Making Change: How to Empower Women While Seeing the World

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“I regret spending money on that life changing trip” –said no one ever.

There’s a reason that travel is one of the world’s largest industries, and one of the fastest growing. Travel is an incredible experience for those of us able to afford it. But without proper care, the 2.4 Trillion Dollars spent every year in travel can unknowingly create a lot of harm… Yet the money you spend while traveling can also make a positive impact, too. Most notably, when your money goes to women-led businesses it benefits the entire community.

As someone who cares deeply about gender equality at home and abroad, and in light of recent events is more motivated than ever to do my part, here are nine things I do while traveling to make sure my spending isn’t only providing a life-enriching experience for me, but is also benefiting the women in the communities I visit:

1. Choose destinations that strive for gender equality

Countries, and their governments, benefit when people travel. Money tourism dollars equals more jobs for its citizens and more tax dollars in its reserves. Reward countries that treat women well by traveling to those locations, and by avoiding those that don’t. Money talks, and if countries realize they are losing out on revenue because of unfair treatment, they’re more likely to take steps to improve it. If you’re thinking about where to go, this report from the World Economic Forum shows the countries with the best pay equality and can help you create a shortlist. If you’re choosing between a couple destination options, this interactive on The Guardian scorecards countries based on women’s rights and can help you make the final decision.

2. Don’t stay at an international chain

According to an article published by the United Nations, up to 80% of the money spent by tourists when visiting a country ends up leaving the country because of the many foreign owned hotels, tour operators, shopping venues, entertainment providers, and restaurants operating there. That means that the majority of your money is helping shareholders of international corporations, not the people in the country that you’re traveling to. Your money has the massive potential to create jobs, and the taxes on that money fund things like education. Since lodging is often your biggest expense, do whatever you can to stay at local lodging. Make an even bigger impact by staying at a women-owned and operated facility. Finding them takes a little extra work, but you can choose to stay at an Airbnb managed by a female, use Couchsurfing, or find local social-good options with some google searches, like “socially responsibility hotel in {CITYNAME}”. As an example,  Favela Experience in Brazil provides really unique stays that helps put income into communities that need it.

3. Eat local

In the same way that your lodging dollars can help create local jobs, so can your meals. Spend a little extra effort trying to find a women-led restaurant – your wallet and tummy will thank you! While there are not any great listing sites for this that I know of, you can easily ask your AirBnb/Couchsurfing Host or your hotel concierge on how to find them in your destination. And once you find one, you can then ask the staff for suggestions on other places to go.

4. Buy Better Products

Everytime I travel I am blown away by the chain-style souvenir shops selling “I <3 Country” shirts and other pieces of junk. It’s mind blowing to me that these shops stay in business, and its saddens me to think of all the money being spent on meaningless knick-knacks when there are locally made products that are much higher quality and help create jobs for the local. Sure you have to go off the beaten path a little to find them, but you’ll be rewarded with the extra effort. Just like with food, as locals where you can go to find local shops. I ask the question this way “If you’re buying a meaningful gift for your partner or child, where do you go shopping?” OR “are there any local art schools or nonprofits creating locally-inspired products?”. You can also search for these online using terms like “local artisan shop in {Destination}”. As examples of organizations, check out  Maya Traditions in Guatemala, Awamaki in Peru, Makarios Kreasindo in Myanmar, Tsandza Weaving in Swaziland, The Batik Boutique in Malaysia and In Their Shoes in Thailand  – all follow similar models in which they sell beautiful clothes and accessories while also putting their employees through empowerment programs to realize their worth, increase their confidence, learn vocational skills and business know-how while providing  them with the financial independence that they deserve. Not to mention, these businesses are all women owned.  The Starfish Project in China even goes a step further by providing shelter, counseling, medical exams, education and vocational training to women and their children escaping human trafficking and exploitation.

