The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day (March 8) is #BalanceforBetter. It focuses on how a more gender-balanced world can create a better working environment for all.
According to a report by The Adventure Travel Trade Association, women have been long under-represented in the outdoor travel scene, especially in leadership positions.
A report entitled Out in Front: Tracking Women’s Leadership in Adventure Travel stated that while women made up 60%-70% of the travel industry, only 38% of board positions were held by females in the adventure sector. There are also significantly fewer female guides on average, especially in developing destinations.
But, women are beginning to break down the barriers of this male-dominated sector, and along with the rise of the female adventurer and women’s-only travel providers, there is a marked increase in women taking on more leadership roles.
Here are a few driven, fearless women from around the world who are working every day to make their mark in adventure travel:
Expedition Leader – India, Nepal & Bhutan
Natural Habitat Adventures
City girl Payal Mehta’s love for the outdoors led her to become a Natural Habitat Expedition Leader, guiding travellers through the remote and wild areas of India, Nepal and Bhutan, despite growing up in Mumbai.
Once a member of an elite training programme for India safari guides, she started leading tours in India’s Kanha National Park, and is now a multi-disciplinary wilderness specialist and trained mountaineer. As a Natural Habitat guide, she expounds on the nature and local culture that she and her groups explore together. She translates, teaches, and storytells – while ensuring the trip runs smoothly. Mehta was part of an all-women mountaineering expedition up the 6,420m high Mount White Sail in the Himalayas.
Her future goals are to have her own wildlife tourism project near a forest.
To Mehta, International Women’s Day means “saluting and celebrating all the women in the past who fought for women’s place in society. It is because of them that women get to enjoy their life as it is today.”
Deputy Operations Manager – Treks, Inca Trail
Proud single mother and former Inca Trail Guide Maritza Chacacanta worked her way up to become Deputy Operations Manager of Exodus Travels. Despite many challenges, and having to take up special training courses and compete with the best in the field, she succeeded, not only in leading Exodus Travels’ signature Inca treks, but she now also manages its operations while collaborating with porters, horse wranglers, and guides.
“To the single mothers out there, it’s important to know that you are not alone. You can have a successful career while being a successful mum.”
It is her goal to develop projects related to the environment, such as reforestation, clean campaigns, and to train her staff on how important it is to take care of the environment, not just to benefit their treks, but to share the results with their community.
To Chacacanta, International Women’s Day means rights and gender equality. “It is the freedom to make your decisions and be free from violence and discrimination,” she said.
Adventure Coordinator – Scotland
As an extreme cold water swimmer, Alice Goodridge keeps a sledgehammer in her car during winter, so that she can go swimming anytime and anywhere, no matter how frozen the lochs may be. The brave woman is not afraid of a little physical discomfort, which is one of reasons she wanted to become an Adventure Coordinator for Wilderness Scotland.
The company runs the extreme trips that she always wanted to experience herself, so now, she can combine her love for the outdoors with her expertise in organising sustainable adventure holidays.
In 2012, Goodridge swam the 34km English Channel, and last year, the length of the 35km Loch Lomond, which took her overnight from 6PM to eight the next morning.
She also completed an Ice Mile last year, which is a mile (1.6km) in water less than 5C° without a wetsuit.
As for her future goals, she wants to challenge herself in a discipline that she is not so familiar with.
“I am currently working through my sea kayaking qualifications, with the hope of becoming a sea kayak guide in the future,“ she said.
She says that there is still a lot of inequality in the outdoor activity sector and International Women’s Day means taking a closer look and seeing what can be done about it.
“In Britain, 51% of the society is female. Yet, there are fewer females participating in the types of outdoor activities likely to lead to the interest, skill and motivation to pursue a career in this area. I desire to see greater equality in the outdoor activity sector and a higher percentage of female guides leading walking, biking and paddling trips in Britain,” she said.
Explorer, Consultant & Artist – British Columbia, Canada
Adventure Canada expedition guide Laura Adams is also a professional member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and the Canadian Avalanche Association as well as the fifth woman in Canada to become a fully certified winter Ski Guide. She has a Masters degree in Leadership, focusing on decision making and risk management in mountain environments. In her spare time, Adams coaches women in leadership and backcountry skills. She also mentors all who aspire to a career in professional mountain guiding.
In January, she led a small group expedition to Northern China, close to the borders of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia, to experience the ancient Tuvan mountain culture, and to ski-tour among the Golden mountains of the region.
She is focusing on increasing awareness, stewardship, and leadership of these special places and cultures through her expeditions, art, and speaking presentations.
To Adams, we should all be thankful for the women in our lives, and the communities who live life with courage, integrity and dignity, who make a genuine difference in their own as well as others’ lives.