A Mountain To Climb: How An All-Women Expedition To Kilimanjaro Is Trying To Change The Status Quo

A small company based out of Ireland is one of a few who are trying to change the status quo for women in outdoors and adventure space. And they are launching the first ever all-women expedition to Kilimanjaro with local women guides and porters in Tanzania.

The team of female porters in Tanzania

Have you ever wondered why the visibility of women in the outdoor and adventure industry is so low? Various studies have shown that women in this industry are still few and far between. They illustrate a difference between men and women in both participation and in representation of outdoor recreation. And this difference reiterates traditional heteronormativity. Even the new trends that come up in  outdoor recreation favour traditionally masculine modes of engagement with nature, according to studies. So many have pointed out that the outdoors adventures space is still ruled by mostly white, male, and cisgender people. There have been improvements in the last few years with several women taking to the great outdoors more - be it mountaineering, rock climbing, hiking, surfing, etc. And much of the change is being driven by women.  

Irish high-altitude trekking company Earth’s Edge is one of the companies in this space that is trying to change all that with its women-run expeditions. The company had announced the first ever all-female expedition to Kilimanjaro in July 2022. The epic trip to the ‘roof of Africa’ was attended by an all-women group of guests, and led by female porters and expedition guides on the ground in Tanzania.

Earth's Edge is hoping that such expeditions will shine a light on the gender inequalities in the outdoor industry and provide much needed jobs and training to women in the region. 

We had a chat with Aislinn Whelan of Earth's Edge about the expedition, about women in the outdoors, and more. Here are some extracts. 

What has been the influence and impact of women in adventure travel in recent years? What changes have you seen?  
Since 2011 we have only seen five women working on Kilimanjaro, in that same period we've met thousands of men. There is a very clear divide between genders in the outdoor industry, not just in Tanzania but worldwide. However, this gender gap is slowly getting smaller. 30% of all our Kilimanjaro climbs will be staffed by women in 2022. We aim to increase that to 35% in 2023 and so forth.

Our main focus is to use our business as a force for good. We want to better the lives of the communities that we work in while also doing our bit to protect the planet and the mountains for future generations to enjoy. Check out some of their local projects here

Tell us about the women-focused adventures your company is offering. 
We've had tremendous support from our female-led climb in Kilimanjaro. We decided to launch this trip in an effort to train more women to become porters and guides on the mountain. More so in Tanzania women often leave school early to start a family, this leaves them with no education. Training them to work on the mountain gives them the chance to be able to provide for themselves. It's an extremely important innitave that we've gotten very positive feedback from. Our community supports and encourages more women to get into this male led industry. 

Women get jobs and a future career in mountaineering with Earth's Edge. Locals start out working as porters, from here porters are able to attend Mountain Guide School in Tanzania, to then become a qualified guide. A mountain guide in Tanzania is seen as one of the best paid jobs around, hence the importance to train more women up in this industry. Each year on Kilimanjaro we reward one of our hardworking porters by paying for their training to become a guide. The course which costs USD$900, is far beyond the means of most porters who make roughly USD$115 including tips per climb. After they feed and house their families, there is very little money left at the end of the month, which makes attending guide school by themselves virtually impossible. Once they qualify as guides, their pay with tips will increase to roughly USD$220, which means they will have much more disposable income to feed and educate their families.

We have a local team in Tanzania who actively recruit and find porters and guides to work with us. Our team then trains them up in preparation for their first Earth's Edge expedition.

The women who sign up for our expeditions want to connect with local communities, especially with local women. And understand their culture through a woman’s perspective. It is always their favourite memory of the trip. What's unique about climbing Kilimanjaro is that often you'll find yourself walking with a local guide for 5-6 hours chatting about their local culture and them learning about yours. 

Without a doubt our most popular trek is Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro holds a special place in people's heart, it's not just the summit that makes the trip but it's the local people that make this expedition so unique. After Kilimanjaro our next popular trip is Everest Base Camp.

What challenges do you face while recruiting local women? Could you give some specific examples from specific areas? 
At the moment our main challenge is commitment. A lot of the women have prior responsibilities and although they want to work full-time they have prior commitments which makes it hard for them to juggle. 

Which treks did you complete recently with women guides/porters? Could you give some instances of how having them played out as an advantage? 

Earth's Edge has worked with a female-led team in Tanzania for years.

Our expedition partners in Tanzania are led by two women. In addition we've had some amazing female lead guides who have been working with us for years too. This year we've put more focus on decreasing the gender gap by solely recruiting more women in the area. All of our guides/porters are trained to the highest standard, whether they are male or female. 


Looking to the future, what new things can we expect to see from Earth's Edge?
We are a small company on the cusps of growth. In the next five years you can expect for Earth's Edge to be one of the top expedition providers in the world. We have some huge goals in our sustainability projects that we are excited to get off the ground, one of the main goals we are working towards is giving 1% of our company profit back to the planet by supporting sustainability initiatives. 

Earth's Edge was established in 2007 by James McManus. As a child, James has always been driven by the outdoors and seeking new mountains to climb, this drive stayed with James into his adulthood where he began climbing some of the world's highest peaks, thus Earth's Edge was born. You can read more about Earth's Edge here.