Jenny Gray’s been chasing adventures since she was a child growing up in Fiji, spending her days in an international school and weekends heading out to remote islands to snorkel.
Her start in the travel industry came after landing a product role with a ski wholesaler, then nine years ago she got the dream job: joining small group adventure travel company, Intrepid, in Melbourne.
These days her role involves spearheading Intrepid’s fastest growing range to date, a portfolio of women’s only expeditions across a range of global destinations, led by local female leaders who offer a unique understanding on women in the various regions with respect for their cultural and religious values.
This International Women’s Day, Intrepid are adding new destinations to the portfolio including Pakistan and Israel and Palestinian Territories, in addition to their existing tours to Iran, Jordan, Nepal, Kenya, Morocco, Turkey and India. The tours see Intrepid intentionally aiming to benefit local women by seeking female-owned accommodation, restaurants, suppliers and businesses.
These tours also bolster Intrepid’s gender equality goals and targets. Last year, they reached their target of doubling female tour leaders, reaching 342 in January 2020, up from 154 in 2017.
“This isn’t an easy feat,” explains Gray. “Especially in more male-dominated countries where women often face domestic and gender specific pressures.”
In 2020, Intrepid has expanded their goals to include doubling the number of women porters globally who assist travellers on mountain hikes in Tanzania, Peru and Nepal.
They’re also undertaking a rigorous audit to assess how many of their suppliers are women, so they can then further maximise opportunities to increase the numbers and help reduce gender inequality in the countries they operate.
Gray says the concept of women-led and women only trips is certainly not new — arising out of customer feedback coming particularly out of the Middle East region.
“Each country has its own unique cultural and religious factors which can mean that local interaction is challenging and complex for mixed gender groups,” she says.
They saw an opportunity to open up destinations and experiences that would be off limits to mixed gender groups, by creating female-only trips. They also saw an opportunity to connect women from around the world, delivering insights into the everyday experiences and challenges of different women.
Even better, these tours help break down the barriers to women that exist in traditional tourism. They’re providing local women employment through locally led experiences, and supporting women-owned and operated businesses.
“In most cases we’ve seen that by empowering just one local woman, it creates a ripple effect and entire communities are reaping the benefits,” says Gray
“Aside from the obvious financial impact, these trips have a profound impact on our female leaders, suppliers, and local women.
“At its most basic level it gives women an opportunity to tell their story and to talk about their personal and collective struggles and triumphs in achieving gender equality,” says Gray.
So what happens on a women-only tour?
In Iran, it means stepping into beauty salons and connecting with local women over lively and engaging conversations.
In Nepal, it means trekking with an all-female crew of mountain guides and porters, which is particularly rare in Nepal where women’s employment and empowerment is lacking.
In Kenya, it means meeting teacher Hellen Nkuraiya, who shares her experiences of being raised in a traditional Maasai community, being married off twice by her family in exchange for cows — but then running away, completing her education, and returning to the Maasai community to address the challenge of child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), women’s economic empowerment, and fighting for girls education.
In Turkey, it means visiting the coastal fishing village of Ucagiz, and meeting Sabahat, the wife of a local fisherman who invites women onto her boat to explore crystal turquoise waters to visit the ruins of an ancient sunken Lycian city. Sabahat is one of Intrepid’s Ambassadors in a local project they initiated to address female participation in Turkey’s tourism supply chain.
Crafting these sorts of travel experiences takes a lot of work, and a desire to go beyond traditional ideas of travel, in order to take female travellers “behind the closed doors” and into experiences and destinations that mixed gender groups simply can’t access.
“What we didn’t want to do was replicate run of the mill itineraries for women only “girls clubs” which can fuel gender stereotypes and exclusivity,” Gray says.
“We also wanted to ensure these trips would share important stories of female empowerment, and directly benefit local women. So, our local leaders and operations team played a big part in helping us to identify women owned, women run suppliers in each destination.”
Check out more on the full range Women’s Expeditions here, and check out their two new experiences below.
About the new Women’s Expeditions
Israel and Palestinian Territories: Women’s Expedition
An 8-day women’s expedition to Israel and Palestinian Territories with local female leaders and guides from Israeli, Palestinian and Bedouin backgrounds this trip will immerse you in the different cultures of the region through the eyes of some incredible women. Meet Palestinian peace activists, break bread with Bedouin women and learn about Israeli women working to secure the right to pray at the Western Wall.
Pakistan: Women’s Expedition
A 15-day women’s expedition to Pakistan’s remote northern mountains, joining a local female leader for a unique journey to the Hunza and Yasim valleys. See the communities and landscapes associated with the hallowed Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains and meet the local women working on empowerment projects such as cooking schools, carpet weaving and cafes throughout the region. Immerse yourself in remote mountain villages while staying overnight and sharing food and stories with local families.