Female guides juggle work and home
Nepal’s trekking industry has been dominated by male guides, but a growing number of women are entering the profession as their reputation for reliability spreads.
Female trekking guides are paid well, but guiding is seasonal work and women find they are not encouraged in it by their families and society at large. Many are forced to abandon their jobs after getting married.
One of Nepal’s seniormost women guides is Neena Singh Skambraks, who has 30 years of experience. She remembers taking her first group of Japanese trekkers to Dhulikhel when she was just 19.
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“I had no work experience and family and friends made fun of me,” recalls Skambraks, whose career took off after she learnt to speak Japanese and gained experience taking clients to Annapurna and Everest Base Camps.
Maya Gurung owns her own company, Everest Women Treks Expedition, and is a climber herself, but it is a challenge for her trainees to stay on the job. “There is a general lack of support from families and disapproval of society,” she explains.
Gurung climbed Mt Everest in 2008 as part of the 10-member First Inclusive Women’s Sagarmatha Expedition, and realised then that there were very few women in the climbing industry. She set up her company not just as a business, but with the aim of training young trafficked women in mountain survival, self-defence and hospitality.
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Love of mountains is in Dawa Yangzum Sherpa’s blood. She started training and working as a high-altitude guide ten years ago and climbed Mt Everest in 2012. Since she got an international mountain-guide certificate, she has been busier than ever with expeditions and with training aspiring women climbers.
Sherpa believes that women have the added responsibility of overcoming pressure from colleagues and customers to prove that they are capable of doing their jobs professionally.
Dolma Pakhrin is executive director of Sherpa Encounter Treks and Tours, and says that female guides are in high demand from clients because they have built a reputation for reliability. “Women trekkers and older tourists who visit Nepal ask for female guides,” she adds.
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Male guides are not subject to the kind of suspicion when they travel with female clients that female guides are subject to when they travel with male trekkers. Such double standards make many female guides quit their jobs after getting married.
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“Disapproval from family, societal pressure, uncertainty about the future as well as the restriction on work after marriage means many female guides have not been able to stay on,” explains Maya Gurung.
Take Goma Thapa, who became a trekking guide against her parents’ wishes because they did not think it was a respectable job. “Even though I earn my own living, my family still tells me to go find a real job,” says Thapa, who was criticised for “wandering from place to place without getting married."
Financially independent, Thapa has decided not to get married at all because it would mean quitting her job. She says: “It is our responsibility to set an example to the next generation to resist those who restrict women from working for career goals.”