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Empowering Women Through Travel.
Sitting on the stone floor of the open kitchen, I was frustrated at my lack of Hindi. I’d been sitting in the kitchen most of the afternoon trying to converse through hand gestures together with the Rajasthani women who were showing me how to make chapatis.
Doubtless they wanted to know where I was from, where my husband was… etc, and I had many questions for them. When at last one of their husbands who spoke English arrived to eat dinner, I thought – we’ll finally be able to communicate. Sadly translation did not seem to be high up on his agenda, and as I asked him to translate for his wife, he look straight past her and turned silent.
From our (privileged) standpoint, female travel shouldn’t be a ‘thing’. Solo female travel shouldn’t be an issue, and neither should women empowerment. Men and Women should have equal opportunities, understanding and respect, regardless of where they are from. But as we’ve seen from our travels, we have a long way to go until that is the reality for many women who are not given voices or freedom to do what they wish.
Tourism offers a unique opportunity to connect women around the world – with community based, sustainable tourism providing a real opportunity for women in rural, patriarchal societies to gain a greater sense of purpose, grow, become economically independent and connect with travellers around the world. If done in a responsible way, travel can truly be a game changer for Gender Equality.
Gender Equality in Tourism
There’s an ever growing number of sustainable and community travel initiatives that empower women – so much so that it’s hard to keep track of them – which we feel is largely a good thing. As “Women Empowerment” becomes more and more of a buzzword, though, we do have a duty to check the validity of such claims and check that the women empowerment goes beyond marketing.
Tourism that empowers women is most necessary – and relevant – in countries where womens’ roles have remained traditional and society is still patriarchal. In countries where a woman’s role is still very much considered to be to “in the home” sadly activities such as cooking classes are the main ways to interact with local women and learn more about gender roles in the places you visit. In the future we hope to see as many women leading the way as tour guides, forest rangers and managing hotels as much as cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
Travel Experiences That Empower Women
Here are some of the most inspiring female focused travel experiences – why not give one of them your support this Women’s Day?
1. Take an All-Women Trip to Iran – One of the best experiences I had during my time in Iran, was being guided by a female tour leader. We were able to learn a lot more about womens’ roles in Iranian society, opinions about Hijab in Iran, and ultimately the experience overturned our perceptions about Iran completely. Intrepid Travel run women only tours to Iran, guided by a female tour leader: check dates and more info here! Intrepid Travel also run women-only tours to Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, Kenya and India.
2. Trek the Himalayas to help end Child Marriages and Trafficking in Nepal – Up on the slopes of the Himalayas, there are still little-visited rural mountain villages which are cut off and are afflicted by human trafficking, gender based violence, and child marriages within communities. Sasane Sisterhood Trekking & Travel is training former victims of human trafficking as Trekking / Hiking Guides, and Sasane runs treks to these lesser travelled areas of Nepal, bringing new insights into Nepali traditional culture for travellers and contributing to the development of these rural villages.
3. Promote free travel for Women in Pakistan – Freedom of movement (let alone leisure travel) is unfortunately not a given for women in Pakistan. Founder of The Mad Hatters, Aneeqa, is on a mission to change that and runs her own travel agency offering trips around Pakistan in a female-friendly environment. Stay tuned for more on women-only trips to Pakistan from our friend Alex at Lost with Purpose and The Mad Hatters!
4. Connect through women to women travel in Kerala, India – The beautiful Wayanad district of Northern Kerala is a great place to relax in southern India, get away from craziness of the big cities, and appreciate the rich nature and wildlife. The best accommodation here is in small homestays, and none better than one which is completely run by local women. Kabini Tours run several community tourism projects in the area, and offer the opportunity to be guided around the villages by local women: Their English is far from fluent, but they truly do guide with the heart. If visiting Alleppey, check out the Preserve Alleppey Society too, or read our Kerala Travel Guide for a full list of community and responsible tourism options.
5. Support Womens’ Cooperatives in Jordan – During our time in Jordan we were lucky enough to visit several womens’ cooperatives. Dotted around the country, these are the perfect places to buy local produce and souvenirs, learn about village life and eat some of the most mouth-watering home cooked food during your time in Jordan (and that’s saying something). Our favourite was the Treadright Project in Iraq al Amir located just 40 minutes outside Amman, which has – quite literally – changed the lives of the women involved. Read more about our visit here.
6. Take a walk with Zanzibar’s first Female Tour Guide – Aiysha is the first certified female tour guide in Zanzibar. Despite being a popular tourist destination, the inside culture of Zanzibar is mostly strict and traditional, with the thought of a woman leading strangers around town unpalatable (to say the least) to most. This woman fought against the odds and went through a huge amount of struggle to fulfil her dream of becoming a tour guide. Read more about Aiysha’s story here.
7. Learn about Micro Enterprises in Maharashtra, India – Maharashtra is full of beautiful villages and small coastal towns, that are – as yet – undiscovered by the masses that flock to neighbouring Goa. We travelled with Culture Aangan to learn more about the role that Womens’ Cooperatives & Micro Enterprises can play in bringing about economic freedom and empowerment for local women, who are learning handicrafts and new skills to create products to sell to visitors and handicraft shops around the country.
Want more inspiring travel experiences that are creating opportunities for women around the world? We support the work of the Impact Travel Alliance, who have created a list here.
Let us know your favourite female travel experiences in the commments below!
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A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.