As a woman working in the hard-hit travel industry while juggling the demands of homeschooling, it comes as no surprise to me that women have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 crisis.
A survey by Care International confirmed that women across the world have suffered disproportionately in terms of job losses, food insecurity and mental health impact. There’s no doubt that the virus is widening gender inequality.
But we can’t let gender equality in travel become another casualty of coronavirus. Empowering women in travel at all levels is essential to a responsible recovery – and here’s why.
Of course, gender inequality is not a new issue, including within the travel industry. Even before the pandemic, we had made some progress but we knew that there was still a long way to go.
Back in 2017, Intrepid set a goal to double our number of female tour leaders.
In my previous role running Intrepid’s operations in Marrakech, I took on the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism to challenge its view that women don’t want to become tour leaders.
As a result, they issued new tour guide licences for the first time in many years. After a lot of hard work, we became the largest employer of female guides in the region, and I count many of these women as friends.
I’ve seen for myself what the opportunity to work in travel means for women. For Bia, a divorced Berber woman, hosting Intrepid travellers allowed her to earn money for the first time. And then there’s Hafida, who overcame huge barriers to become the first female mountain guide in Morocco.
Working in travel has given them an independent income for the first time – truly life-changing.
In 2019, we were proud to reach our goal and by the start of 2020 we were working with 342 female guides, globally.
Of course, that isn’t “job done”. We have committed to further increasing employment opportunities for women in the travel industry, and we have appointed a female chief purpose officer to keep pushing this issue at the highest level.
Empowering women makes good business sense. Investing in women drives growth, innovation – and creates a fairer and happier world. Companies who pull back on gender diversity will only put themselves at a disadvantage.
The climate crisis is on most of our agendas as we think about travel’s recovery. Women’s empowerment is one of the lesser-known answers to climate change. As we all know, our booming population is putting pressure on our planet. Women who are educated, empowered to earn money and be independent tend to have fewer children, slowing down the growth of the population and protecting the planet.
I’ve seen the impact myself as an ambassador for Education For All, a charity partner of Intrepid in a very poor rural area of Morocco where girls often miss out on an education because the school is too far away and they can’t afford transport.
EFA has set up boarding houses for the girls, where they can continue their education and have access to books and computers. This has a life-changing effect on the girls and we have even had some of them working for us at Intrepid as interns.
Let’s take this time to think about how we can be better as an industry. Empower women through your supply chain. Set targets and be accountable. Invest in female leaders.
Otherwise, the shape of travel’s future will be designed by people who do not reflect the customers we serve. As we mark International Women’s Day, let’s make this pandemic a wake-up call for gender equality in our industry.