International Women's Day 2021

A day for celebrating inspirational women and the great things they do.

Written by Siobhan Smith, Kathryn James and Carole Whyley

March 8, 2021

Siobhan Smith

Kath James

Carole Whyley

International Women's Day

Did you know that statistically female trainees are more likely to pass their Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessments than men? In 2018 studies showed that out of all those with their WML only 10% were female? Did you also know that only 18% of those with their Summer Mountain Leader (SML) were female? These are staggering statistics.

There are a variety of reasons for this. One plausible thought is at a grass routes level where girls do not have the same opportunities or the same level of encouragement to get into outdoor activities. There is also this belief that women have to choose between having a family, or being a sportswoman or outdoor professional and there is a big gender equality gap within the industry.

In recent years, organisations like the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) have been noticed this and have been campaigning to get more women into outdoor sports, opening up doors for young women, encouraging those with a passion for outdoor sports and the outdoor industry so that they can achieve their dreams.

A brief History of International Women's Day

The very first International Women's Day was in 1911 when women, and men, took to the streets to campaign for women's rights. The campaign started to grow globally, and rallies appeared all over the world, particularly in eastern Europe.

Eventually, in 1977, the United Nations officially stated that International Women's Day was a day "to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of women's rights."

In the week proceeding this year's International Women's Day (March 8th), Xtreme Exposures has been posting a nomination for an inspirational outdoor woman each day, from those like Gwen Moffat who paved the way for female mountain guides to the women in our very own XE team.

Here, each of our inspirational female team members tells us briefly about themselves, what they do and who inspires them in the hope of inspiring the next generation of females to enjoy and pursue a career in the outdoors.

The first of which is from one of our affiliated instructors, Kath.

Kathryn Jones

I am Kathryn James. I'm a Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (WMCI) and International Mountain Leader (IML) based in North Wales. I offer guided and instructional experiences through Mountain Expertise in Snowdonia and also work part time as a Senior Instructor at Plas y Brenin, a National Outdoor Centre located in North Wales.

Kathryn Jones WMCI IML

My biggest achievements in climbing and mountaineering are; climbing the Nose on El Capitan and the North face of the Eiger. My other very satisfying achievements include having two wonderful children to bring up and share adventures with.

I would love to complete the 6 classic north faces in the Alps as set out by Gaston Rubufatt in his book 'Starlight and Storm', a visit to South America to go mountaineering in Patagonia is another dream of mine. On the mini adventures side, I am keen to have some canoe camping adventures on rivers close to home and further afield.

As a female instructor and Senior Instructor at Plas y Brenin, I hope I can inspire others to reach the higher level awards. I try to do my best to balance being the best instructor I can be whilst also climbing and having fun and being a Mum! This is easier said than done, but very possible with supportive friends and family.

As well as doing private guiding and instructional work for myself, I work on the Mountain Training awards at Plas y Brenin running Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor course, Mountain Leader (ML), Hill and Moorland Leader (HML) and Winter Mountain Leader (WML) courses. I know from many female participants on the Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (MCI) courses that they really value having a female instructor. I happily offer support and advice to women going through these qualifications.

From a young age I have been inspired by Lynne Hill - her 'get stuck in' attitude is something I have always really liked. She has worked hard to climb hard and seen the rewards of that.

I am also really lucky to have worked alongside some super inspiring women during my career - Anne Vowles was a brilliant boss when I worked at Kent Mountain Centre in Llanberis and is a great friend now. She's always keen for an adventure, what ever the weather. 

You can find out more about Kathryn, including how to book her guiding and instructional services here.


Carole Whyley

Hello, my name's Carole Whyley, however, most of my outdoor peers and clients will know me by my maiden name, Feldman. I'm a mountaineering and climbing instructor (MCI), winter mountain leader (WML), teacher and accredited coach and I live near the Peak District. I combine these passions to support people to learn more about themselves and achieve more than they ever thought possible.

I am passionate about people, their successes and failures, fears and courage, strengths and weaknesses, setbacks and achievements, their dreams - the whole person and their life’s journey. I am also passionate about the outdoors, the unrivalled beauty and wonder of natural environments and wild places.

One of the things I love about the outdoors is there’s something for everyone, at any time, whatever their mood and whatever the weather. I am as happy sea cliff climbing on a gloriously sunny day as I am battling the conditions winter mountaineering in Scotland. There are some days when I love nothing more than being in a wild, remote place, away from everything and everyone and others when it’s about being with others sharing, pushing ourselves while accompanied by great banter. On my bucket list is to go to the Tien Shen area and climb an unclimbed mountain. 

