By Lane Florsheim
In honor of Women’s History Month, women and men around the world will celebrate female achievement and empowerment through participation in thousands of local events. Women have not yet gained true equality worldwide, and the political rallies, business conferences, and government activities that kicked-off awareness for the month on International Women’s Day highlighted the progress we have made, while promoting the advancement we continue to work toward.
Tourism is one of the global industries in which women play an enormous role, representing between 60 and 70 percent of its employment. As travelers and global citizens, it is important to understand how traveling sustainably can benefit the lives of women around the world.
I spoke with Paula Vlamings, the Executive Director of Planeterra, about the nonprofit’s efforts to empower women in the tourism industry worldwide. Planeterra works with communities that are popular travel destinations by establishing long-term projects that simultaneously provide opportunity for local people and conserve local environments.
Vlamings told me that women make up much of the industry’s personnel because far fewer barriers to entry exist in tourism than in a sector like agriculture, where access to land is a limiting factor.
“A lot of the ability to get into the tourism industry is through the informal market, which consists of family businesses and working out of homes,” she explains. “Because of that, tourism really does have the ability to empower women by creating income opportunities that normally wouldn’t exist.”
As Executive Director, Vlamings works to find the right NGOs with whom to partner. Planeterra always works with a local partner on the ground to ensure they have an understanding of what the community needs. They then collaborate with those communities to develop projects that specifically feed into the travel and tourism industry, primarily with founding partner G Adventures.
These projects include the establishment of schools, hospitals, business collectives, wildlife preservation efforts, and development initiatives like water projects. “We’re really looking at those basic needs like access to clean water, education, and healthcare,” Vlamings says.
Vlamings told me about the New Hope Cambodia Vocational Training Restaurant in Siem Reap, a city just outside Angkor Wat. The training restaurant has worked to help and support women by providing free education and training that sets them up for lucrative jobs in the hospitality industry.
Students at New Hope take classes in traditional subject matter like Math and English, while also learning about different professions from food preparation to tour guiding. G Adventures travelers visit the restaurant there and all proceeds support the free school and healthcare system managed by New Hope.
“[Working with women] is definitely a priority,” says Vlamings. “It’s a well-known fact in the development world that educating girls and women is really key to alleviating poverty. When women have access to income possibilities, they’re much more likely to educate their children, and that takes the whole community out of poverty.”
As for steps travelers can take to contribute to female empowerment during trips, Vlamings emphasizes that awareness is key. “When we talk about sustainable travel, we really need to be conscious of the treatment of women,” she says. “Women are often subject to violence and conditions that really are just not well understood. We need to ask our tour operators and make sure to travel with a company that’s aware of those things.”
Vlamings is at the forefront of a community making travel and its impact on women and their communities matter. So this month, and every month going forward, we should reflect on and make plans to embrace the sustainable travel movement Planeterra upholds.
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About the Writer
Lane Florsheim is a senior at Tufts University where she is studying International Relations. She loves writing and reading about culture, politics, and women’s issues. Lane delights in jewelry making, captivating novels, and travel and exploration. Her personal website is available here. Follow Lane on Twitter @laneflorsheim.
Photos courtesy of Planterra