Empowering women in the Andean mountains of Peru
A few weeks ago, news that participants of the miss Peru pageant contest surprised the world by mentioning the numbers of the crude reality of domestic violence, rape and harassment toward women in Peru and the world, instead of the numbers of their body dimensions.
Such is the backdrop in which Evolution Treks Peru is launching a unique and powerful initiative, which is leading tours to the Inca Trail in 2018 supported by women porters and women tour guides.
Men overwhelmingly dominate the travel industry around the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. According to the Ministry of Culture of Peru, only 146 women compared to over seven thousand men registered to work as porters on the Inca trail. None of these women work actively, which means that these numbers are just figurative.
This endeavor has the potential of changing the way “sustainable travel” is perceived by the travel industry and force travel companies to be held accountable, as it exposes the real reasons why they never included women in this industry despite their labels about sustainability.
Tour operators do not hire women porters for two fundamental reasons.
Firstly, hiring women porters is not profitable.
From a business perspective, it is more convenient for travel operators to hire only men as they can carry more weight and demand fewer expenses in salaries food and transportation, which implicitly means more profit for tour operators. The Inca trail allows entry to only 500 people a day. Over 60% of them are porters. The rules for porters establish that men porters carry 20kg max, while women take 25% less than that.
Secondly, Having women porters would involve improvement of working conditions for porters in general.
An article exposing the working conditions of porters has been published recently. The logical conclusion to which one draws from that piece is that women porters would not be able to work under such abuse. Also, It would be more difficult for tour operators to hide their bad practices, as tourists would show more solidarity towards women if they saw women working in such conditions.
I am not implying that men do not receive the same level of empathy as women. They do, but what I mean is that perhaps a subtle patriarchal mechanism in peoples’ minds makes them praise the strength and courage of men, which in this case, partially blurs the mistreatment to which they are exposed.
Under poor working conditions for women, The solidarity of travelers with them would undoubtedly lead to more questioning of where the money travelers pay goes and how tour operators invest that money in the well being of their workers.
Consequently, all of it would force tour operators to change these things due to the outright anger and pressure coming from their clients.
Studies have shown that if women are working, communities prosper. It doesn’t make the community rely on men to work, it also upskills the women and gives them independence and financial freedom. All of which will assist in bringing down the brutal statistics of rape and domestic violence.
Supporting these kinds of projects is something every traveler needs to consider everywhere around the world. What a good place to start doing it while hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Evolution Treks Peru is taking the responsibility to lead the travel industry of peru toward a more sustainable path.
Miguel is a professional tour guide from Cusco, Peru, with almost 20 years of experience leading tours and a deep knowledge of Peru’s cultural and ecological diversity. He is also an advocate of ecotourism and cultural sensitivity and has lectured on these topics in the US and Europe. He co-founded Evolution Treks Peru, a worker-owned travel company based in Cusco.