Travelling through the cities and towns of Turkey is an eye opening experience. The food, culture and scenery is breathtaking. As we wander through the streets, it is very common to see groups of men sitting around in cafes smoking and drinking coffee. Someone in our tour asked ‘Where are all the women?’ as we walked past a bunch of cafes filled with men. Our tour guide said, ‘Probably at home cooking, cleaning or looking after the family.’ Things are very different in Turkey when it comes to female empowerment.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report, Turkey ranks 131 out of 144 of countries for gender wage parity. Women only make up 13 per cent of the country’s Parliament and just over 30 per cent of the workforce.
Female literacy rates are growing as well. In 2006, 80 per cent of the female population were literate and now it is over 93 per cent. Comparatively, male literacy rates now sit at over 98 per cent which shows that there is still a gap to close. Literacy rates are important because as it helps the overall health of families as mothers are able to make more informed decisions.
Creating New Opportunities
My tour in Turkey is with Intrepid Travel, an Australian owned company and also the world’s largest adventure travel company. They are a certified B Corporation which means they are committed to putting people and planet over profit. You can check out their B Corporation assessment here for a full ranking of their social and environmental impact. They have a range of initiatives from being carbon positive (going beyond being neutral and offsetting their carbon use to 125 per cent rather than 100 per cent) to being the first travel company to stop elephant rides in Asia. One in particular that is very important and of great interest to me is female empowerment.
Intrepid employs 1,800 staff of 68 nationalities across the world and are committed to 50/50 gender equality employment across all their countries. They are doing this by creating employment opportunities for women including roles as their tour guides, chefs, hotel owners, experience operators and private transportation drivers. As Turkey has such low female labour participation rates, they have been busy working on opportunities. We were lucky to have quite a few female led experiences, including a 2 night boat experience, a cooking class and checking out a rug making studio. Our tour guide is also a female.
Here are a few more details about some of the experiences from the Intrepid Turkey tour and how they are empowering women.
1. Local Employment
A 2 day boat trip around Kekova with our captain, skipper and chef, Sebahat
We spent 2 nights on a boat, cruising around the south coast of Turkey swimming, relaxing and eating. Tough life I know! Our captain, skipper and chef was a local woman, Sebahat Yilmaz. She was accompanied by her husband and cooked some of the best food I have eaten in a long time. She has been working with Intrepid since 2008 and runs her business. Sebahat loves the autonomy of her job and getting to meet people from all around the world. In an article about Sebahat, she spoke about the change over time.
‘In the past, women weren’t involved in business. It was our daily job to take care of the house. But over the last decade, tourism has not only developed the economy of the region, but also the work environment. Women started helping their husbands, and then became their partners at work…I consider myself very lucky to be an example to other women in my town. Everyone should have fairness and equality. It doesn’t matter if women want to own a boat, cook or do anything else – what matters is their willingness and dedication. I can’t wait to mentor them.‘
Sebahat always had a smile on her face even though the kitchen she was working in was so hot. We were so amazed that she was able to create such delicious and fresh food in such a small, confined space. One of the people on our tour even asked for the zucchini fritter recipe because it was the best fritter she had ever eaten. Even one of the guys who hates zucchini enjoyed the fritters. The food was all home cooked and felt like we were stepping into Sebahat’s house. Before every meal her husband would ring the bell and Sebahat would proudly arrange the delicious food and there were rarely ever any leftovers!
We also saw some local wildlife which was such a highlight!
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I leaned over the edge of the boat and heard a voice say ‘can you tell your mates to stop using plastic coz my home is gross and I kinda hate it when my family accidentally eats plastic and dies.’ I was like Ok, I got ya. Let’s do this. Say no to plastic. 💚🐢💚 . . . . . . #turtles #seaturtles #cleanouroceans #turtlepower #turkey #travelblogger #travelgram #planetbinsights #fuckplastic #saynotoplastic #gogreen #reduce #nature #nature_brilliance
A local cooking class with Sevgi and her family
Arriving into the house of a Turkish family is such a special experience. With kids running around and a long table set up for lunch, I knew this would be a great experience. A lovely Turkish woman who did not speak much English prepared an area with a traditional wood fire and oven. We learned how to make traditional cheese rolls, stuffed vine leaves and Turkish bread (which I guess they just call bread over here)!
After the demonstration we had an incredibly delicious lunch of mezze and then rice and vegetables. They lived about 15 minutes from the main town and had some chickens in their backyard. We fed the chickens, checked out the fruit trees and played with their cute dogs. They try to cook with locally produced food as much as possible so it is always fresh and in season.
