The award winning digital marketer and writer, Stephanie Rodriguez, has created the first ever travel portal exclusively designed for women. Her new company, JOZU For Women, is a platform that helps women travel easier, better, and safer. JOZU provides hotel tips and trip reviews written by women for women. In this Q&A, Rodriguez talks to SWAAY about her inspirations, future ideas, and favorite aspects of JOZU For Women.
What were you doing before you created JOZU?
Before founding JOZU For Women, I worked at The Mighty Media Group full time. Mighty Media Group is a digital agency that has been consulting for the travel space for more than 7 years. They have consulted with companies like Club Med, Sydney Airport, and SSP. While I was working as a consultant to travel companies, I travelled to 48 countries and stayed in hotels across the world.
What inspired you to create JOZU?
I found that at those times of me booking my travel online, because I never had a secretary or personal assistant, that I would often find myself booking and staying in hotels that I would not have originally stayed in if I knew more information online.
I recognized the growing frustrations and travel concerns that women have with booking hotels, restaurants and other amenities that seem to look great online -- only to arrive at their destinations and discover their selections were actually unsafe, unclean or simply did not live up to their expectations, so JOZU was born.
What was your “ah-ha” moment?
My “ah-ha” moment was sparked when I stayed at a hotel in Genevia while I was working with SSP. I booked it online, it had great Wi-Fi reviews, which is something that is critical for me. It had proximity close to the train station, and their website was easy to understand in English. But, unfortunately, the hotel was located in the middle of the red light district. Whilst that would probably not be an issue for men, I definitely would not recommend for women to stay there if she were traveling alone regardless of business or vacation. So, when I began to think about what the world needed as it related to travel, and taking into consideration all the marketing experience that I have for that sector, I decided that there had to be a better mouse trap, which was the inception point of JOZU.
What makes JOZU different from other travel websites?
JOZU is a Japanese word that means well done or better than. So, JOZU for WOMEN’s mission is to help women travel better and safer. Now, how we are doing that is by creating a platform that is for women only and is for women to communicate online.
Photo courtesy of Crunchbase
JOZU is the first of its kind travel portal exclusively designed for women, helping them to explore, plan and book their leisure and business travel in a better and safer way that specifically meets their expectations and needs. More than just a site or an app, the platform is home to a passionate community of female users, where women have a safe-place to engage, connect and share honest travel insights for helping one another make better decisions as part of their trip planning experiences.
What technology are you using for JOZU that put you ahead of other travel websites?
The platform of our website is powered by Lithium Technologies, which is the same technology that is used for Southwest Airlines, eBay, and Sephora. So, it is a robot enterprise technology that speaks global languages. We are using this technology to vet gender to allow for there to be parts of our platform where woman can share their vacation stories with discretion of privacy, like a ladies locker room. How we are doing this, and what makes us magical, is that we are using our own proprietary AI, and her name is JENI. So, as women create profiles and say what they know and where they have been, JENI matches the subject matter expert to the seeker. So, my profile said that I have been to 48 countries and I listed the boutique hotels or fitness clubs that I liked, if jenny found another women who was looking for specific hotels in an area I have been too, JENI would match the seeker to my profile. But then when you are trip planning, or also an online note taker, JENI already knows what you want before you do because she has observed what you liked, shared, and discussed.
So when it comes down to booking your vacation, we are using a suite of technology that allows you to be able to say “okay I am ready to take a holiday now” and jenny is able to make recommendation to you based on what it knows about you, and match you to the holiday she believes you will like.
What are your future goals for JOZU?
Well, our initial and overall goal is to build something that women love and need. Ideally, we are working on launching a mobile version of JOZU that will have some features that the website version does not. Also, we want to expand our destinations beyond the Caribbean, such as Asia and South America.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.