5. Use women-led tour operators

Research shows that when money is spent on women, that money comes back to benefit the community. According to the International Monetary Fund, this is because when when control more capital, they spend more money on their children’s food and education. There is a trend in nonprofits and social businesses to empower women to be tour guides, like 3Sisters in Nepal. As with shopping, ask your local connections and do some online searching for women-led tour operators that have a social mission As a few examples,. Maya Traditions has a Backstrap weaving workshop and tour of medicinal plant gardens, Awamaki has site visits, weaving workshops and local cuisine classes, and Batik Boutique offers classes in making your own clothing to take home. Not only does spending your money here actually help, but (at least for me) they are more meaningful experiences, too.

6. Support local menstrual hygiene programs

The United Nations Development Program reports that menstrual hygiene is an overlooked issue when it comes to gaining gender equality in many parts of the world. Access to affordable, reusable menstrual products is essential to women and girl’s ability to stay in school and succeed in the workplace. Before you pack for your trip, check out GlobeDrop and Pack for a Purpose to see if you can use a little of your extra luggage space to empower a non-profit. Then either donate to that local organizations, or email them asking if you can bring supplies. As an example, Pad Heaven provides organic, reusable pads to girls in Kenya by employing inmates in a local women’s prison. This program aims to reduce recidivism for women inmates, by empowering them production and entrepreneurship training, and by providing them with income to send money back to their families while in prison. And Days For Girls has an innovative approach to making it easier for girls to access the hygiene they need.

Don’t have time in your travel agenda to deliver anything? There are other options, for every menstrual cup purchased from Ruby Cup one reusable menstrual cup is donated to a girl in east Africa. Menstrual cups not your thing? They also sell therapeutic pillows for cramps and kegel trainers.

7. Don’t Pay to Volunteer at Schools or Orphanages

Paying to volunteer means that your money, not you, is what the organization is after. As many countries lack oversight on nonprofits, you could be unknowingly supporting criminals. A haunting report titled “Cambodia’s Orphan Business“ tells you what you need to know. Not to mention, if you are planning on only staying for a short amount of time, the effort you make in supporting the children you encounter, although with great intention, may not be providing the children with the consistency in interpersonal and emotional support that they need to grow and develo. However,  if you are committed to the idea of supporting a school or orphanage, this resource can help guide you through the decision making process. Instead, see point #9 about volunteering your skills to create sustainable change.

8. Donate, but be careful…

Certainly, there are organizations that are worthy of your donations, but adequate research should be done before giving money. GlobalGiving is a wonderful nonprofit that has pre-verified non-profit projects around the world, and you can easily sort by projects the benefit women and girls and/or the Sustainable Development Goal #5: Gender Equality. Prefer to give a product instead of money? You can donate specific items by accessing NGO donation wish lists on Amazon. Prefer to give a loan? You can do so through trusted microfinance institutions like Kiva, where the money you donate will go into a micro-loan to someone you choose based on their needs and your preferences.

9. Volunteer Your Real Skills

One of the leading barriers to global progress is a lack of access to expertise, something the global development industry calls “The talent gap”. By volunteering your skills—going Experteering—you can help solve real challenges to enable local organizations to grow, increase their impact, and create jobs. In exchange for your skills, you will earn a much more authentic, rewarding, and immersive experience. Ethical placement partners, like MovingWorlds.org (note author bias), can help you find the right match with organizations that support women empowerment. Check out this free guide on how to find ethical placements overseas.

In Summary

People spend a lot of money when they travel, and where that money gets spent can have a real impact. Small changes in how that money is spent can really make a big impact. So remember these 9 tips next time you start planning your trip so you can join us in creating a more gender-equal world!

Do you have other best practices that you subscribe to? Let us know in the comments below!

— Guest Post: By Cami Hagen. We are happy to publish this post in conjunction with our friends at MovingWorlds for International Women’s Day.

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  1. Great article! Will definitely keep this in mind for future traveling and give my two cents to others who go abroad!

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