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Women in adventure…or not

Women Only Adventures: A murky subject....

I have recently started a women-only walking group with the aim to get my community out into the wonderful Chiltern Hills where we live. We walk, we chat and, for some, step out of our comfort zones.

I really grappled with the "Women only" element of the group as I am usually an inclusive person. When tour operators started selling women only trips I was the first to mutter "They wouldn't get away with running male only trips..."

My opinion on this has changed as I have learnt more on the why's so I am sticking with it on this one, and here is my justification.

Only 19% of guides trained through the UK Mountain Leader Scheme are women. Women in adventure jobs are far lower than their male counterparts. The main reason for this is the commitment to family life. Women are still seen as the primary carer, whether that be to children or older family members. Many female outdoor adventure instructors or tour guides careers are cut short as families grow. The style of work means being away from home for periods of time (short or long) - 60% of women in outdoor careers have left for this reason. Others say the cost of childcare or not being able to take promotions make the sector uneconomical to be in. The tourism industry is female-heavy, yet this is not reflected in our guides and instructors in the adventure sector.

But what has this got to do with women-only groups…well, its a bit of scene-setting, really. The issues that affect employment also influence women's ability to get outdoors and participate in adventure activities (I include soft adventure such as walking, cycling, wild swimming, and kayaking when I say adventure).

A guilt free swim on a family holiday.

Women really do have a sense of guilt when trying to carve time for "me" activities. Even when women are the primary earners, the unpaid jobs in life still generally fall to females. Mum guilt is real - the feeling of needing to stay at home for the kids is a strong female emotion. Even when women are finding time, there are compromises; the amount of time a woman spends on an adventure is less than a man, the style of the adventure and level of challenge is often different to BC (Before Children).

Then there is the media portrayal of adventure activities. Masculine heavy marketing and social media can make adventure seem intimidating and out of reach for many women. Adventure can be perceived as a male-dominated competitive environment in challenging terrains. Women have different motivations for taking part in an adventure. I do believe this is getting better, Instagram is awash with adventurous women, yet there is a lot of work to be done. There is a lack of role models for women, but they are out there. Follow me on Instagram, and I will point a few out.

Women only groups are a place for women to connect with like-minded peers. They create a safe space for women to be themselves, step out of their comfort zone and try different activities. Women only groups are seen as less intimidating than mixed groups; women who may not have confidence in their skills feel more empowered when in a female-only environment. Many women feel they lack the skills to go it alone. I've already had people say they don't know where to go in our area and are happy to be led by someone who can read a map!

Women seek out female-only adventure environments. We see this is the number of women-only adventure groups and tour operators offering women-only trips - a quick Google search will bring up 100's. Women are more likely to see adventure as self-discovery rather than competitive. In female led adventure groups self-doubt is dispelled, new skills learnt, new friendships made, and a safe place to chat about issues unique to women found.

I know not all of the statements about women in this blog are true in every home. This blog is based on academic research, market trends and the travel media, as well as my knowledge of the adventure sector.

Below are the academic sources I have used to back up these claims:

Whittington A. Outdoor Careers and Motherhood. Journal of Experiential Education. 2019;42(1):79-92.

Empowerment and women in adventure tourism: a negotiated journey. By: Doran, Adele, Journal of Sport & Tourism, 14775085, 20160301, Vol. 20, Issue 1

Wharton, C. (2020). Middle-aged women negotiating the ageing process through participation in outdoor adventure activities. Ageing and Society, 40(4), 805-822


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