The Women Making Tourism Powerful
Celebrate International Women’s Day by supporting women around the globe through unique tourism experiences that benefit women’s empowerment and travel with female-led groups. International Women’s Day is honored annually on March 8th to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and serves as a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
Globally, women face many disadvantages simply because of their sex such as: obtaining an education, surviving violence, the gender wage gap, and much more. Females account for two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people with 16 million girls between the ages of 6 and 11 never receiving any education. One-third of all women have faced gender violence. Globally, there are 120 million girls under the age of 20 that have been raped or sexually assaulted.
Empowering local women in the communities you visit is easier than ever thanks to these entrepreneurs who are paving the way to make tourism more impactful all while directly benefiting marginalized women.
Impact Travel Alliance
As the world’s largest global community of travelers and professionals in sustainable tourism, Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) is dedicated to empowering those that empower women. The independent 501(c)3 nonprofit operates 30 local chapters in cities around the world with members who are dedicated to doing good as they travel and advocating for responsible tourism in order to transform the $7.6 trillion dollar industry into one that makes a positive long-term impact on the planet and people. To celebrate International Women’s Day, ITA is hosting free feminist travel events on March 8th to support gender equality in the tourism industry in New York City, Washington, D.C., Hong Kong, and Kathmandu, Nepal.
“Empowering women is one of the single easiest things that we can do to improve our world – it has a ripple effect with positive impact across all areas of a community,” says ITA founder and intrepid traveler Kelley Louise. “By supporting women when we travel, we have an opportunity to have a better, more immersive experience, as well as play a small part in helping to have a positive, long-term impact on that destination.”
Louise is a firm believer that the tourism industry support at-risk women around the globe by investing in them. ”Give them opportunities to amplify their voices, and help to create opportunities that they have ownership over. Be deliberate and intentional about inclusion and diversity in every action of every business plan,” she says. To keep up the momentum of feminist travel year-round she suggests support female-founded companies and female artisans.
Some of Louise’s favorite women’s empowerment charities include Humanity Unified, which works to build long-lasting, sustainable solutions for entire communities by investing in women. She also recommends Community Homestay Network, a Planeterra project originally launched as the CSR arm of Royal Mountain Travel. “CHN is one of my personal favorite examples of how the travel industry can empower a group of women, and in turn, have a lasting and positive impact on an entire community,” says Louise. She also supports Kiva, a micro-loan platform that allows you to give loans to female entrepreneurs for as little as $25.
On the remote shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala is the Mayan village of San Juan. Since 2003 the local tourism cooperative, Rupalaj Kistalin, has been creating community-based experiences so that villagers can showcase their unique way of life to curious travelers. The cooperative supports seven different projects including rotating homestays with 26 indigenous Mayan families. Many of the initiatives support women including an art gallery and a medicinal herb farm.
Ixoq Ajkeem is a weaving women’s cooperative that’s a part of the Rupalaj Kistalin project. Travelers can visit the showroom for a hands-on demonstration of the completely all-natural yarn-making and dying process. Forty female artisans use tools of nature to make phenomenal colors from seeds, bark, leaves, fruits, and even insects. The women benefit directly from their craft, which is a rarity in the male-dominated economy in Guatemala. In addition to fair wages, weavers take home 85% of the sale of each product they’ve created. The woven goods in the shop are labeled with tags that state who made the piece—an incredibly personal touch that makes a powerful difference. Economic independence allows them to support their family while honing in on their skills. For hand-crafted and sustainably produced items, the prices are reasonable for travelers as well; ponchos sell for around $30.
Feminist travel organization Purposeful Nomad builds immersive travel itineraries in unique destinations around the world that focus on the empowerment of women. The female-owned company takes small-groups of women on active and ethical experiences to far off destinations such as Tanzania, India, Ecuador, and beyond. The tours go behind the tourist facade to enter the inner workings of communities to cultivate cross-cultural connection. Purposeful Nomad adventures center around empowering women through responsible community engagement.
Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre
Ock Pop Tok is a fair trade social enterprise in Luang Prabang, Laos that employs 150+ women in six remote villages. Ock Pop Tok was created by two creative female powerhouses, Veo Liu, a local master weaver, and Jo, a photographer, in 2000. They’re committed to the fair employment of craftswomen and create economic opportunities for ethnic tribal women through the creation of 100% handmade local textiles using natural materials. Each woman benefits from paid leave, profit sharing, and health insurance. Fifty percent of all revenue from the Ock Pop Tok specialty boutiques goes directly back to the villages.
Tourist can partake in a variety of hands-on craft workshops such as the half-day natural dyeing class, which is held at the Living Crafts Centre overlooking the Mekong River. This is also the home to the on-site production facility where skilled craftswomen create unique woven masterpieces. Ock Pop Tok provides machinery and raw materials so that the women can work in a safe and fair environment. You’ll work alongside the women to create a one-of-a-kind souvenir with techniques that date back to the year 800.
The Heart of Travel
Heart of Travel is a female-owned and operated tour company that not only supports female travelers and female tourism entrepreneurs but also collaborates with local charities every step of the way to give back to the local communities they visit on their tours around Latin America. All Heart of Travel trips includes at least one visit to a community-based organization.
Heart of Travel is based in La Antigua, Guatemala and was at the front lines of providing grassroots aid after the devastating Fuego volcanic explosion in June 2018. Their fundraising efforts have supported relief for natural disaster victims from earthquakes in Mexico, Hurricane Harvey, flood relief in Peru. They also support educational projects at an elementary school in Ecuador and support the Cala Flor Scholarship Fund.
