Posted at 14:00 - 6th March - Sarah Booth
Celebrating Women Outdoors - International Women's Day 2020
by Sarah Booth on Mar 06, 2020
Celebrating Women Outdoors
International Women's Day 2020
International Women's Day 2020 focuses on #EachforEqual, forging gender equality across the world. To honour women in the outdoor arena, we asked some of our ACAI Ambassadors to share their experience of gender equality in the outdoors and what actions they are taking to raise awareness against bias and forge change.
Nature doesn’t care about your gender. In the context of simply enjoying or enduring the outdoors, being a woman is not a disadvantage. As a woman, you don’t get an easier time in the mountains. The wind still blows with the same ferocity, the rivers you have to cross are still as wide, the summits just as high. In many ways, the outdoors provides a level playing field and I love that.
I also love that the outdoors community is overwhelmingly welcoming, non-judgmental and inclusive. This is thanks to both the men and women in the community who celebrate diversity and believe, like me, that the UK’s wild spaces should be open for all to enjoy.
The place where I believe inequality exists is when it comes to elevating the voice of female adventurers and promoting their achievements. If you search Google for adventure speakers and writers, you’re presented with content that’s heavily male dominated. It’s not that women aren’t adventuring, speaking about it or writing about it. It just doesn’t get as much widespread mainstream attention.
I’m a Munroist. A Munroist is someone who has walked to the summits of each of the 282 Munro mountains in the Scottish highlands, but only a quarter of Munroists are female I’d love to see that figure rise to half.
Many of the people I find inspiring in the field of outdoor adventure are women – Anna McNuff (barefoot marathon adventure queen), Emily Scott (climbed the Munros in four months - cycling between them) and Anna Blackwell (kayaked a continent) to name a few. International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to reflect on what we can do to champion women in outdoor adventure - celebrate their achievements and ensure equality. These women’s stories should be heard – loud and proud. My #IWD2020 pledge is to do my best to raise the profiles of the women in adventure who inspire me and I hope they inspire you too.
I used to live in Colombia and didn’t have the opportunity to explore the countryside. It was too dangerous. The internal war with the guerrilla meant we couldn't go hiking in our beautiful mountains because of bomb threats or kidnapping. As a woman it was even more dangerous.
My LOVE for the outdoors started in England where I felt SAFE to walk and explore. I quickly realised how lucky I was to be able to go where I wanted - it’s not an opportunity everyone is afforded. That's one of the reasons I started my Instagram account @locombia to show people how much fun you can have in the outdoors when you can be safe.
I don’t take my outdoor lifestyle for granted, I respect nature, respect the local wildlife, make a conscious decisions to use products that are kind to the planet and hope I encourage other women to be better too.
I would love to see more women enjoying the great outdoors, even if it is close to home, a park, a mountain. I wish for a world where all women can feel safe and inspired to enjoy nature.
I got into hiking last year, when I founded Black Girls Hike @bgh_uk. A train ride through the Peak District inspired me to create a safe space for Black women to explore together. Everyone knows nature is the best therapy, but so is sisterhood. It's important for us to have these spaces to just be ourselves, and not feel the odd one out.
There is a chronic lack of diversity in the outdoor domain, it does tend to be white male dominated, women and more importantly women of colour are underrepresented, and this is something I would like to see change.
Brands seem to be doing a lot more, but it often comes across as tokenistic and cosmetic, when its structural change that is required. Work needs to be done to create equality at all levels.
BAME participation numbers in outdoor leadership and outdoor higher education are negligible. This year, Black Girls Hike are being supported by Mountain Training to host skills weekends, encouraging and supporting women to gain outdoor leadership qualifications. Supporting groups such as ours in this way, is also a great initiative by Mountain Training to promote diversity.
We are also part of the Equity Steering Group for the British Mountain Council, guiding them on matters of equity as well as looking at ways to reduce barriers. Now we have a seat at the table to really influence change.
Having discovered a love of the outdoors in the last few years, I set up a walking group in 2018 to connect like minded people @iona.adventuring. This allowed me to meet people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities who share my passion for hiking. Not only have I forged life long friendships with some of the most unlikely people but I’ve also learnt a great deal in terms of skills and abilities.
I truly love that the group has become a welcoming space for anyone to join and I’m super proud to say there’s a great mix of women and men, in fact I think there are more women at the moment! It may be that women enjoy the social aspect of the group walks or feel more confident heading out in the hills with others. Whatever the reasons, I believe it can only be a positive influence on getting more women outdoors! The fact that the group is open to men and women means that equality is actively promoted and I love how inclusive it is.
Personally I don’t feel I’ve been greatly affected by gender inequality but perhaps that’s because I make a point of surrounding myself with those who encourage, motivate and inspire me to achieve the things I want to. Since setting up my walking group I am completely amazed at the number of adventurous women who are out there becoming true trail blazers!
I’m on a mission to equip myself with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to get the maximum fun and life lessons out of my outdoor adventures. I’m now in a position to offer these opportunities, such as skills courses, to members of my walking community and if that helps to empower more women then I’m happy with the small part I may have played in this.
It all started from an email. ‘Are you up for the challenge?’ Six small words teasing me to sign up to a ballot to climb Kilimanjaro. Being born into a culture where going outdoors ‘just for fun’ was a somewhat alien concept, I could feel the panic set in; I’d never camped, could barely read a map and never even owned a pair of hiking shoes.
Fast forward 9 years and I’ve been incredibly lucky to be given opportunities to travel to some of the most diverse places around the world. The outdoors has become a huge part of my life. As well as moving up to the Peak District just so that I can have it all on my doorstep; my adventures and travels has led me to start my own startup adventure company @threepeaksadventure taking groups of people on expedition overseas.
Diversity and equality is incredibly important to what we do. There have been huge efforts by brands, companies and individuals in the past few years to increase access and the level of diversity in the outdoors, be that better gender or racial representation. These things often take time, but it has been refreshing to begin to notice the positive effects. And I’ve been lucky to have been supported by people, both male and female, along the way.
We can only achieve greater equality if we all work together. It’s not a ‘them and us’ mentality. We all have a collective responsibility to positively role model what the future outdoor generations need to see. With everything currently going on in the world, we live in testing times, but on this International Women's Day, I urge you all to make a change, big or small, to make the world more equal. Because an equal world is a better world. Fight the stereotypes, the bias, the judgments, the negative noise and be that person you want others to look up to.