“Go after what you want in life. There are always obstacles in the world, but being a woman should not be one,” says Thinlas Chorol, the Founder of Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company (LWTC), who was recognized with Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar for Rural Entrepreneurship’ award. She says that “Women also need to recognize their rights and report whenever they have the great misfortune to become victims of such crimes.”
“To be able to start LWTC… This is a milestones, not for me, but for Ladakh.”
1. Share your vision with us. What inspired you to be what you are and where you are?
Ladakh is overall an amazing place, I am very happy to have been born here. However, that does not mean we are without social issues. One of them are gender inequity. The trekking industry is an example of this. Its important to understand that theres a difference between the tourism industry and the trekking industry. The tourism industry has a higher percentage of women, still lower then 50% which it should be, but still higher. This includes women working in guesthouses, restaurants, cyber cafes and tourism oriented shops. But the trekking industry there is extremely few women.
When I started working as freelancer in the trekking industry, I met several Ladakhi women that asked me to take them with me on treks so they could learn to be trekking guides themselves. Since I was only a freelancer, it was not my choice to bring them on the trek.
I also met female tourist that liked the idea of a female guides. Some of them had problems with male guides in the past. Some had even been harassed when out trekking.
From know these two facts, I knew that there was a solution if the Ladakhi women could just get some training and experience.
At the start of the company, the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company, I wanted get this done. But I didn’t know it was going to become as large as it has gotten by now.
2. Tell us about your journey so far and the challenges you faced.
Right at the start when I wanted to start working as a freelancer, some of the travel agencies would not hire me. They said that in Ladakhi culture, it is not appropriate for girl to be trekking guides. This was around 15 years ago, so things have changed a lot, but it took time.
When we started LWTC, there were other issues. The biggest problem was the fact that there were ex-tremely few female guides. When we launched in 2009, there was only 4 or 5 including myself that I knew about. And most of them had jobs at other travel agencies.
This means that we had to train guides and give them some experience working as porters or trainee guides. This takes time and there is no way of knowing how long a guide will stay in the industry.
3. What milestones you have achieved in this journey and what more you aspire for?
The first was to be able to start LWTC. This is a milestones, not for me, but for Ladakh. It’s important to understand that this does not mean that the trekking industry is gender equal. Equal would mean that there were a similar number of female and male trekking guides. Today, I would estimate that women make up around 7% of the total number of trekking guides in Ladakh. This is not equality, but it is a good first step. My hope is that we will achieve a much higher number.
Another milestone for us is when the Ladies Wing of the Indian Merchants Chamber recognizes us for the work we done so far by award us the “Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar for Rural entrepreneurship”. It was awarded to me, but it was a recognition of the for the company. The same is true for the more recent recognition made by the Weekend Leader and VIT University that named me Person of the year. Again, it was given to me, but I see it as recognition of LWTC.
4. What keeps you motivated and strong?
Like I mentioned before, we are not even close to equality in the trekking industry. I want to bring even more women into the industry.
I also want the women working at LWTC feel that they have a secure job that gives them an income year after year. The success of LWTC is needed in order to achieve this. Some of the women have been with the company for many years, and I want them to be there for many years in the future too.
5. What you feel about the state of women in India? How you think it can be better?
We need to make this country safe for women. Cases of rape are much to common and cases of harass-ment is also a big problem. This should be a high priority for the government. We do a lot to keep our boarders safe, especially in a state like J&K, but we also need to make sure that nations citizens are safe within the countries boarders.
Women also need to recognize their rights and report whenever they have the great misfortune to be-come victims of such crimes.
6.How challenging it is for a women to build her identity?
This depend a lot of the women’s background. Identity is more difficult for women that come from fami-lies that do not value their daughters.
7.Would you like to play a role in women empowerment? If yes, how?
A few years ago, I realized that there are problems that women face that LWTC can not deal with. We are foremost a business and even if we also have a social mission, there is a limit to what action we can take. That’s one of the reasons I along with other Ladakhi women, co-founded the “Ladakhi Women’s Welfare Network” in late 2013. We try to work on supporting victims of abuse or rape, and help them get justice. This not a solution, but I hope that over time we can move to working on empowerment.
I also would like to mention that the work we do at LWTC is a form of empowerment. We use something called Homestay, that means that tourist stays in ordinary Ladakhi homes. The households are often man-aged by women so they get access to money, exposure to different cultures and the satisfaction of these. This help them feel a cretin amount of self-worth.