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Women in travel: female-led initiatives to support around the world

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 3/8/2021 Radhika Aligh

All over the world, women are innovating, leading, championing and overcoming challenges within the realms of 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 the world smashing stereotypes in traditionally male-dominated jobs in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Support one of these worthy projects on your next trip.

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

Leonor Espinosa et al. taking a selfie: Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa is making waves in the global culinary sceneLeonor Espinosa © Provided by Evening Standard Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa is making waves in the global culinary sceneLeonor Espinosa

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

a group of people in a store: The women’s enterprise cultivate, process, package and sell chocolateChocal © Provided by Evening Standard The women’s enterprise cultivate, process, package and sell chocolateChocal

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.

Lizzie Corke - Wildlife Wonders, Australia 

Wildlife Wonders is a new ecotourism activity that aims to give visitors a unique experience of Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road. It’s the mastermind of keen conservationist and award-winning environmentalist Lizzie Corke who also co-founded the Conservation Ecology Centre to develop and deliver solutions to the most urgent conservation challenges in the Otways. As well as interpreting the sights and sounds of the surrounding bush, visitors will have the chance to encounter unique wildlife living freely in a protected bushland environment overlooking the Southern Ocean. Imagine Australia’s iconic koalas and kangaroos featuring alongside more elusive species such as potoroos and bandicoots. Designed by Brian Massey, the art director of The Hobbit and landscape designer of Hobbiton, Wildlife Wonders provides outstanding opportunities for conservation and sustainable economic development in the region.

Urban Adventures - Intrepid initiative in London, UK

a group of people posing for the camera: Newly trained tour guides Sefanit, Ella and KaoutarIntrepid © Provided by Evening Standard Newly trained tour guides Sefanit, Ella and KaoutarIntrepid

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

a man and a woman standing in front of a beach: Nahla, Monica and Noura have become tourism entrepreneursTourByLocals © Provided by Evening Standard Nahla, Monica and Noura have become tourism entrepreneursTourByLocals

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.


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