroad.
Responsible Travel is a worldwide organization that helps tourists plan trips that center on doing good, whether that means volunteering or simply buying from local businesses and hospitality specialists while abroad. Responsible Travel works with the best specialty tour operators in the world to give its travelers safe, authentic, and unforgettable experiences. Its new collection of holidays highlights female entrepreneurs—from India to Ethiopia to Panama—who have overcome significant challenges to successfully set up and run their own tourism businesses. Here, we meet some of these inspirational ladies.
Samrawit Moges founded Travel Ethiopia in 1994 and was the first tour operator in the country to employ female guides. She discusses the challenges she faced setting up a company in a developing country over twenty years ago: “At that time, I did not have sufficient vehicles, and the challenges I faced renting a vehicle from the male drivers were extremely discouraging,” Moges says. “At the same time, when I took my clients out, when I spoke to them in the hotels, I was perceived differently. If a man goes to any place to discuss [business] with foreign men, that’s OK. That’s OK for the man. But for me, when I went out for dinner to discuss things with my clients, I was not perceived as a business person. I was perceived as a prostitute. They assumed that my relationship with the foreigners was not a business relationship because I am a woman.”
Annie Young faced similar bias in Panama purely for being female. She describes the barriers she faced in a male-dominated society when setting up EcoCircuitos Panama, another of Responsible Travel’s member tour operators, in 1999. “I wanted to have a loan from the bank because I wanted to be able to invest in kayaks and buy my own equipment, and it was really difficult to have the loan because I was a woman,” Young recalls. “So I had to have my brother and my father—even they do not work in the company any more—sign so I could have that loan, because I had them in my company. It’s a macho country, Panama.”
There are a lot more women who are independent and are starting up businesses. There’s a big entrepreneurial spirit among women, especially in India, but it’s harder in terms of longevity.
Ridhi Patel, the founder of Volunteering Journeys, a small volunteering organization in India whose trips are available via the Responsible Travel website, shares her thoughts on how things have progressed, and what issues the modern female entrepreneur still faces. “It’s changing a lot in India,” Patel says. “There are a lot more women who are independent and are starting up businesses. There’s a big entrepreneurial spirit among women, especially in India, but it’s harder in terms of longevity. The women might start something, but then there’s a higher failure rate. There’s a lot of pressure on women who have to combine work with home commitments, as well, which leads to work suffering and them suffering—and eventually they have to choose between one and the other.”
The wonderful thing about empowering women is the domino effect of benefits that are passed down to other women in the community. Not only is an empowered woman better able to support and educate her own family, but other local women can also be inspired to create change themselves. There is no one better able to understand the challenges faced by women in traditional, conservative, and rural communities than their peers, and many of these female entrepreneurs have gone on to address these issues, using the success of their own businesses to set up initiatives to help other women in their areas get a foothold in business, tourism, or otherwise.
Not only is an empowered woman better able to support and educate her own family, but other local women can also be inspired to create change themselves.
Manisha Pande from Village Ways in India, whose trips also feature in Responsible Travel’s new collection, describes how her organization shifts timetables and work patterns to suit the needs of local women so they can become more involved in tourism. “In general in the hills, village life is quite tough, and the dependence of the family on the woman is much, much higher,” Pande explains. “We hold trainings at the time when they are free, maybe encourage the committee to involve them in the work they can do within a few hours so that they can come and cook, for example, then go back and do their usual work. It’s not that if they are not available we don’t involve them—we try and involve them in some way, and give them flexibility.”
Moges also has a unique approach to spread the benefits of tourism to her peers in Ethiopia. “Women are creative, you know,” she says. “With a very small amount of money, the kind of business they create is extraordinary. And right now in Ethiopia, we have a female bank, established by women. This bank also assists many women in getting loans, getting their business proposals written, and much more. So what I can do—I give loans to a woman in collaboration with the bank. And once that woman is established, I will get back my money. So we are trying to help each other.”
And Responsible Travel believes that its collection of women-led vacations not only benefits the women who run these organizations, but that the experience for tourists is also enhanced by involving women in tourism. These ladies offer a new perspective on a destination. And when asked what travelers’ reactions have been to female guides in their companies, Responsible Travel’s entrepreneurs have been very positive.
“Tourists very much enjoy having a female guide,” says Moges. “It makes a difference because she is able to talk about the community, about women, about the culture.” She explains that female guides can tell clients more about the inner workings of a home, family, or village in each destination. Tourists can get a true look into the everyday lives of the people and learn about the culture—specifically the role of women in the culture—while they are also having a memorable travel experience. “When a female guide explains, for example, about early marriage—a negative traditional practice—as a woman, she is able to explain it better than the male,” Moges continues. “You know when they visit homes, when they visit villages, they always encounter the women.”
Traveling responsibly is not only about volunteering or making ecologically friendly choices during a trip, but also about learning to respect other people and cultures around the world.
Traveling responsibly is not only about volunteering or making ecologically friendly choices during a trip, but also about learning to respect other people and cultures around the world. The role of women in each culture is unique, and many women have struggled to gain traction in the business world. The tourism and hospitality industries offer women around the world a chance to build their careers, help others in their communities, and show clients a way of life they might otherwise never experience.
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Story courtesy of Responsible Travel
Check out all the tours run by local female entrepreneurs at ResponsibleTravel.com