Supporting gender equity and female empowerment through tourism.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (8th March 2023) is Embrace Equity because without an equitable society worldwide, we can never truly reach equality. The campaign reminds us:
“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #EmbraceEquity.”
Rather than simply providing people with equal opportunities, equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the time, resources, and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome. It’s a fundamental part of holistic sustainability, which involves listening, understanding, and taking appropriate action rather than setting meaningless quotas or spouting buzzwords.
When we step back and listen to create opportunities needed, tourism has a remarkable power to transform women’s lives and, in doing so, broader society. To celebrate, below, some of our members share the projects and people that best demonstrate how tourism can support female empowerment and help champion a more equitable world.
My inspiration is Josephine Ndiras, who runs the Mukgodo Girls Empowerment Programme in Laikipia, Kenya. The organisation drives empowerment through several projects, including supporting girls rescued from early marriages and FGM (female genital mutilation – 80 per cent of women in Maasai communities have been cut), providing free counselling, sanitary pads, and family planning, leading education campaigns on ending violence and FGM (with huge success in some communities after talking elders through what actually happens during FGM), and promoting gender equality through capacity building.
We were lucky enough to meet and hear Josephine talk at The Long Run’s Annual Meeting at Borana Conservancy in Kenya last year. The session was a round-table led by community leaders about what it takes to be a change-maker — the drive, the personal sacrifice, and the importance of involving all players, even if that slows down the process. After an inspiring 90-minute discussion, I wasn’t the only one in the room with tears streaming down my face.
Josephine told us, “I’m a mother of four beautiful daughters, and I just couldn’t let them go through what others had been through with FGM. It’s a very sensitive issue, so some friends thought I was going crazy when I made a stand. But what really pushed me is seeing all these girls and women and seeing that we have so much untapped potential in their light and intelligence.”
Vihangi de Mel, Sustainability Lead for Travel Partner Ayu in the Wild, Sri Lanka.
“Authentic, strong female role models are rare in the Sri Lankan travel industry. Female representation is about 10 per cent, and women in senior management are negligible.”
So, I am especially proud to be part of the women-led Ayu in the Wild team with Chamintha (Jayasinghe) at the helm. I see the difference every day, in the conscious way she chooses to curate the brand, strengthening women-led initiatives in itineraries, ensuring equity for young girls through positive impact initiatives like Classroom in the Wild, a spoken English class for 20 students 60 per cent of which are girls, and in creating a space for other women (like me) to learn, grow and be inspired.”
Ruth Critchon, PR Manager for GER member Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa.
“We’ve got so many inspiring women and projects going on at the Grootbos Foundation. We were delighted when Natasha Bredekamp, who heads up our Grootbos Foundation sports programmes, recently received the ‘Leading Like Mandela’ award for our community impact through sports development. Her commitment to all the children coming through the sports programmes is inspirational and heart-led. Girls are huge beneficiaries of our sports programs, which include delivering football, rugby, surf therapy, and canoeing sessions girls who would otherwise have no opportunity to experience the power of sport for mental and physical health. The surf therapy ‘Shewana’ programme engages teenage girls between the ages of 12 and 14 to learn life skills, adopt a healthy outlook, and protect themselves and each other from socio-economic pressures in under-served communities.”
Joy Juma, Program Manager for the ZEITZ Foundation at GER member, Segera in Kenya.
“Over the years at the ZEITZ Foundation, women have played a big role in driving our mission to create and support ecologically and socially responsible projects that holistically balance conservation, community, culture, and commerce (the 4Cs) in creating long-lasting impact and sustainability.
All aspects of our ‘Tree of Life’ Reforestation program are carried out by women employed from the surrounding local communities. Over 30 women have been instrumental in the soil preparation, bagging and planting of seeds at our nursery, and watering the seedlings in the field to ensure the trees continue thriving amidst the dry conditions. Through this employment, the women can earn an independent income to support their families while also becoming conservation champions who safeguard and plant more trees in their communities.”
Inge de Lathauwer, Founder of Affiliate Member Sumba Hospitality Foundation, Indonesia.
“Our hospitality school spreads hope and opportunities throughout Sumba by offering training to disadvantaged young people so that locals have more control over and benefit from tourism development on the island. One hundred and eighty-three girls have graduated, and 175 of those are now in full-time employment. One is Angel Madja, who was so energetic, everyone on the course wanted her in their department. Despite her energy and enthusiasm, Angel has had a hard life. After her father left, her mother became consumed with worry and illness and passed away when Angel was seven. After High School, her relatives kicked her out of home, and she moved between friends. One day, looking for her father’s family, she came across the Sumba Hospitality Foundation. After finishing the course in 2021, she worked as an intern at Nihi Sumba, a luxury resort on the island, and is now employed at Jadali Hotel & Spa in Morocco. Angel’s dream is to become a spa manager, and she’s saving to become a qualified yoga instructor.”
Marcus Cotton, Founder and Managing Director of Aspiring Member Tiger Mountain Lodge in Nepal.
“My inspiration is Bal Kashi Gurung, who heads up the CAIRN Library Programme in Nepal. Rather than dropping books with communities, the programme runs for five years providing library management training, resources and support, and monitoring. CAIRN is the Nepal branch of the Thomases Foundation — the charitable arm of the Thomases schools in London. Bal has established over 50 libraries in government schools across Nepal with CAIRN funding through the Pahar Trust Nepal, and, unlike other charities, these libraries have real school ownership and, long after the initial five-year supported programme, remain thriving centres of inspiration for the school children and their communities.”