Have you ever wondered why the visibility of women in the outdoor and adventure industry is so low? Various studies have shown that women in this industry still need to be more and far between. They illustrate a difference between men and women in both outdoor recreation participation and representation. And this difference reiterates traditional heteronormativity. Even the new trends that come up in outdoor recreation favour traditionally masculine modes of engagement with nature, according to studies. So many have pointed out that the outdoor adventure space is still ruled by primarily white, male, and cisgender people. There have been improvements in the last few years, with several women taking to the great outdoors more—mountaineering, rock climbing, hiking, surfing, etc. And much of the change is being driven by women.
Irish high-altitude trekking company, Earth's Edge, is one of the companies in this space trying to change all that with its women-run expeditions. The company announced the first-ever all-female expedition to Kilimanjaro in July 2022. The epic trip to the 'roof of Africa' was attended by an all-women group of guests and led by female porters and expedition guides on the ground in Tanzania.
Earth's Edge hopes such expeditions will shine a light on the gender inequalities in the outdoor industry and provide much-needed jobs and training to women in the region.
We chatted with Aislinn Whelan of Earth's Edge about the expedition, women in the outdoors, and more. Here are some extracts.
What has been the influence and impact of women in adventure travel in recent years What changes have you seen
Since 2011 we have only seen five women succesfully reaching Kilimanjaro. In that same period, we've met thousands of men. There is a clear divide between genders in the outdoor industry in Tanzania and worldwide. However, this gender gap is slowly getting smaller. 30 per cent of all our Kilimanjaro climbs will be staffed by women in 2022. We aim to increase that to 35 per cent in 2023 and so forth.
Our primary focus is to use our business as a force for good. We want to better the lives of the communities that we work with while also doing our bit to protect the planet and the mountains for future generations to enjoy. Check out some of their local projects here.
Tell us about the women-focused adventures your company is offering.
We've had tremendous support from our female-led climb in Kilimanjaro. We launched this trip to train more women to become porters and guides on the mountain. In Tanzania, women often leave school early to start a family, leaving them with no education. Training them to work on the hill allows them to provide for themselves. It's a significant initiative, and we've gotten positive feedback. Our community supports and encourages more women to get into this male-led industry.
Women get jobs and a future career in mountaineering with Earth's Edge. Locals start out working as porters. From here, they can attend Mountain Guide School in Tanzania to become qualified guides. A mountain guide in Tanzania is seen as one of the best-paid jobs around, hence the importance of training more women in this industry. Each year on Kilimanjaro, we reward one of our hardworking porters by paying for their training to become a guide. The course, which costs USD$900, is far beyond the means of most porters who make roughly USD$115, including tips per climb. After they feed and house their families, there is very little money left at the end of the month, which makes attending guide school by themselves virtually impossible. Once they qualify as guides, their pay with tips will increase to roughly USD$220, which means they will have much more disposable income to feed and educate their families.
We have a local team in Tanzania who actively recruit and find porters and guides to work with us. Our team then trains them in preparation for their first Earth's Edge expedition.
The women who sign up for our expeditions want to connect with local communities, especially with local women. And understand their culture through a woman's perspective. It is always their favourite memory of the trip. What's unique about climbing Kilimanjaro is that often, you'll find yourself walking with a local guide for 5-6 hours, chatting about their local culture and then learning about yours.
Without a doubt, our most popular trek is Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro holds a special place in people's hearts, and it's not just the summit that makes the trip but the local people that make this expedition so unique. After Kilimanjaro, our next popular trip is Everest Base Camp.
What challenges do you face while recruiting local women Could you give some specific examples from specific areas?
At the moment, our main challenge is commitment. Many women have prior responsibilities, and although they want to work full-time, they have prior commitments, making it hard for them to juggle.
Which treks did you complete recently with women guides/porters Please give some instances of how they played out as an advantage?
Two women lead our expedition partners in Tanzania. In addition, we've had some fantastic female lead guides who have been working with us for years. This year we've focused more on decreasing the gender gap by recruiting more women in the area. All our guides/porters are trained to the highest standard, male or female.
Looking to the future, what new things can we expect to see from Earth's Edge?
We are a small company on the cusps of growth. In the next five years, you can expect Earth's Edge to be one of the top expedition providers in the world. We have some huge goals in our sustainability projects that we are excited to get off the ground. One of the main goals we are working towards is giving 1 per cent of our company profit back to the planet by supporting sustainability initiatives.
Earth's Edge was established in 2007 by James McManus. As a child, James has always been driven by the outdoors and seeks new mountains to climb. This drive stayed with James into adulthood, when he began climbing some of the world's highest peaks thus, Earth's Edge was born. You can read more about Earth's Edge here.