The future of traveling is sustainable travel, and the future of sustainable travel is the inclusion of women.
It has been almost 2 years since we started our project of integrating local women in more active roles within the travel industry of Peru, and more than a year since we started taking women porters on the Inca Trail. Since then, a lot has happened during the process of achieving our goals of turning the travel industry of Peru into something more inclusive and less discriminatory toward women and more just and fair to all. Here is the list of some of those positive things that have occurred in these 2 years.
The coverage that we have received from the most important media outlet of Peru has been crucial in encouraging women to register in higher numbers as women porters, debunking the old notion that this job can be done only by men. Also, if that wasn’t good enough, in its end of the year edition, El Comercio Peru, in its printed end of the year version, considered the women porters of the Inca Trail one of the most beautiful and inspiring things to have happened in Peru in 2018. Now, for a country with a deeply rooted male chauvinistic mentality, this is a great achievement. Further to this, our work has inspired one of our largest competitors and as a result, they have started to hire women porters too. This is not only flattering but something we are proud of and want to encourage in all of our competitors because that helps us achieve our goal of turning this market into something more inclusive for women.
Empowerment From The Bottom Up.
What does success mean for women in the Andean mountains of Peru? Is it merely to be porters and make some money to make a living or is it something deeper than that? Empowerment is about enabling people to reach their goals and dreams and with the support and encouragement of Evolution, two of our first women porters have become tour guides and now work as Lead Guides in the mountains of Machu Picchu. How inspirational is this, long are the days in which women were told not to work on the Inca trail, and now these women are tour leaders. The future is bright for them and Evolution Treks Peru will empower them to go even further. There is a documentary in the making about these two women porters.
Pushing For Equality.
On a fundamental basis, the task of empowering women and including them in this industry means not only equal employment opportunity but also equal pay for equal work. Our women porters earn the same money male porters do. Despite the difference in the weight that male (20Kg+) and women (15Kg) porters carry, both earn the same money and both put in the same hours of work while on the trail. On a secondary level but equally important, hiring women and paying them less would seem quite discriminating. In addition, in 2019, 50% of our tour leaders are women. Once again, this is something unprecedented for an industry where only a couple of years ago, women were considered incapable of hiking these mountains let alone leading tours. Evolution Treks Peru does not hire women tour guides as assistant tour guides confining them to secondary roles or tokenizing women for profit. All Evolution Treks Peru women are Lead tour guides, as a result, there has been a higher demand from tour operators toward hiring women tour guides.
Challenging Male Chauvinism.
The inclusion of women porters has changed the way male porters used to see women and the way they used to perceive their own role as workers. Despite some horrible exceptions, the fact that Evolution Treks Peru takes women periodically on the classic 4-day Inca trail has desensitized men from resisting their presence on this trail. That initial resistance and macho posturing based on the wrong belief that ‘women are weak’ or ‘this is not a place for women’ was later replaced by a lot of respect and cheerful support coming from their male colleagues.
Fair Trade Tourism at Work.
On another level related to sustainable travel, and fair working conditions for all; porters from other companies have begun to aspire to receive the same working conditions that Evolution Treks Peru provides for their porters, such as decent salaries, proper food, proper camping gear, and proper tents (the same quality of equipment that our clients utilize). These conditions have become part of the demands that the new porter’s union is striving for in their struggle to get better working conditions for all porters. It is 2019 and 99% of porters still lack a proper place to rest after, they use the dining and cooking tents to guard themselves against the rain and the cold winds. Something outrageous that all ethical travelers must reject.
In almost every hiking destination in the world, local people who contribute to the success of the adventures of visitors remain on the sidelines, sometimes neglected and discriminated against by their own countrymen. That used to be the case on the Inca Trail and other routes that lead people to Machu Picchu until Evolution was created. Despite all the limitations that the weight limits imposed on our logistical organization, and whenever possible, we integrate all our porters in the adventure and the fun. We aim at making sure that there is a real cultural exchange between us, local people and our clients. One of the best ways to do that is by sharing meals, play games and creating close bonds that make us all richer as humans. We don’t believe in second class citizens, that is why travelers and porters alike get to have the same type of tents and enjoy the same quality of food. Our idea of sustainability goes beyond just providing material items or fair salaries to all. We believe that when we break that divide between “us and them”, we contribute by fundamentally uplifting the morale of these porters who in their majority are native people descendants of the Incan. We profoundly believe that these hard-working men and women deserve dignity and respect for the work they do, which is something we aim to restore.
Tackling Domestic Violence.
Domestic abuse has taken center stage in Peru, but very few people have come up with ideas for how to deal with this horrible situation. Since February 2019, ETP is holding weekly professional counseling sessions for women victims of domestic violence. Focus sessions for participants include building self-esteem, identifying subtle
forms of domestic violence, and developing leadership skills are taught in these sessions. All of these sessions are led and guided by local professional women.