One of the people on the tour asked if we could take photos and videos of Sevgi and her family while they were doing the cooking demonstration. Our tour guide replied ‘Yes you can and thank you for asking. That is a very good responsible travel practice.’ I didn’t even think about it so I will make sure to ask before taking photos as some cultures and countries do not prefer it and can make people uncomfortable.
Our tour guide Ezgi
Our tour guide, Ezgi is a local Turkish woman who works during the peak season for about 6 months of the year. She says that in the Turkey office in Intrepid there are about 11 female tour guides out of 50. ‘It is a bit of a challenge to find female tour guides in Turkey because you have to spend so much time away from your family. Many local Turkish women have families and cannot be away for such a long period of time. However, Intrepid Turkey is really good at supporting local businesses run by women. That is the way they are having an impact by creating job opportunities here.’ Ezgi shared.
2. Offering Local Experiences
Desen Hali Co-operative in Bergama
Our bus dropped off us out the front of a big shed and we were welcomed by our local guide. Previously a school teacher, he now works with the local community to promote the rugs to tourists. His family have been involved in this community for decades and learned the dying process from his mother. The rugs are hand made from start to finish and is UNESCO heritage listed. They use natural dyes to colour their wool and silk. The process
The cooperative has over 2000 women and they can work at home or in the studio. They sell their rugs to tourists as well as through Government stores. The rug making on the looms are quite therapeutic as the craft is repetitive and creative. The women create the patterns in their head and then Our guide told us that the Turkish Government also offer looms to people in prison so they can learn a new skill and sell their rugs through the Government stores.
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Went on a magic carpet ride in Turkey and found an amazing women’s cooperative that provide employment and community for over 2000 women through rug making. The rug making process is UNESCO heritage listed with everything hand made from spinning the materials to dying and weaving the rugs. I got involved in the double knot method of rug making and let’s just say those ladies are professionals!!! It is harder and more time consuming than it looks! The pattern of each rug is designed by the ladies and they all tell a story from the region. 😍😍 The Turkish government also help out local cooperatives with grants and they sell their rugs in stores across Turkey. It’s so great to see businesses supporting women across Turkey where women’s empowerment is so critical. Providing employment and ways to create financial independence is such an important step. #socialgood #socialchange #turkey #girlboss #empowerment #empowerwomen #rugs #turkishrug #wovenrug #planetbinsights
3. Day Trips
Approximately 3.6 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey since the war. There is a massive need to support them with jobs, education and accommodation.
A local grassroots organisation Small Projects Istanbul (SPI) is helping Syrian refugee women have access to education and training in areas like computer literacy, leadership development, retail and sales, and language. They’re also taught valuable crafts such as sewing, silk screening, and jewellery design to create sellable products with a personal touch. They have started a fashion label as a social enterprise called Muhra and the Intrepid Foundation provided a $AUD 25 000 grant to help them become a sustainable business.
Intrepid offers Urban Adventures which are day trips. The Istanbul day trip called the Olive Tree of Istanbul goes to the social enterprise, Small Projects Istanbul and also includes a home cooked meal from a local family. I unfortunately did not have the time to do this day trip, however I thought I would add it in as it looks awesome!
Another really great thing about Intrepid Travel is their Foundation. In 2002, with an initial contribution of AU $200,000, the travel group established The Intrepid Foundation. To date they have given over $7.5 million in grants to over 130 charities and NGOs in the areas where their tours operate.
The idea came when tour guides were noticing that people were giving money directly to them to pass on to local community projects. Intrepid’s founders knew there needed to be better transparency and accountability around the whole process, so they established the Foundation.
They allow Intrepid customers to donate to the Intrepid Foundation and they match the donations dollar for dollar. 100 per cent of the donations go directly to the cause and projects in the local region.
Many of the projects are committed to empowering local community groups that are run and led by women including the Small Projects Istanbul (above).
For many businesses, positive social change can be more of an intention than action. Intrepid Travel has clearly made great strides in turning their passion for sustainable travel into a reality. This has been done by overhauling their supply chain and focusing on having a positive impact through employment. By creating unique, local experiences that strengthen the community, it is great for Intrepid’s product and also the world. These mutually beneficial business initiatives are becoming more common as companies continue to explore the relationship between their business success and the success of the communities and environment they operate in. The B Corporation accreditation is a tangible way to help a business navigate the impact they are trying to achieve. Intrepid Travel has shown great momentum by increasing the employment of women in Turkey in such a short period.