My biggest achievements are probably the ones I don’t really know about but are the result of my work. One I do know about is saving someone’s life when they got caught in a rip-tide.

When considering how being an outdoor professional is helping equality for women, I do think it is extremely important that there are role models and I am proud if I am considered one of them, but just being a female outdoor professional isn’t enough. I think it’s important to be transparent, open and honest and have dialogue in order to engender engagement. It's also important to gain an understanding of what equality (for all) really means as I think it is misrepresented a lot of the time – it’s not just about numbers.

There are many parallels with the diversity and inclusion agenda. Real equality for me is when there is equal opportunity, access to knowledge and experience, aspiration, inspiration, choice, regardless of labels and boxes – in fact equality for me is when the boxes are not needed anymore because those that want to, can.

This is why my 2021 International Women's Day nomination for Xtreme Exposures is Gwen Moffatt. She was ahead of her time. She was the first female British Mountain Guide in a pioneering era where she was a minority within a minority. Yet it is not this extraordinary achievement alone that makes her inspirational, but rather her whole story and the way she has journeyed through life forging her own path in her own way. She is rebellious, courageous, resilient and vulnerable. From deserting her post as a driver in the Army, to regularly climbing barefoot and then re-inventing herself as an author in her later years she has lived an amazing life in an amazing way.

Carole provides guiding and coaching around the Peak District and further afield. If you'd like to see what she has available, or to start a conversation with her click here.

Last on our list today is Xtreme Exposures' employee, Siobhan.

Siobhan Smith

Hi, my name is Siobhan. I've always been outdoorsy and in love with great adventures. I grew up in a very adventurous family. My parents didn't allow having four children stop them doing anything. When I was around four years old they sold their house and we lived on a boat for a few years. We then moved abroad and I spent most of my childhood in the Middle East. Tunisia was where we spent lots of our holidays plus sailing around the Mediterranean and Egypt. I spent all of my remaining free time horse riding in the desert.

Now I'm back in Scotland, I love nothing more than traveling in my van, climbing, hiking, exploring and taking pictures along the way.

It wasn't until much later on in life when I was introduced to climbing and fell deeply in love with it. Most of my climbing was done in South Africa where I studied to become a Safari guide but also in Kenya, where I lived for nearly five years.

I have a great passion for conservation. I have a HNC in wildlife conservation and have nearly completed my Open University degree in Environmental Science.

This year my goal is to complete my SML and Rock Climbing Instructor (RCI) awards and work towards my MCI; eventually I would love to do my WML too. I love nothing more than taking friends and family out climbing or hiking, encouraging them to do something they never thought they could. It's such a buzz - a feeling I can't describe when they experience that feeling for the first time, whether it be summiting a Munro or climbing something they didn't think was possible; I love being able to share it with them.

My nomination for this year's International Women's Day #inspirationaloutdoorwomen is my friend Katie Mackay. She's not long since passed her MCI and we've spent many days out climbing, summer and winter hill walking and being adventurous together. I admire her determination, her work ethic and her ability to not let things stand in her way. She has a great head for climbing, which I admire tremendously too.

Siobhan Smith climbing in idealistic weather on a sunny Scottish summers day climbing Pinnacle Ridge on the Polldubh crags, Glen Nevis.

I think there can be a mental barrier for some women. I feel it's all too easy for women to say they can't, or shouldn't do something. I often feel women are nervous about doing a course like the Summer Mountain Leader (SML) where they might feel intimidated. But in actual fact, this isn't the case. It's brilliant that these barriers are slowly being pulled down and things are changing and I'd love to be a part of it, in whatever capacity that may be.

My bucket list is huge - but the one thing I really, really want to do is to climb the North face of the Eiger. Another personal development is to work on my photography and my skills as a climber.

Who inspires me? I'm lucky to know many powerful and inspirational women in my life who are so focused and driven to achieve their goals. Others that also inspire me are the likes of Gwen Moffat, Hazel Findlay and Alison Hargreaves.

So why is International Women's Day Important?

As Carole so rightly said, hopefully one day there won't be any inequality; when the boxes are not needed anymore because those that want to, can. But it is also equally important to remember that because of the women of the past, like Emmeline Pankhurst, we are able to be the women of today. Allowing those like Gwen Moffat and Sophia Danenberg (first black women to summit MT Everest in 2006), to pave the way into a better, equal future.

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