March 8 is International Women’s Day, and it is an opportunity to celebrate women who are innovating, leading, championing and overcoming challenges within the realms of travel and tourism – art, gastronomy and local enterprises.
From a female-only poaching unit protecting a South African nature reserve to the Kilimanjaro mountain guides, we meet the women around Africa and the Diasporan world smashing stereotypes in traditionally male-dominated jobs in celebration of International Women’s Day.
When next you go on your next trip to any of their terrain, please support one of these worthy projects.
The Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit – Balule Nature Reserve, South Africa
The all-woman unit was founded in 2013 by Transfrontier Africa NPC to protect the Olifants West Region of Balule Nature Reserve.
Within the first year of operation, the Black Mambas were invited to expand into other regions and now protect all boundaries of the reserve. Eight years on, the unit has grown from six to thirty-six with more women applying to be rangers each year.
“As a village girl and seeing older women not being able to work or raise their voice because only men can do it and only men can become rangers, it made me want to do this job more,” says Leitah Mkhabela, a member of Black Mambas.”
Being a woman and protecting the wild animals without weapons while men are doing that carrying weapons made me feel like a role model, a hero, the best women in the world.
What we do is not easy and not everybody can do it, but we do it with pride and dignity knowing that this is for the next generation, we are giving it back to the community. We are giving women a voice.”
Association Stibrawpa, Costa Rica
Stibrawpa is an uplifting example of how ingenious thinking can support and save ancient traditions from disappearing forever. The initiative started when a poor cocoa harvest drove three women from the Bribri indigenous tribe to make and sell handicrafts through which Stibrawpa, meaning “artisans”, was born.
In 1996, the enterprising women opened their doors to rural tourism in the hope of educating people about indigenous culture whilst generating employment opportunities for men in the tribe.
Today the entire Bribri community relies on ecotourism as a source of income. Curious travellers can spend up to two nights interacting with the tribe, hiking, and exploring the remote rainforest location accessed only by a dugout canoe along the spectacular Yorkin River.
Leonor Espinosa – Chef and champion of community gastronomy, Colombia
Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa was named ‘Latin America’s Best Female Chef’ in 2017. She followed that success by securing a spot on ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ list for her restaurant Leo in vibrant Bogotá, which showcases little-known Colombian ingredients and champions gastronomic traditions from local communities.
Aside from propelling Colombia’s thriving food scene forwards, Espinosa’s foundation FUNLEO aims to improve the health and wellbeing of locals through food, providing culinary training for communities and helping agricultural areas to enhance their produce. Espinosa also set up Zotea, a community-run restaurant, greenhouse and coconut oil production room that generates income and opportunities for the Pacific Choco area, whilst preserving its rich gastronomic heritage.
The Mountain Lioness Scholarship – Exodus Travels initiative, Tanzania
Guiding climbers up Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, has always been seen as a ‘man’s job’ – until now. A scholarship fund sponsored by Exodus Travels gives local women the chance to train as mountain guides allowing them to join Kili’s male-dominated ranks of expedition leaders.
Of the hundreds of guides, only a handful are currently women. The ‘Mountain Lioness Scholarship’ aims to change that by supporting ten women per year for three years to train as guides, allowing them to substantially increase their income, become a role model to other girls in the community and join Tanzania’s push for equality.
Chocal Chocolate Factory, Dominican Republic
Chocal Chocolate Factory has been empowering women and giving back to the local economy for 13 years. Located in hilly Palmar Grande, the cooperative was set up in 2007 by thirty enterprising women who decided to cultivate, process, package and sell chocolate. Since its founding, the initiative has supported women by creating jobs and offering opportunities to learn new skills whilst also enabling young women to save-up and continue their education.
Take a break from the beach, meet the ladies and learn about how cacao is transformed from bean to bar. The factory also welcomes volunteers to help with fruit picking at the farms, so Voluntourism options are also available.
Urban Adventures – Intrepid Initiative in London, UK
Experience the culinary delights of Ethiopia, the Balkans and Morocco without stepping foot outside London. Intrepid and Women in Travel, the social enterprise dedicated to empowering women and using tourism as a force for good, worked closely with newly trained tour guides Sefanit, Ella and Kaoutar over the last six months to give them the mentoring and coaching needed for a career.
These new Intrepid Urban Adventures tours connect travellers with local people to uncover their stories and see London through a different lens. Entitled ‘Ethiopian Flavours in Shepherd’s Bush’, ‘Balkan Tastes and Culture on the South Bank’ and ‘Moroccan Tea Ceremony and Dessert (virtual)’, food and drink are central to the three tours with visitors taking part in a traditional coffee ceremony, trying delicious kofte and learning how to make the perfect mint tea.
Women tour guides – ToursByLocals
ToursByLocals empowers women to become tourism entrepreneurs by providing a safe platform for them to earn a fair wage. Female solo travellers can choose from a large selection of expert female guides to host the tours.
Local guide Nahla, who resides in Cairo, has a degree in Egyptology and operates tours of the Nile; Monica, in India, was born and raised in Agra and has trained with great historians after completing her Masters in History.
Noura, meanwhile, from Marrakech offers a private half-day walking tour of Marrakech exploring the mesmerising labyrinth of alleyways within the medina and a visit to the grand Bahia Palace.