This week my guest blogger is Nora Russell, WTM Women in Travel panelist and Marketing Manager at Women for Women International an organisation dedicated to supporting women in countries affected by conflict and war. Personally I believe Travel and Tourism can be an instrument for the regeneration and the economic empowerment of women, so I ask Nora to tell @WTMWomen how she sees this happening on the ground and what the travel industry can do to help further.
I have worked with Women for Women International for the past 4 years in countries affected by war. Some countries I work in – including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Rwanda – have had the time to develop a burgeoning tourist industry and participants in our programme are looking to maximise their businesses through working with tourism.
In countries affected by conflict and war, Women for Women International supports the most marginalised women to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community, and connect to networks for support. Women become catalysts for progress and change, creating ripple effects in their families and their communities, by more than doubling their average daily income (from $0.41 to $1.98 two years after completing our programme) and investing it in growing their small business and in their children.
Crucially, our participants not only learn about running a business and growing their income, but they also learn about making decisions about that income to maximise the impact. Women for Women International run specific modules on the importance of social networks, working in partnership with other women, and we provide a safe space to practice these new skills. Many women have never had the chance to attend school, or war has cut them off from formal education.
The travel community can have a huge role to play particularly in terms of recruiting suppliers and investing in local business. For countries such as Rwanda and Bosnia & Herzegovina tourism can play a huge part of re-building their country after war, and employs thousands in the hospitality industries as well as providing income to women who trade in traditional textile and weaving products.
I have seen some fabulous initiatives in Rwanda including Heaven Restaurant and Ghaya Links, both which employ and train our women graduates, in the service industry and in crafting goods, such as woven baskets, bags, jewellery etc. Crucially, our women are looking for long-term investment, sustainable employment that they can rely on.
I would encourage the travel community to look to invest in long-term relationships with ethical companies, not one-off seasonal activity. Also to check the status of the companies they work with – are women employed in higher decision making roles? – is there a training programme for new starters that they can invest in? – What is the impact of their business on local communities?
I look forward to meeting many of you at WTM this year and to engaging your industry in the debate.