Hafida Hdoubane, Morocco’s first female mountain guide, is leading the way to gender equality in Morocco’s tourism industry.
Rabat – Twenty-five years ago, there were no certified female mountain guides in Morocco. In 1994, Marrakech-born mountaineer Hafida Hdoubane changed that when she became the first woman to receive an official mountain guide license.
Hdoubane has since found spectacular success in Morocco’s mountain trekking industry. She has her own tour company and leads mountain treks and cultural exchanges with international touring companies Intrepid Travel and Peak DMC.
Yet men dominate the tour guide industry in Morocco (making up 97% of guides, according to Zina Bencheikh, the manager of Peak DMC Marrakech). At the hands of Moroccan women, that landscape is starting to change.
The oldest of five daughters, Hdoubane grew up shouldering responsibility. She always wanted to prove that she was strong.
After a hiking trip in the Montserrat and Pyrenees mountains in Spain during university, Hdoubane was inspired to start climbing in Morocco. She then took the certification exam— an intensive three-day test—and passed.
“Moroccans didn’t really know what it meant to be a mountain guide back then,” Hdoubane told Conde Nast Traveler. “Many of the guides were European. Showing Moroccans that the job existed was important.”
The mountaineering industry in Morocco has grown since 1994. Until recently, the numbers of female mountain guides have remained stagnant. In March, Hdoubane told the BBC she was one of 10 total female mountain guides in the country. Women represent similarly low percentages of guides that lead city or cultural tours.
Women face far higher unemployment rates than do men in Morocco across industries (only 25% of women ages 15 and older work compared to 74% of men, according to the United Nations Human Development Reports). In the tour guide sector, the root of the issue is often bureaucratic.
Bencheikh, who is working on Peak DMC’s initiative to employ more female guides for their programs in Morocco, pushed Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism to issue new tour guide licenses for the first time in a decade in 2017. This has been one of the regulatory barriers preventing women from becoming guides. Several women applied and received licenses. By 2018, 16% of the Peak DMC guides for its Morocco branch were women.
Efforts by Peak DMC and other companies to employ more female guides will benefit women everywhere, Moroccan or not, Hdoubane said. One reason is that female tour guides have access to the spaces male tour guides might not. Several of her tours take advantage of this.
Hdoubane leads an Intrepid Travel trek that brings women tourists to speak with Amazigh (Berber) women in isolated areas of Morocco.
“I’m a bridge between these two worlds, and I love it because I feel like I help women,” she said. “Women from all over the world, and women here who have a lot of things to offer and not many people to help them.”
Thanks in part to Hdoubane’s visibility, those numbers are increasing: “More women followed [me] as guides, and [more] will follow.” She remains hopeful for the future of women in the mountain guide industry.