Making way for her in the tourism sector
“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.”
– Ban Ki-moon
Empowering women and girls and achieving gender equality has a positive impact on inclusive economic growth. When women have access to employment and education, household poverty is reduced and when women control resources all family members benefit. Economic growth in and of itself does not promote gender equality. The effects of economic growth are most positive in those countries where it is accompanied by an expansion in women’s employment and education. Processes of growth therefore need to be accompanied by public action to remove gender inequalities.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism employs 292 million people worldwide and constitutes 10.2% percent of global GDP. This means tourism matters for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Tourism is a valuable source of job creation, enterprise and private sector development and economic growth. However, at present there are significant gender inequalities in tourism that need to be addressed.
Statistics from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) which promotes worldwide sustainable tourism show that women make up the majority of the workforce in most regions of the world. However, the majority of women employed (90 percent) are concentrated in low paid, low status jobs as waitresses, bartenders, maids, baby sitters, cleaners, flight attendants, housekeeping helpers or travel agencies. Many women also work in the informal economy selling souvenirs and handicrafts, in catering businesses and as street vendors. Although paid employment is an improvement on unpaid work in the home, these jobs offer little protection, no benefits or career opportunities, and low wages. Women entering the tourism industry do not compete on equal footing with men. They are likely to be less educated, have less bargaining power and face discrimination in pay. The tourism industry has been described as a ‘gender pyramid’. At the bottom are unskilled, low paying jobs for women - with few career development opportunities and at the top are managerial positions which are dominated by men.
UN Sustainable Development Goal number 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The United Nations and other multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors have pledged to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls, everywhere. However, there has been worldwide neglect in taking action to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment in the tourism sector.
Sustainable tourism has the potential to transform the lives of men and women, protect their rights to decent work, protect the environment and conserve world heritage. At present there are few studies and insights into the gendered dimensions of tourism, including sustainable eco-tourism that shed light on who benefits and who doesn’t by gender and the barriers to women’s equal engagement in this sector. Ensuring women have an equal voice, role and share in tourism makes economic sense and is essential for the realisation of their rights and entitlements.
IPE Global’s #MakeWayforHer Campaign promotes the empowerment of women in the corporate world. As part of that campaign we support gender equality and women’s empowerment in access to education, training and jobs in the tourism industry.
No tourism model is sustainable and fair unless it encompasses the rights of women to participate and benefit on an equal footing to men. This means raising awareness on the pervasive levels of gender inequality in this sector and supporting and enabling women to recognise their rights and advocate for change. It means shifting the attitudes and practices of those who formulate policies and plans. It means engaging the public and the private sector, academia and social movements. It means educating tourists to choose tourism options that recognise and protect the rights of women and girls and the environment. It means more than lip service.
Equal opportunities for women in jobs in tourism should also include protection in the workplace from harassment and bullying. The struggle for equality begins with widening women’s access to higher education and competing for higher positions as well. It means building institutions which educate women as well as men, family institutions which do not limit the role of women to household level activities, but also empower them to expand their life horizons. Understanding that women can be as good as men and ensuring they get equal advancement as men, should be the goal of all women empowerment campaigns.
While tourism offers potential to some people, it can, if poorly conceived, destroy indigenous livelihoods and affect women particularly. The creation of conservation parks can have a positive impact on animal welfare and biodiversity but detrimental impacts on people, particularly women and children. For example, the making of the Mbaéré-Bodingué National Park in 2007 in the forest regions of Lobaye and Sangha Mbaere in Central African Republic has undermined the livelihoods of the communities who lived in the periphery of the park that depended on forest resources. Women, in particular, require regular and unmediated access to forests for their livelihoods for collecting non-timber forest products for household use. IPE Triple Line has evaluated a project supported by Rainforest Foundation-UK (RF-UK), where forest indigenous communities including women are empowered to influence the local government and park authorities to stop further displacement and recognise the rights of communities to forests and their ancestral lands. RF- UK developed a new approach to conservation that taps into local indigenous knowledge, especially women’s insights so that the environment can be managed sustainably and rights can be protected. CAMPFIRE Zimbabwe is another NGO encouraging local communities, including women to make their own decisions about wildlife management and control.
The Government of India is beginning to integrate local perspectives (men and women’s) into the promotion of sustainable, environmentally friendly tourism. IPE Global has been working with the Government of Karnataka in the preparation of a Coastal Master Plan. This programme acts as a bridge between the need to ensure biodiversity, generate and protect livelihood opportunities for locals, including women and provide sustainable tourism development. Providing equal opportunities for women to work in both skilled and unskilled jobs in such projects would not only help them lead a better life, but also help to enshrine their rights, build sustainable tourism and ensure inclusive growth.
The Ministry of Tourism in India has initiated a 3 month training course for women in the tourism industry. This course provides certification to women in smaller states as regional tourist guides. Women will learn how to drive taxis and handle tourists, run small restaurants. Other courses cover airlines and hospitality sector. All these are steps in the right direction but more needs to be done.
Overall, with tourism industry mushrooming to be one of the significant contributors of GDP of developing countries, it is imperative to tap the resources women bring with them to build strong economies and fairer and equitable societies. Community based ecotourism holds great promise in promoting environment conservation, enhancing livelihoods and cultural preservation. The focus should be towards giving adequate attention to rights and opportunities for women from very basic (including women’s rights in indigenous communities) to the highest levels (ensuring equal opportunities at high levels of employment). Integrating gender perspectives in tourism sector remains to be an important concern for future.
About the Author
Pallavi Prabhakar is a Masters student at The London school of Economics and Political Science and is currently working as an intern at IPE Triple Line UK. Her primary research interests include local economic development, capacity building, climate change and private sector development. Pallavi shares with IPE Global, the motivation to provide innovative solutions to global challenges of development by integrating knowledge and management skills for an equal, inclusive and sustainable world.