The purpose of this conference paper is to identify the barriers women face in the tourism industry and to examine how empowerment can be a useful tool of which gender equality can be further achieved. In addition, this paper discusses the barriers for gender equality, the importance of empowerment of women, the opportunities in tourism and finally the tools which can be used to reduce the gap in gender inequality.
Keywords: gender equality, empowerment, women, tourism
Gender equality and the empowerment of women continue to be global concerns as female employees in tourism keep facing barriers in entering labour market and career advancements. What limits these opportunities are often the social norms, social constructs, cultures and education in certain geographical areas. In general, women make up the majority of employees in tourism, although female employees are often represented in service jobs and earning up to 15% less than males in the same field (UNWTO & UN Women, 2010). ILO for example, estimates how Africa and Latin America both show a higher occupation of women as clerks, rather than professionals in the field. Li & Leung (2001) noticed cases in Singapore where only two out of 77 female employees proceeded to the general management positions. The barriers were linked with discrimination, stereotypes, family duties and pressure. Furthermore, 40% of female employees in Belize experienced sexual discrimination related to promotion opportunities, as well as sexual harassment (Wood & Cavanaugh, 1999).
The reason why inequality exists in this context is how elite groups, which are largely represented by men, dominate development and control benefits. Also the social norms in especially developing countries feed the gender roles and relations, therefore narrowing down the opportunities and benefits for women (Scheyvens, 2000). Equality through empowerment of women is not a new concept, but in current studies it has more a multi-layered structure, which includes different elements. . The concept of empowerment is a part of ones sense of control, influence and concern with an actual social influence, political voice and human rights (Rappaport, 1987). Bhusan Rout & Mohanty (2015) expand this context entailing gender equality as to having the same opportunities, rights and obligations between men and women. According to Tucker & Boonabaana (2012) studies on gender and tourism has now been largely linked with women’s economic empowerment. The question has been if contemporary gender approach can really aid the initial gender problem through just women’s economic empowerment in tourism enterprises, because it does little in isolation of social relationships, which, in the end is the root of the vulnerability of women (Awumbila, 2006).
Scheyvens introduced three types of empowerment in 1999, which she later modified to include gender issues as well, including psychological, social and political empowerment. Much of the approach on psychological empowerment concentrates on pride and self-esteem. The enhanced feeling of uniqueness often forms through cultural pride, when residents feel valued by their local environment. The sense of specialness comes from the tourists visiting the community, wanting to know more about the culture and society. Women who work at home have the opportunity to share important skills and resources with the visitors, which increase pride and strengthen self-esteem. The issues which would disrupt this process are multifactored, but often linked with embarrassment or loss of meaning and significance to ones surroundings. Besculides et al (2002) argue how psychological empowerment is one of the most important aspects of the tourism benefits. The aspect of social empowerment creates the opportunity to bring communities together and to work towards mutual objectives. The downsides of this element are stemming from taking advantage of community members or generally creating tension within the community. Ramos & Prideaux (2014) have found these types of issues arising in the Mayan community, where the younger and older generations have contrasting views on ecotourism. Moswete & Lacey (2014) on the other hand noticed how tourism employment in Botswana increased connections with outsiders. The aspects which profoundly address female employees globally relate to the political empowerment, as this element involves the power relations in communities.
Women either do not have the same opportunities as men or do not feel confident enough to pursue personal goals. Nevertheless, the study in Botswana showed how women’s participation from passive to active ownership increased their sense of freedom and political empowerment. Nonetheless, some barriers remain, such as lack of resources for starting businesses, lack of opportunities for education and low pay in tourism (Moswete & Lacey, 2014). Furthermore, other challenges to empower women and equality through entrepreneurship are still present. Bras & Dahles (1998) noticed how success in entrepreneurial activity did not correlate with empowerment in Indonesia. The reason was these activities only reinforced gender relations, which refuted the concept of empowerment. Even opportunities to stay home while working resulted to be inadequate, as empowerment also needs the reliance of self-confidence (Kwaramba et al, 2012; Scheyvens, 1999). This concludes how the benefits from economic success are not necessarily parallel to the improved status of women nor empowerment (Pasheera & Sood, 2011). As the scope of equality, opportunities and empowerment differ from one geographical area to another, it is fairly challenging to have a mutual framework to follow. Nevertheless, awareness and education of the barriers facing women and inequality should be a worldwide effort.
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