Inspiring women and the countries they call home

Happy International Women’s Day! In celebration of this day, we are highlighting some of the many inspiring women throughout history and the beautiful countries they hail from.

Vice President Kamala Harris

We’re kicking off this list with one of the most influential women of 2021: the USA’s first woman Vice-President, first Black Vice-President, and first South Asian Vice-President. Vice President Harris made history when she was elected last year and again when she was inaugurated in January. These significant milestones are not the first time she has made history in her career and we’re sure they will not be the last time she does. Speaking of inspiring firsts, she was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who, herself, is the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. These are two of the incredible women working in the USA and inspiring the world.

As a travel destination, the United States offers a tremendous range of experiences across its 50 states. From exploring civil history in places like Washington DC and Atlanta to experiencing places you may have only ever seen on TV, like New York and Los Angeles, the US has plenty to offer! Make sure you check out cultural hotspots like New Orleans and Miami and find time to experience Native American culture through community-run tourism initiatives.

Professor Wangarĩ Maathai

Hailing from the East African nation of Kenya, Professor Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, among many other firsts. She was an activist for human rights, democracy, and the environment and this was recognised in a number of ways including being named a UN Messenger of Peace. She founded the Green Belt Movement, a grass-roots organisation dedicated to empowering women and protecting the environment. The organisation’s vision is to “strive for better environmental management, community empowerment, and livelihood improvement using tree-planting as an entry point.”

From a travel perspective, Kenya is a great place for a safari or a beach holiday. You can encounter wildlife and even see the Great Migration through national parks like the famed Maasai Mara; you can enjoy a honeymoon-worthy beach holiday in places like Mombasa, Diani, or Lamu; and you can experience Kenyan culture all over the country. Kenya’s cultural history is fascinating and well worth learning about. You also don’t want to miss out on the food: try sukuma wiki (greens cooked in spices), ugali (Kenya’s version of a maze porridge popular in most of Africa), and nyama choma (grilled meat).

Coco Chanel

Fashion-lovers know her name well. She is the legendary founder of French design house, simply named: Chanel. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel founded a business in 1910; an impressive achievement on its own but made even more significant when you consider that women were only allowed to vote in France in 1944. At the time, Chanel’s fashions were ground-breaking; they broke the mould of what was considered “women’s fashion” by moving away from corsets and endless layers. She is credited for “the little black dress” and today her fashion house is still shaking up the world of fashion. She was also the first dressmaker to create a perfume, the (also) legendary Chanel No 5. As a businesswoman she was formidable and she lived her life as she chose, a great reminder to live our lives as we please, regardless of what society dictates. Outside of the fashion world she is also known for some great quotes like: “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

France, Chanel’s home country, is arguably one of the most famous travel destinations. Explore romantic Paris filled with attractions like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower; ski your way down the majestic French Alps and sample divine French cuisine like croissants and bourguignon (it’s a stew); and explore the home of some of the most famous wines (and the home of champagne). Speaking of food, it’s also worth mentioning French chef Anne-Sophie Pic. Besides being awarded three Michelin stars for her restaurant Maison Pic, she was the first chef in 50 years to win three Michelin stars in the Western European country and she is one of few women with this high honour.

The Trưng Sisters

Sisters and warrior queens Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị are two women you should know. The stories of women with military prowess are not told enough but, in the Southeast Asian nation of Vietnam, the names of Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị have not been forgotten. Schools, districts, and streets are named after the sisters, a testament to their significance as warriors, heroes, and freedom fighters. The sisters are known for organising an army, in around 39 AD, and leading a rebellion against the first Chinese domination of Vietnam. They secured Vietnam’s freedom from the Chinese for the first time in over a century. The sisters ruled as queens for a short time and will be remembered in Vietnamese history for far longer. They are still considered a symbol of Vietnamese independence today.

Vietnam, as a travel destination, boasts compelling culture, impressive architecture, and delicious food. Northern Vietnam is increasing in popularity for adventure travellers and is great for those looking for a more remote place to explore. Hà Giang, in the north, has an attraction called “Heaven’s Gate” in English. For more epic scenery visit the popular Halong Bay, go spelunking in Phong Nha National Park, sample Vietnamese coffee in Buon Ma Thuot, and make sure you stop to try a local bowl of pho (noodles and a protein in a tasty broth).

Mariana Costa Checa

This CEO co-founded a tech start-up in Peru which now operates in Peru, Chile, Mexico, and Brazil; Mariana Costa Checa is one social entrepreneur you should know. Laboratoria is dedicated to transforming the tech sector in Latin America, one woman graduate at a time. According to their website, they have trained over 1,800 women to date and reskilled over 7,000 employees. Laboratoria’s 6-month bootcamp is designed to empower women to build successful careers as web developers and UX designers. Checa’s work has been recognised by Barack Obama and she was named one of MIT’s top innovators under 35 in 2015.

Peru, in western South America, is arguably most well-known for the Incan sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) called Machu Picchu. These incredible ruins atop majestic mountains are a must-visit and they are only a few of many reasons to visit Peru. Lima, the capital city, also boasts a WHS known as “Ciudad de los Reyes” or “City of Kings”. Visit the magical sites of the Imperial City of Cusco, be awed by the desert landscapes of Ica, marvel at sea life like sea lions and penguins in Paracas National Reserve, and visit the community-owned and managed Chaparri Conservation Area.

These are only some of the inspiring women and beautiful countries we have come across. Who are the women who inspire you and what do you love about the countries they call home?

Written by Lethabo-Thabo Royds, Content Programme Co-Ordinator World Travel & Tourism Council

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