Co-Founders Ana Castillo and Chelsea Glass believe that it’s incredibly important to support marginalized women as we travel. “It’s important to support women for the wellbeing of each individual woman and also because studies show that as women have more access to education, employment opportunities and healthcare services it has a positive impact on their communities at large in regards to safety, health, and the economy.”
They explain how tourists can support women as they globetrot. “We can have a positive impact in the lives of women by actively seeking out female-led businesses, cooperatives, and organizations and supporting them through fair and ethical patronage and employment opportunities. We can also participate in activities, classes, and workshops that increase our education.”
Some of their favorite women’s empowerment organizations in Latin America include Fundación En Vía, which provides micro-financing opportunities to women in Oaxaca, México and is funded by sustainable tourism experiences. They also recommend La Casa de Las Nubes, a community-driven project that brings educational and skill-based workshops to the youth and adults in the unregistered zone of Guanajuato, Mexico. In Antigua, they support WINGS Guatemala, an NGO that provides sexual education and healthcare services to women in the area and fights for reproductive rights.
The UN-recognized NGO Sambhali Trust in Jodhpur, India has been creating economic opportunities and educational programs for disadvantaged Indian women and girls in Rajasthan for over a decade. Over 10,000 women and girls have benefitted from vocational training in sewing, clothing manufacturing, embroidery, and block printing through the grassroots program.
Tourists can visit Sambhali Trust to learn about traditional artisan crafts directly from the beneficiaries and have a chance to shop the ethically made clothing and small goods at the Sambhali Trust Boutique that funds the charity.
In Puerto Rico, Carmen N. Portela Martínez and Monica Perez joined forces to launch a community-based tourism company to support locally owned businesses, environmental projects, and promote the natural beauty of the Island. Local Guest curates unique tours that allow travelers to explore lesser visited corners of Puerto Rico such as the spectacular Toro Negro Hike.
“As a women-powered startup in the travel and sustainable tourism industry, we believe that every traveler should be responsible, empathetic and humble in every investment and interaction while traveling. Supporting marginalized women, if done correctly, can support whole collectives of communities. Most of the community leaders we work with are also women, so they are the driving force in the new future we are building,” Martínez and Perez said.
They take great responsibility of being a woman in a leadership role in the tourism industry. “Our work takes us into different world settings, from farms, community meetings, workshops to board rooms, ballrooms and conventions. What we can see in all those settings is that our mere existence brings about change. Because we exist in those spaces, because we speak up in those spaces, because we create and build in those spaces we are the change.”
Make Love Not Scars and Sheroe’s
Make Love Not Scars is an NGO in India that provides rehabilitation for acid attack survivors. Although acid has been illegal in India for around five years, there are still an estimated 400 victims annually of acid attacks. Make Love Not Scars, supports those who survive by providing a path to dignity and independence through aid in medical, legal, education, vocational, and psychological rehabilitation. Travelers can donate to fundraisers to take a stand against these horrific attacks and empower the women who’ve endured this unimaginable violence.
Sheroes Hangout is another nonprofit in India who provide support to acid attack survivors. Travelers can dine-in and attend community events at their restaurants around the country. I’ve been to the cafes in Udaipur and Agra and can vouch that the curries are excellent!
Community-based tourism platform and travel operator Lokal Travel has created a dedicated page for their curated collection of trips that empower women around the globe. The experiences range from women-owned ecolodges, female-guided tours, workshops led by craftswomen, and unique activities with women’s empowerment NGOs.
“There are a lot of really great women-led tourism projects that have grown because of the desire for equality within those communities. As travelers, we can support marginalized women throughout the world simply by spending our travel dollars on projects that they’re a part of,” says Eytan Elterman, co-founder of Lokal Travel.
He believes we can support women in the tourism sector year-round by maintaining awareness that as travelers we always have a choice. “There are a lot of resources out there to help us find tourism projects that support women. It’s on us to prioritize visiting certain businesses that have these values,” says Elterman.
Elterman suggests that travelers support Manos de Fe, a women-led cooperative in Guatemala that supports artisans and celebrates local culture and ASOMOBI, an association of women in Costa Rica that formed a coffee business that exports internationally and also hosts travelers for tours and overnight stays.
Intrepid Travel and Urban Adventures
Intrepid Travel and Urban Adventures are responsible tourism booking platforms that are part of Intrepid Group. The company is the world’s largest travel B Corp, a title they earned due to their high standards of social and environmental sustainability as well as their transparency about profit and purpose.
Many of the multi-day and day trips on both marketplaces are female-led or support women’s empowerment organizations. Intrepid curated an array of women’s expeditions that were announced last year to celebrate International Women’s Day. They’ve been in such high demand this year that departures on the trips grew by 800%– the most successful tour ranges to-date in Intrepid’s 30-year history. They’ll be introducing new women’s expeditions this year to mark IWD including itineraries in Kenya, Nepal, India, and Turkey.
Last November, Urban Adventures hosted a women’s empowerment through tourism social entrepreneurship event in London. Some of the presentations featured In Focus charitable partners that are run by women–Invisible Cities and Green Me Berlin. Other women’s empowerment organizations that they support through their sustainable tourism experiences include Seven Women in Nepal and Courageous Kitchen, which supports female refugees in Thailand.