Evolution Treks Peru’s women empowerment project is based on the foundation of three key aspects; gender inclusion of women, equal employment opportunity, equal salary pay.
Our most fundamental goal is the creation of financially and ideologically independent women who can become leaders, and professionals in any given field at the local and community levels in the areas where our trekking tours take place.
Our goal in the Travel industry is for our young women porters to aspire to become professional tour guides or at least have the opportunities to pursue their dreams to obtain a higher education.
We are not just seeking women porters, we want women to empower themselves and other women by working within their local communities. Our wish is that they take direct autonomous control in the areas where most tour operators take advantage of them.
Women Inclusion, Equal Employment Opportunity and Equal Salary Pay as the Basis of Financial Independence and Women Empowerment.
How Did It Start?
It is inconceivable to speak about sustainability while keeping women out of the benefits and opportunities that the travel industry provides for others.
From the early stages of our company and the leadership of Amelia, one of our founders; we conceived the necessity to integrate more women into this industry.
Initially, we had to provide small workshops and conversations about how important it was for them to even fathom working as porters. Furthermore, we needed to explain the premise of the employment and education opportunities they could be privy to. We managed to form a core of 24 women coming from different Andean villages of the Sacred Valley committed to working as porters.
Despite the resistance that they encountered from some of the men in their local communities, these women decided to take on the task. We started doing moderate hikes in the Huchuy Qosqo area as training for the Inca trail in May 2016. Eventually when they were ready; in February 2018, some of them obtained the required official training and permits to work as porters on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
It was definitely challenging for them to take the next step, which was to carry the 15Kg of weight on the Inca trail for four days. The initial sentiment was physically demanding but doable nonetheless.
The learning curve from that experience was fundamental to our end goal. They conquered all the obstacles that society placed in front of them as well as the myths that women die climbing these mountains, or that they should stay in the house cooking meals for their male partners and looking after their children. What they also came to realize was that in breaking through these barriers, they opened up the way for other women.
It has been 6 months since our first group took on the Inca trail, and where others have fallen short on following through, we have filled those gaps and brought forward progressive change.
Why Should You Support This Movement?
By hiring women, Evolution Treks Peru is laying the foundation for all porters to be accorded with fair and basic working conditions. All porters working for Evolution Treks Peru receive the same camping tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag we provide for our clients. They all receive a warm fleece, a base layer to wear during the night, a warm hat and convertible trekking pants, besides the t-shirts they use throughout the day. We think that without these working standards women would not find this activity welcoming and will just discourage them from participating in it. Our goal is for other companies to follow our lead and in the process raise the working standards of all porters in the tourism industry.
Our belief is that the conscious travelers will soon demand that their tour outfitters meet this criteria which will then force them to adapt to this new norm.
Here Are The Working Conditions Of Most Porters On The Inca Trail.
Tour operators on the Inca Trail currently provide almost 6,000 jobs for porters. Almost 99.99% of them are male porters. Despite the Inca Trail regulations and the porter laws, most male porters work under horrible working conditions. They are forced to carry more than what is legally allowed, they are not fed properly nor are they given a suitable place to sleep. Some porters rely on leftovers that tourists don’t eat, and almost all porters sleep in the dining tents that tour operators provide for their clients; unfortunately these tents do not have a proper roof or a floor to insulate porters from the rain, wind, and the humidity. In addition, porters do not receive proper sleeping pads or sleeping bags.
Most tour companies provide their porters with some clothing in the form of uniforms. In most cases, these clothes do not meet the conditions for the trekking activity which only exacerbates the already precarious situation of the porters (for instance cotton made clothing that once it gets humid due to sweating or rain does not dry easily, thus becoming a burden). Some porters get shoes that they have to share with other porters working in the same company putting their health at risk of developing contagious fungus due to the nature of the trekking activity.
More Questions and answers about our Women Empowering project.
What inspired you to take this approach to your business?
On a fundamental basis, the horrible statistical numbers of rape, domestic violence, poverty and discrimination of women in Peru and around the world are the reason number one why I was moved to do my part and cooperate with the women of Evolution Treks Peru to change that.
Also, I have always believed that there is something wrong in a world where men take the majority of working and leadership positions. I think that I would be unfair to my daughters and other women I care in my life if I was to accept that that is everything that humans can do when it comes to gender equality. I believe that a world where only men determine the direction of society perpetuates the patriarchal notions and behavior that men are trained to follow since they are born. This in turn just keep the whole human civilization in a state of backwardness.
Where you the first?
Yes, we are the first company that hires women porters.
Have you seen an impact in the local community?
The direct effect we have perceived from the women that work with us is their realization that other forms of obtaining an income are possible. They realized that the traditional ways they used to make an income such as farming or weaving are not the only avenues. Also, being porters, as some of their male neighbors and family are was never something they never considered. The sole fact of doing this job was very uplifting and empowering. They felt that they were being considered equally strong and important as men. The support they got from the male members of these Andean villages was also very impressive. They encouraged their wives, sisters, and friends to do this job, which was something surprising as we thought that they would get jealous or protective.
For example, as a result of female empowerment and higher family income. How can this impact be quantified?
The introduction of our project in these communities has opened the possibility of making more money in less time and with less effort. On the one hand, weaving a hat or a scarf is a time-consuming activity that takes up to two full days (8 hours a day) of work. These handcrafts can be sold at a price of USD 35. On the other hand, working as a porter for two days can render up to USD 70 between payment USD 35 and tips $30 to USD 35 which is double than what they would make weaving those items.
