Women Travel Groups
A group of hikers sitting in a restaurant in Leh, northern India, stare slightly open-mouthed at the table across the room, where another group of hikers are about to tuck into platters of curry.
They are all attempting to summit India’s highest trekkable peak, Stok Kangri (6,153m), and are spending two days acclimatising in the town before heading up into the surrounding Himalayan foothills.
The second group are being stared at because they are an unusual sight – sixteen women hikers attempting to summit a 6,000m mountain with 360 Expeditions is not exactly common.
Mountaineering is a world dominated by men, that only the occasional woman breaks into. This is an industry where, for many, there is still a glass ceiling. Trips and expeditions are, of course, open to both men and women, but the majority of those who sign up to climb mountains are male.
It has been a man’s world for generations and whilst there are plenty of women who are more than happy to be the only one in a group, others feel differently and want to find a way to redress the balance.
360 Expeditions is one company working to achieve this goal. Earlier this year, they launched a joint winter mountaineering expedition skills trip with women’s only adventure group, Love Her Wild. It immediately sold out. Six months later, the organisations came together again, this time to take a group of women to the summit of Stok Kangri. That this trip, too, sold out in record time showed that the market demand for women’s only expeditions was there, all that has been lacking is the supply.
What The Experts Say
Bex Band, founder of Love Her Wild, said that there are ‘many reasons’ that women might want to be in an all-female environment when on expeditions.
For the majority, it’s about confidence; worrying about whether they will ‘be able to keep up’ in a group of mostly men, or if they will be able to cope. There is a nervousness about whether men-heavy groups would have a ‘more competitive and macho atmosphere’, which can leave some women feeling a need to prove themselves and overcompensate. Sometimes, Bex says, women just don’t want to have to worry about those elements as it can ‘take the fun out of it’.
Women travel groups, especially the more adventurous ones, provide an alternative, making the great outdoors feel more supportive and accessible. More often than with male friendship groups, women simply don’t know anyone who share their interest in adventure, and women-only groups provide a half way point to explore the outdoors as a fledgling interest, as they provide an opportunity for participants who enjoy a friendly atmosphere.
The worry and embarrassment that many women face about basic hygiene in mixed groups is immediately removed, like how to manage periods and finding private places to relieve oneself when there is no access to a toilet for days or weeks at a time. Bex says these issues are the ‘most common things’ she is asked about by prospective clients for her expeditions.
Jo Bradshaw, Everest summiteer and 360 Expeditions guide for Stok Kangri, highlights the opposition she has faced to leading women travel groups. She says there is often criticism that all women’s groups would be ‘bitchy’, something she has found to not be the case and, if anything, she says is a more common trait in mixed groups.
On the whole, Jo has found that people’s anxieties are similar, irrespective of gender. She argues that men have had ‘men-only adventure and expedition groups for centuries so why shouldn’t women’? Jo believes that it has only been labelled ‘sexist’ since women have started to have single gender groups.
The Adventure Industry
As leaders and participants, Jo and Bex have experienced sexism, with both saying that they are expected to prove themselves among other colleagues and local guides, whereas their male equivalents get ‘automatic respect’. Bex cited examples of ‘mansplaining’ from other guides and even clients, discussing how it can grate you down, as well as getting paid less with other companies (that old gender pay gap!), and being booked less as event speakers than male counterparts.
Whilst women travel groups provide solace from this and a more positive platform, Jo finds immense satisfaction in winning over those who doubt her abilities. Overall, for her though, it’s much more about creating ‘gradual change through positivity’, rather than being angry. She wants to make sure that she is seen as a great expedition leader and speaker because of the work she does rather than being labelled as a ‘great female leader or a great female speaker’. The fact that she is a woman shouldn’t come into it.
This is a point which Bex strongly seconds, saying that women travel groups are simply a way to ‘level the playing field’. Bex feels that the adventure world is slow to catch up on the rapid increase in pace on gender equality issues, being very much ‘stuck in its ways’, even ‘archaic’. But, by continuing to challenge norms and assumptions wherever possible, she hopes that real change will slowly begin to happen.
Jo and Bex are clear that man-bashing has no place in the discussion about women’s only groups though, as that is ‘not what feminism is about’. As an ardent feminist myself, I couldn't agree more on this point. Instead, Jo says, it is about ‘people getting into adventure whatever way they feel more comfortable - and for a lot of these ladies it’s about being in a single sex environment, because that’s more comfortable for them.’
If it helps people push their limits, grow as individuals, expand their normal, then she asks if it matters if it’s in a mixed or single sex environment.
Well, why not?
I went on the Stok Kanrgi trek with 360 Expeditions and would thoroughly recommend their trips. This 14 day expedition runs throughout the summer months. Mention 25before25 when booking.
Love Her Wild has plenty of women's only adventures to get you excited about!
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