In October of last year, we introduced you to the women of Samburu, Kenya, a rural community where a lack of quick access to water had long necessitated daily walks of considerable distance to the nearest source. The households here were amongst the 80% globally that, without piped water, rely on women and girls for water collection. Playing this crucial role in their families and communities kept these women focused on day-to-day survival, without the time and resources to get an education or generate income. With the advent of wells funded by the Samburu Project, all of that changed for the better. 

The reality of life in places like Samburu led the United Nations to mark the first International Day of Rural Women on 15 October 2008, recognizing “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.” Each year also has a specific theme, and 2019 is focused on rural women and girls building climate resilience. Globally, one-third of employed women work in agriculture, and the adverse effects of climate change fall disproportionately on rural and indigenous communities


rural women carrying water in kenya

This disparity is just one reason that this day matters to every traveler. People worldwide are traveling more than ever before, but very few of us are likely to experience the direct consequences of our own travel. If one were only to fly passenger planes between major cities, it might be difficult to convince that person that climate change is real, let alone a primary concern. After all, we’ve gotten better at eliminating urban pollution and recycling is now near ubiquitous. But in providing these comforts for Earth’s urban, mobile population, we’ve put a great burden on our natural resources and thereby on the people who work most closely with them. Such a system will see disparities in income, food security, and health become gradually more drastic in scope. 

On that note, climate change and a lack of proper action against it is categorically a matter of life and death for at-risk rural populations, and perhaps entire cultures. Chances are if you’re reading this on Passion Passport that you’re a traveler who values diversity in our world and believes in the value of cultural exchange on a grand scale. If you’ve ever attended a cultural festival with traditional song and dance, or had an experience with tribal populations in any capacity, it’s your obligation to protect these ways of life. The challenges we all face in the modern era are evolving every day, and without adapting our systems accordingly, people will be left behind. 

That’s not to suggest that rural women, girls, or societies at large are helpless and need saving. The Samburu story itself rejects that notion: the building of a well allowed them to practice their culture through traditional beadwork, which contributes to their income and thereby gives them a greater voice in the community befitting of their critical roles. But similar to the conundrum of the urban jetsetter above, one misconception that our privilege allows us is to place the burden of change on an individual. One person can possess all the human initiative in the world and still struggle to overcome their circumstances in a system rigged against them. Clean water is just one commodity we take for granted; if it was systemically unavailable, how would we react? 

traveling to egypt ali hegazy
Photo by Ali Hegazy.

Finally, let this day be a call to action for women’s empowerment and a reminder of its impact. There is plenty of research to suggest that a country’s quickest route to becoming economically competitive is by improving the economic stability of women, another particularly salient issue for travelers — the International Labor Organization estimates that up to 90 percent of global tourism wages can be directly attributed to jobs worked by women. Protecting a woman’s right to work and earn as much as her male counterparts is the foundation of a more prosperous society for all in our future, and that means doing so everywhere from office buildings in New York to the markets at Kamala Airstrip in Kenya. For some to ask more than they give in return, and others to provide more than they will ever receive, is an inequality we can no longer abide.

Do you have experience with an initiative that benefits or empowers rural women, or want to know more? Let us know in the comments.