OPINION: Why we need women to tackle the climate crisis

Young group of teenagers activists demonstrating against global warming.

Our planet is under threat.

A year ago, we watched devastating fires take over our land in Australia. Fire also ravaged the west coast of the United States. Farmers in Africa face severe droughts and losing considerable crops and, as a result, income.

The tourism industry is at the forefront of the climate emergency – we have a front-row seat to the crisis that is unfolding in many iconic, natural areas and destinations across the globe.

We see how it’s impacting the people and places we visit, particularly women.

One of the least talked about solutions to climate change is female empowerment. According to a report by the climate research organization Project Drawdown, empowering women and girls in developing countries ranked second among 76 solutions for curbing global warming to two degrees Celsius.

While international travel is on pause, the sector has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight for a healthier planet by empowering women to tackle the climate crisis.

Investing in women and girls creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits for women, their families, communities and countries.

Women are often responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water and sourcing fuel for heating and cooking. With climate change – warming water temperatures, large-scale and widespread fires, and drought – these tasks are becoming more difficult.

Women are not only the best solution to prevent further degradation and adapt to climate change; they have a vested interested in doing so, for their communities and families.

There has never been a more imperative time to support, educate and empower women to fight the catastrophic unfolding of climate change and participate in climate actions at all levels of decision-making processes.

What can businesses in the tourism industry do? To start with, two things:

First, businesses can promote and empower women throughout their supply chain, across the globe.

When I joined Intrepid Travel as environmental impact specialist over two years ago, I brought with me a female perspective and experiences that have shaped Intrepid’s climate action plan.

Image source: iStock/Shakeel Sha

Since then, I have led the business to declare a Climate Emergency, underpinned by a seven-step plan to decarbonize its business in line with the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5-degree future.

I ensured one of the imperative steps within the seven-point climate commitment plan is empowering women. Addressing the critical intersection between empowering women and climate change will be an increasing focus for us in 2021, making gender equality a core pillar in the business’s industry-wide fight for a healthier planet.

In April 2020, we published an open-sourced guide to decarbonizing your travel business; I have since conducted over 30 free consultations, and more than 180 businesses have downloaded the guide. I will continue to meet with leaders across all sectors to champion carbon reduction plans that include focusing on women empowerment.

Secondly, remove barriers for women in local communities where you operate.

Since joining the United Nations Global Compact in 2008 – adhering to the Ten Principles and endorsing the Women’s Empowerment Principles – Intrepid Travel has focused on educating and supporting women in local communities.

For example, in countries like Morocco, nearly 80 per cent of females are illiterate in the rural and remote areas, simply because they don’t have easy access to schools that are sometimes more than a one-hour walk from their home. Through our not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation, our local team partnered with an NGO called Education For All, whose purpose is to build and run girls’ boarding houses near secondary schools, so girls from rural families can have access to education.

Education provides opportunities not just for women, but also for the women they employ, empower and connect with. In addition, education increases the resilience of women and girls to climate disasters, understanding that there’s more they can do to better the planet, finding new ways to tackle the crisis in their communities, homes and workplaces.

Image source: iStock/yavuzsariyildiz

Additionally, our local teams in more than 20 global offices work with on-the-ground businesses to support and include women-run or women-led experiences in our tours, including launching a dedicated range of Women’s Expeditions in 2018.

Many years ago, our local managers noticed gender discrepancy in our tour leaders because women face many difficulties becoming tour leaders in certain countries due to public perception, family concerns and, in countries like Morocco, the inability to obtain the required licensing because of government restrictions.

The managers went into schools, local communities, and lobbied governments to change these perceptions and promote the role of women within tourism. In doing so, Intrepid Travel set a target to double our female leaders by 2020, we achieved that target six months early in 2019.

When we empower women through tourism – including leading tours – we open a world of possibilities. These women can share with travellers about sustainable practices in their country and can take these sustainable practices home to their families and communities.

With the right knowledge and policies, the tourism industry can rebuild stronger and more equitable. We need to respond to the immediate issues ahead, viewing women as the key pillar in our climate action plans.

Dr Susanne Etti is Intrepid Travel’s Melbourne-based environmental impact specialist.

This year, Intrepid is celebrating International Women’s Day by celebrating 40 inspiring women and allies.

This celebration recognises a range of females who have made positive impacts on their teams, communities and families throughout the pandemic. You can view the full list HERE.

Featured image source: iStock/LeoPatrizi

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