Blazing the Trail: Botswana’s Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew
Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Breaking Into A Male-Dominated Field
For centuries, safari guiding has been a male-dominated profession in Botswana. The role of guide requires knowledge of wildlife, navigation skills, and the ability to protect and lead groups through remote wilderness areas. These were seen as strengths more innate in men. But over the last few decades, intrepid women have challenged those stereotypes and carved out a space for themselves in the world of safari tour guiding.
The pioneers who broke into the field faced a range of obstacles, from outright discrimination to more subtle doubts about their competence. The prevailing notion was that women simply didn't belong in the bush. They had to deal with jeering comments, skeptical looks, and blatant refusals to hire or train them. One veteran female safari guide recalls being told that she should "go back to the kitchen where [she] belonged."
But these women persisted, determined to turn their passion for the wilderness into a career guiding others. Some sought out more progressive safari companies willing to give them a chance. Others invested in their own training, learning navigational and survival skills through local communities. They drew confidence from the knowledge that they were every bit as capable of mastering the role.
Over time, the female guides proved their detractors wrong. Their expertise matched their male counterparts, and often exceeded it when it came to reading animal behaviors and connecting with clients. As word spread of their success, more opportunities opened up for women to enter the profession.
Today, Botswana leads the continent in employing female safari guides. Though still a minority, these women have earned widespread respect and acclaim. They serve as inspirational role models, empowering the next generation of girls to pursue their dreams in fields where women have traditionally been excluded. Their very presence in the wilderness spaces of Botswana expands ideas of what women are capable of.
The all-female guiding crew at &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge is a prime example of this shift. Their collective experience guiding in Botswana totals over a century. They have been integral to setting new standards for guiding excellence in the country. Their voices are helping shape the future of sustainable, empowering tourism.
What else is in this post?
- Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Breaking Into A Male-Dominated Field
- Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Overcoming Cultural Norms and Stereotypes
- Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Proving Their Skills and Knowledge
- Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Earning Respect from Guests and Colleagues
- Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Providing a New Perspective
- Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Inspiring Other Women to Pursue Guiding
Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Overcoming Cultural Norms and Stereotypes
Overcoming deeply ingrained cultural norms and stereotypes represented a major hurdle for Botswana's pioneering female safari guides. The prevailing societal view was that a woman's place was at home tending to household duties, not out in the bush tracking wildlife. Women who defied these expectations faced accusations of neglecting their roles as mothers and wives. They were seen as oddities rebelling against tradition.
Mammy Keitumetse recalls the pushback she confronted when becoming Botswana's first female safari guide in 1989. As a young divorcée, she was determined to support herself and her child financially. But her choice of career was seen as highly inappropriate by many in her village. They scolded her for spending days and nights away from home guiding tourists through the bush.
At the time, the idea of a female guide was so foreign most safari companies would not even consider hiring one. Mammy recounts being laughed out of interviews when she expressed interest in pursuing the profession. A few male guides warned their female clients against going on walks with her, irrationally suggesting it could be dangerous.
But Mammy would not be deterred. She had fallen in love with Botswana's wilderness as a child on family trips. She was confident she could master navigating through the bush just as well as any man. Over time, the novelty of her guiding wore off and she gradually gained respect through consistently delivering knowledgeable, enjoyable tours.
Refilwe Lediga recalls similar hurdles when becoming a guide over a decade later in the early 2000s. As an unmarried woman without children, she confronted judgments about pursuing such an adventurous career rather than settling down. At home, she was teasingly referred to as a man for willingly spending days camping out in the bush.
Like Mammy, Refilwe ignored the mocking as she dedicated herself to honing her natural history interpretation and tracking skills. Her male colleagues' teasing evolved into camaraderie as she demonstrated her bush savvy again and again through her high quality guiding.
Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Proving Their Skills and Knowledge
To gain a foothold in the male-dominated guiding profession, Botswana's female guides had to consistently demonstrate their abilities and expertise. Though some companies were willing to take a chance on hiring women, that was just the first hurdle. The guides still faced skeptical clients doubting their competence because of ingrained gender biases. They had to work doubly hard to prove themselves through their performance in the field.
Refilwe Lediga recalls encountering plenty of clients who balked when realizing their guide was a woman. On walking safaris, some men refused to walk behind her, irrationally fearing she could not adequately protect them from wildlife. Others openly questioned if she was capable of tracking footprints or spotting camouflaged animals. Some insisted on referring to her male apprentice for confirmation, disregarding Refilwe's interpretations.
Rather than getting frustrated, Refilwe patiently proved her capabilities. Her confidence in the bush was unshakeable, grounded in her extensive knowledge of the area's landscapes, animal behaviors, and local ecology. She would point out obscure birds by their calls, spot fleeting glimpses of elusive leopards, and calmly guide her group away from the path of temperamental elephants.
On longer trips, initial hesitations faded as clients witnessed Refilwe's expertise firsthand day after day. Her quiet self-assurance and the clear respect shown by male colleagues also helped convince doubters. Guests began murmuring appreciatively at dinner each evening about the incredible sightings their female guide had orchestrated.
For guides Masego Montwedi and Kaone Tiego, building credibility with clients was equally important. They strove to provide exemplary service on each trip, researching guests' interests to tailor an unforgettable experience. Their deep knowledge of the bush, storytelling flair, and warm hospitality eventually won over even the most dubious travelers.
Today, veteran guides like Refilwe and Masego have firmly established the competence of women guides. But each new trainee still must go through a similar process of proving themselves to skeptical tourists. The female guides quickly build confidence through completing demanding training courses with top marks. Their mentors are caring but uncompromising, pushing the women to meet the same high standards as male guides.
Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Earning Respect from Guests and Colleagues
Gaining respect in a male-dominated profession posed an ongoing challenge for Botswana's pioneering female safari guides. Though they had the skills to excel at guiding, prevailing gender stereotypes meant they still faced doubts and dismissals from clients and colleagues. But through consistent hard work and perseverance, they gradually earned widespread esteem.
In the early days, veteran guide Refilwe Lediga recalls male colleagues mocking her aspirations to lead walking safaris, claiming she would "never survive" the intensely grueling hikes. On her first walking trails, the men purposely outpaced her at a blistering speed. Though exhausted, she refused to complain or fall behind. Her quiet determination earned the admiration of clients and eventually her coworkers' acceptance.
For guide Masego Montwedi, earning respect has been an uphill battle even after 15 years' experience. Ageism compounds sexism, as some older male tourists struggle to take direction from a younger woman. No matter her accomplishments, she occasionally faces condescending remarks about getting by on looks, not skill. But Masego has learned not to internalize doubts. She focuses on giving 100 percent effort into making each tour special. Earning clients' heartfelt thanks and praise brings her deeper satisfaction than dwelling on discriminatory mentalities.
The camaraderie of sister guides provides vital support in this profession that can feel isolating at times as the only woman. Masego emphasizes the responsibility she feels towards female colleagues and her appreciation for mentors like Mammy Keitumetse who paved the way. The guides celebrate each other's triumphs and provide empathetic ears after frustrating encounters with chauvinistic clients. Their solidarity is instrumental in buoying spirits and reconfirming purpose.
For many guests, just seeing female guides commanding and thriving in the wilderness helps reshape assumptions. As one guest recounted about her guide Kaone: "Her passion and dedication single-handedly proved this is not just a man's job. She made me rethink my own limits." Guides take pride in changing mindsets and opening doors for the next generation of women guide hopefuls.
Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Providing a New Perspective
Having women guiding safaris provides a distinctly different perspective, enriching the experience for guests. While male guides excel at tracking wildlife and lecturing on species, female guides tend to shine in areas like interpreting animal behaviors, weaving enriching cultural insights, and forging heartfelt connections with travelers.
For guide Chipo Diza, her background studying animal behavior ecology enables her to provide rare, fascinating glimpses into the social dynamics unfolding within animal groups. She picks up on subtle cues guests often miss, explaining, for example, the body language signaling a potential challenge to the alpha lion from a subordinate male. Her discussions of elephant matriarchies and meerkat social hierarchies provide intriguing parallels to human family structures that resonate with clients.
Guides Ruth Koketsang and Boikano Mosarwa integrate their indigenous Setswana and Basarwa heritage to share often overlooked cultural traditions linked to the land. Their experiences growing up in remote wilderness villages provide authentic glimpses into traditional songs, folklore, and uses of local plants guests won’t find in textbooks. The guides facilitate hands-on activities like building campfires from scratch and crafting jewelry from natural materials.
Veteran guide Marjorie Kapako has a knack for forging heartfelt bonds with guests of all ages but finds her patient, encouraging nature particularly beneficial with families. On hikes she hangs back with nervous parents and poses fun animal spotting challenges to engage fidgety kids. At dinner she draws out introverted teens with questions about pop culture then pivots seamlessly back to elders' stories of exploring Africa in the 1960s. Her ability to juggle diverse interests ensures every family member feels involved.
These specialized skills arise intuitively from lived experiences. Male guides excel at their own strengths like seamlessly handling firearms and navigating technical 4x4 situations. But the multifaceted needs of modern travelers benefit from a diversity of guides. As tourism increasingly seeks to provide immersive, transformational journeys, the female guiding perspective becomes ever more crucial.
The nuanced mentorship female guides offer their trainees also propagates a distilled wisdom. Experienced guide Lesego Mosimanyana ensures each practical lesson in tracking or astronomy includes nuggets on empathetically tailoring trips to clients’ abilities and interests. Her advice on gracefully navigating unwelcome advances and dispelling uninformed assumptions arms her trainees to overcome challenges she once faced. Such sagacity shapes well-rounded guides prepared to excel at every facet of leading rewarding tours.
Blazing the Trail: Botswana's Pioneering All-Female Safari Guiding Crew - Inspiring Other Women to Pursue Guiding
Botswana's all-female guiding crew serves as inspirational role models for young women considering careers in the wilderness. Their success guides the path for the next generation to imagine beyond limiting societal expectations. Girls who may have once balked at the idea of camping now declare guiding their dream job after going on tours led by women.
Refilwe Lediga relishes opportunities to mentor local teenagers interested in exploring careers beyond nursing and teaching. She emphasizes that they already possess many valuable skills like patience, empathy and resilience that would aid them as guides. Refilwe arranges training placements for promising protégés, encouraging them through the intensive physical and mental challenges. Her mentees gain confidence watching her calmly handle intense situations like confronting poachers or changing flat tires in the pouring rain.
Several companies now offer “guide for a day” programs specifically aimed at teenage Botswana girls to increase diversity in the profession. The girls shadow female guides as they lead game drives and bush walks. Veteran guide Lesego Mosimanyana says the best part is debriefing after the mock tour and watching the girls excitedly chatter about a sighting or pontificate on how they would have done something differently. Lesego recalls one teen asserting “I used to want boring office job, but today made me realize I can be guide!” That validation of capability sticks with them as they make future education and career choices.
Female guides emphasize that guiding promises adventure but requires dedication. Mammy Keitumetse cautions that spending long stretches away from home guiding tourists through isolated areas requires commitment. Young women must set ambitious goals and be ready to outwork male peers to blaze new trails. She advises that courage matched with humility while learning is key. “We stand on shoulders of guides like Rebecca Matlhare who walked this path before us,” Mammy reflects. “It is our duty now to reach back to help those behind.”