With a global net worth of $8.8 trillion and the contributor behind 10.4 per cent of the world GDP, tourism plays a vital role to the economic livelihoods of individuals and nations around the world.
Tourism also supports more than 319 million jobs globally – 10 per cent of total employment.
Today marks the United Nations World Tourism Day, and this year, the theme is "Tourism and Jobs: a better future for all". According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), global unemployment remains high, reaching more than 190 million in 2018. Across the world in India, where women from underprivileged backgrounds are constantly turned away from safe and secure jobs, one woman decided to do something about it.
Empowering women through meaningful work
Meenu Vadera founded the Azad Foundation in 2008, with the goal of creating a space where all women, regardless of socioeconomic background, can earn a reliable income—while learning and harnessing new skills to pass on to the next generation—in job markets traditionally reserved for men. Due to India's caste system, marginalized peoples and women are largely overlooked for equal employment opportunities in their communities.
"The national census report of 2001 showed that in India, female fetuses were being systematically aborted, which led to an extremely adverse sex ratio between men and women," Vadera explained. "Even now, as per the 2011 census, there are only 933 women per 1000 men in the country. New Delhi, where I was born and which is the capital of the country, lags far behind the national average with only 868 women to 1000 men."
That same year, in 2008, Vadera created Azad's signature program, Women on Wheels. which provides commercial vehicle training for women in order to operate a women-only taxi service in New Delhi, India.
"By and large, the resource for women is in traditional gender roles – cooking, embroidery, etc – but how many tailors can a village have?" Vadera said. "Driving attacks the heart of patriarchy like nothing else, because if you become a driver, you have to become a creature of the road. You claim your public spaces. It’s often lack of mobility that keeps women where they are."
G Adventures gets involved
In 2014, G Adventures became the first tour operator to contract Women on Wheels as its India airport pick-up partner. With almost 40 different trips to India, this in turn has created a sustainable and steady flow of customers for the socially-conscious enterprise, especially from solo female travellers who feel safe and comfortable with a team of experienced and reliable female drivers. Planeterra and G Adventures have provided funding for a third of Women on Wheels fleet vehicles, as well as funding and resources for the Women on Wheels training program.
"G Adventures has sent upwards of 5,000 travellers annually through our Women on Wheels program," Vadera said. "They launched us into the tourism space and provided a stable income as we set to expand our programs across the country. As we grew, G Adventures grew with us, now using our services in Delhi and Jaipur. Thanks to G Adventures and Planeterra, we have a larger global community of advocates and ambassadors."
The efforts translate to more than 500 new drivers trained in 2018, and Sakha Cabs for Women, WOW's partner program, have hired 46 of them. Since it launched, Women on Wheels has provided more than one million rides to travellers all over the world, thus proving it's a great example of how tourism has been harnessed to enhance social inclusion, and allow underprivileged peoples to reach their full potential on an equal economic playing field.
"The Azad Foundation provides training and support to women, while our social enterprise sister organization, Sakha Consulting Wings Private Limited, provides employment," Vadera explained. "We aim to see these empowered women become agents of change in their families and communities."
For more information on the Planeterra Foundation, click here.
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