01st March 2021
Meet Afghanistan's First Female Tour Guide
Imagine breaking through barriers in a country with some of the least visitors in the world, historically plagued by war and where women's rights, literacy rates and employment opportunities are some of the lowest in the world. With International Women’s Day approaching, meet the woman at the vanguard of change for female tour guides across the world.
Fatima is Afghanistan’s first and only female tour guide, who in 2020, despite the added pressures of COVID-19, led her first group of tourists in Herat for adventure tour operator Untamed Borders. One of seven siblings, she is the only one in her family to be educated, her two sisters were married before the age of 15. She broke the mould and wanted to work, not “babysit a husband”. “I thought Afghanistan was not a safe place for a woman to be a tour guide,” explains Fatima, “but I realised that I have to be the one to create this safe place for other women.”
In an industry where only 3% of accredited international mountain guides are women, female adventure tour guides are few and far between. Fatima represents the sharp end of a trend, fighting for women’s rights in adventure travel. From narrow education opportunities to cultural expectations, in many regions of the world, women (who make up 60% of the tourism workforce) do not have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, often employed in lower paid cleaning and clerical roles. But things are slowly changing.
In fact, many other companies in the adventure travel sector including, Intrepid, Responsible Travel and G Adventures are also committing to employing and training more female guides. Not all jobs in tourism empower women – but being a tour guide with access to language, leadership and business skills does.
Untamed Borders founder James Willcox, who for the last 13 years has been at the forefront of developing social projects that empower women in the countries Untamed Borders visit, explains that “at Untamed Borders we are usually one of the only travel companies working in a region so we have a special responsibility to set the right tone for tourism. Part of that means trying to ensure money from our guests goes as evenly as possible to a diverse range of people”. With travellers becoming more socially conscious and looking to support social initiatives in the countries they visit, Willcox continues that “it’s expected from us as a company, to be responsible and to offer opportunity."
“I am the first female tour guide in Afghanistan” explains Fatima, “but I do not want to be the last."