Letter from the Executive Director
Twenty-two years ago, Laura Tyson founded Women’s Wilderness as a pioneering gender-informed, outdoor service organization in the U.S. Today, I occasionally get asked the question — does gender still matter in this work? In a recent strategic planning process, we debated inclusion and how to orient our work for today’s context. We take a gender-expansive approach and have explicit LGBTQ+ programming because gender justice is not just about women and girls and precisely because gender still matters.
Access: Significant gender barriers exist in the U.S. to accessing both outdoor recreation and sports broadly. Girls participate in outdoor recreation at significantly lower rates than boys (Outdoor Fdn, 2017). Annually, boys get 1.13 million more sport opportunities than girls (NFSHSA, 2019). When you layer in race, socioeconomics and other intersectional discriminations, access is further diminished.
Process: Going into the wilderness is just different with groups of girls, women and queer people. In our courses, the ways justifies the means. We don’t teach environmental respect by conquering mountains and “bagging” peaks. We don’t support leadership development by having instructors commandeer all decisions and urge participants to follow. We practice conscious choice, collaboration and shared leadership. We use the course experience to build connections to ourselves, each other and the land.
Outcomes: Our courses aim to offer access TO the outdoors and growth THROUGH the experience. When you ask what girls, women and LGBTQ+ people need to gain from a transformative outdoor experience, you inherently come up with different answers than you would if you were serving people with dominant identities. Afterall, we still live in an inequitable society. Our approach aims to support micro and macro equity building in everything from women’s confidence in placing rock climbing anchors to supporting leadership of immigrant and refugee girls.
As I write this, we are navigating unprecedented uncertainty and suffering in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is far too little being said about gender and how girls, women and LGBTQ+ people are impacted uniquely by this crisis. To survive and thrive, adaptation is the natural response. Women’s Wilderness is leaning into the moment. We are finding new ways to support our community while grounding in our historical expertise.
With gratitude to all of you who have been and will be part of this collective effort,
Sarah Murray, Executive Director