Weaving is an activity that these women can perform while trekking and carrying the bundles we give them. Andean women are accustomed to weaving while performing domestic activities that keep their hands free.
Also, before the introduction of our project, they used to look for tourists (clients) to come to their villages to buy their products (weavings). To do this, they had to spend time and money to travel to Cusco, which is located an hour and a half away from their villages to get their potential clients. In contrast, our project brings the clients to their villages and does not involve any effort of spending time or money on their part.
Have you seen an impact in the Peruvian tourism industry as a result of what you’re doing?
The project of empowering women is recent. We started working with these women last May (2017). Since then we have taken seven groups to the Huchuy Qosqo area, which is an off the beaten path attraction. The impact we have had in the travel industry of Cusco is minor. Some business owners think that this project will never take off. They understand that from a business perspective this project will not make any money. However, we have gotten a lot of support from other women organizations abroad.
Are other companies following your lead? Only one other company in Cusco is doing what we are doing. Our vision is that other companies follow our lead as it can only benefit more women and other communities. Hiring women porters demands higher operational costs, which reduce the possibility of making a profit or a high number of profits. We think that this is the reason why other companies refuse to hire women porters. From a normal business perspective, hiring women is not profitable. From our perspective, hiring women is imperative to raise the standards of the sustainable travel industry. We think that, in the future, more companies will hire women in order to catch up with the trend that we are trying to form. As it happened with the “improvements” of working conditions for male porters back in the early 2000’s, all travel companies were forced to give their male porters uniforms to masked their poor labor standards and to catch up with the tour companies that led these changes.
What are the next steps for your growth? + Challenges to grow? In 2018 we will take our women porters to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a place where only 146 women out of seven thousand men are registered to work but none of them actively work. We expect to have more bookings from people who care about gender equality and sustainability. Also, The women porters project is innovative and has the potential of attracting many more clients that are not necessarily into sustainable travel. The most critical challenge is that we aim to remain profitable while attempting to change the working conditions of porters as a whole. The working standards that we have demand more spendings and fewer profits. By hiring women, those spendings become higher, which means almost no profits whatsoever. The fact that we are trying to improve the working conditions of our porters will force other companies to copy what we are doing. The effect of that will be better working conditions for all porters. We think that we will get more bookings in the future, once the word is out there about how we are different than everyone else in this industry which will turn into more booking and more profits for our company.
How much does an average porter, cook, tour guide make?
Men porters make between 60USD and 72USD for four days of work. We pay 72USD
Cooks make between 90USD and 110 USD for four days of work. We pay $110USD
Tour guides make between 200 USD and 320 USD for four days of work depending on the number of people they lead. Usually, they get the higher amount when they take up to 16 people. We pay USD 240 because we operate small groups of 6 people max.
What is a living wage in Cusco? S/. 850 Peruvian soles or 260 USD per month.
What is the gender pay gap in the tourism? between $40 and $60 USD 20% and 25% difference.
How do you remain profitable despite fair trade practices? The prices of our tours are higher than most companies. We try to cover our expenses by doing so, but we risk of being driven under for the lack of customers. Also, We try to remain profitable by putting together groups of 6 people or more. More people in our tours means more profit and fewer expenses. For instance, we spend less money on transportation, guides, porters, etc.
How do you practice fair trade in your company? We have remained focused on providing our workers (women and men) with the essential working conditions necessary for this type of work. Our workers are provided with proper tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food, adequate clothing for this type of activity and better than average salaries. We do this without lowering the quality of the service that we provide to our clients. Our porters, who are shareholders go the extra mile to provide our clients with an unforgettable experience. They work happy and motivated because they understand that the work they do will eventually pay off as they will directly benefit from their hard work. Our work with the Andean communities from where the women porters come from is another example of our fair trade tourism practices. We aim to create tourist facilities in these places, so the women run them autonomously in the future.
What our clients receive in exchange for that is an excellent service, the certainty that the money they invest in their vacations funds a truly sustainable project. The camping gear they receive is high tech, lightweight and of good quality. All tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags and cooking equipment are top-notch which guarantees a product of high quality.
What trends do you expect from a number of your customers? People who look for sustainable travel look for more inclusion, they want porters and tourists sharing meals. They want less meat consumption an more organically grow vegetables. They want efficient use of resources and less waste, more benefits for the workers and less profit for the owners; they want more innovation and less phony labels.
How do your profit margins look like compared to other companies? Our company makes at least 50% less money than most companies for the same number of clients when we operate tours using male porters. Hiring women reduces to almost cero our profit margins because it demands more expenses as we hire more women to do the same jobs that men do. Doing so translates into more spendings with regards to transportation, camping gear, food, and salaries. Once again, we hope that once people realize of our fair trade travel practices, we will get more bookings which obviously will turn into more revenue.
How do you view the impact you’re making in the industry? On the community? I think that we are doing something unparalleled in Peru. Hence the magnitude of the challenge. Not only we are incorporating women into this industry, but we are trying to change the poor working conditions to which male porters are forced to work. We believe that when the project gets the attention it deserves, it will force other companies, big and small, local and international to follow our model of inclusiveness of women and fair working standards of the porters. The impact it has on the community has many layers. It helps people believe that what they think is the norm can always be changed and challenged. Also, It uplifts their morale; it helps them believe in themselves and other members of the community that are not necessarily politicians that want to run for a particular government position.
How many women are you currently employing? 16
What percentage do they contribute to the entire workforce? 40%
How do you think your model can be adopted in other industries and in countries that have worse gender equality issues than Peru? The science is in, 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.