International Women's Day Balance For Better

Meet the Women Leading the Way: Celebrating Our Female Leaders

For International Women’s Day 2019, Exodus is redressing the balance. We’re striving toward a better gender balance between our leaders – in fact we’ve already started, with initiatives around the world designed to encourage and empower talented young women to become tour leaders, especially in cultures where this doesn’t fit within the traditional gender roles.

We wanted to bring you the stories of just a few of the women already breaking the mold, to share their experiences and discover what being a leader means to them. We’re hoping their inspiring stories will encourage more other aspiring guides to feel there’s room here for them too.

We even asked them to pose for this year's theme, Balance For Better, to show support for the International Women's Day 2019. The better the balance, the better the world.

Introducing Nhung Bui, Vietnam

Nhung Bui, Balance for Better International Women's Day

“Being a tour leader has empowered me a lot, it made me more confident and prouder.” Says Nhung Bui, one of our leaders in Vietnam. Her route to becoming a guide is a common pattern; she began leading city tours, and built up to longer tours away from home. “I have five years of experience as a freelance local guide around Ho Chi Minh city. I felt that it was time to grow, so I applied for a leader role with hopes to overcome more challenges and learn new things. What I tell aspiring female tour leaders is to just do whatever they wish and be strong. Women can do as much as men do in almost any field – not just being a tour leader.”

And Nhung isn’t alone in Vietnam. “Nhi Pham was our guide and a wonderful young woman.” Says Susan Ross, who travelled to Vietnam last year. “Her knowledge of local history really brought Vietnam alive for me, with anecdotes and localisms. Without her, my journey and experience would have been very poor. Nhi takes great pride and respect her country, therefore making her a wonderful ambassador for Vietnam.”

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Introducing Elly, Indonesia

Elly, Balance for Better on International Women's Day

In Indonesia, Elly is one of our most popular guides. Her positive outlook has been noted by our travellers’ numerous times, being described as “full of so much joy and enthusiasm” (Isabella Campbell Harry) and “always going the extra mile to make our holiday special and share her knowledge and information” (Kev Sheard).

As for Elly herself, what would she say to others hoping to follow where she’s led? “My advice for people, especially female tour leaders, is that we have so many advantages in this field. We can inspire another female to be productive in whatever they want to do, because before now, female tour leader hadn’t been seen as much as male in this area, but now tourism industry has grown lately. Now a female tour leader is common to see. I’d encourage anyone that a female can be a leader in any kind of activities,” she says. “We now understand that there’s no wall anymore that can prevent a woman from being in the spotlight.”

Elly leads on Primates & Dragons of Indonesia

Introducing Qin, China

Qin, Balance for Better on International Women's Day

Qin, our leader in China, is looking towards a brighter future. “This situation is getting more optimistic. In tourism, female leaders get same respect and politeness when we give the clients enough information and services. I am lucky to live in China and get more opportunities to work, not just be born to provide offspring. Now I am trying to do more exercises in my spare time, to be fit when there are hiking and trekking during the tour. This is the situation I should improve now. I believe one day female can get more achievement and become as confident as men.”

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Introducing Channa, Cambodia

Channa, Balance for Better International Women's Day

“At first, I was just wanted to be able to earn enough to support my mother and help my sisters get an education. Besides that, I wanted to challenge myself and show Cambodians that Cambodian woman can do more than just cook and raise children. In the process, I discovered that I have a passion to show my beautiful country to the world.”

Channa’s success as a leader belies her modest intentions when she began. But it’s a role not readily accepted in Cambodian society; it is considered an inappropriate job for a woman. “Being a tour leader requires me to be on road a lot and spend most of my time away from family, which is both rare and frowned upon in Cambodia. Single Cambodian women who travel a lot with foreigners are thought to be or treated as being loose women to some Cambodian men. Not only does this bring shame on the wronged women’s families, it affects her ability to find a good Cambodian man to marry. I have chosen to be single because if I get married most likely I have to quit the job and settle at home. A woman in Cambodia who could not get married or does not have children is often considered a failure and to not be a true woman.” Channa admits that this attitude undoubtedly does discourage capable women from considering it for a vocation, and these gender stereotypes will persist for some time yet. “But foreign-owned companies can do their part by hiring and promoting Cambodian women to management positions.” She asserts. The travel industry can’t do it all, but we can take responsibility for our share in the change that is coming.

Channa, Balance for Better International Women's Day

Has working as a leader changed her relationship to her home country, or how she sees herself? “Yes. I have gained more knowledge about many aspects of Cambodia – its history, archaeology, religion, and culture. In addition, I have become more decisive, have more confidence in myself, and have gotten to know more foreigners who treat competent women with respect. I also have a much better income – which by itself gives me status. More people know me; I have seen more of the world; I am no longer scared to travel alone.”

And what would be her final words of advice to any women thinking about embarking on a career as a tour leader? “If you want to do this job, don’t let other peoples’ ideas stop you. Be yourself and chase your dream. Don’t let the culture and society pull you back. Don’t let little things stop you from what you want to do. People will talk about you anyway. Being a tour leader is a great job: you can travel and see different places and you can learn a lot. Come out and explore the world.”

See Cambodia for yourself 

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