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Gender Equality through the Empowerment of Women in Tourism

Written by: Sevon, Liisa

University: Lincoln

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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What can be done to overcome gender inequality and barriers women face in the Tourism and Hospitality industry

Written by: Kinnaird, Hayley

University: Lincoln

I have chosen to comment on this paper due to the paper I created being similar and as I have a profound interest on the subject area. As aware the subject area is under conceptualized and women are underrepresented in the tourism and hospitality but a consideration of how to overcome the barriers they face would be an interesting reflection to contribute.

People 1st (2016) suggest in order to help overcome the barriers it is essential that there are more progression opportunities for women especially and that they need to speak up more in order for their voices and opinions to be heard. If this was done then perhaps gender inequality would be minimised, also this will help to improve the industry on a whole more. The opportunities that should be available to women are more leadership / management roles and better incentives such as increased wages in order to make the industry more attractive as a whole. (Baum et al, 2013).

You have mentioned the issues women face in the industry and I would agree that they are on-going barriers they face although another way to look at it is that gender inequality is improving as the population become more modernised particularly in the UK. An interesting fact that you have explored is about women in countries such as Singapore that so little of them progress to managerial roles, it would be interesting to explore why this is and what could be done to help the less developed countries in combating gender inequality.

Moreover it is interesting to see you have explored how women feel unconfident in their job roles and in pursuing their goals, perhaps reflecting also on how women can often feel further in the industry will add to this. Baum (2015) says women can be left feeling stressed and demotivated in their jobs, which perhaps may be why many women do not choose the Tourism and Hospitality industry as a career. A new perspective to consider is why employers often feel males are often better suited for these managerial positions could be due to women often do not want work responsibilities to intervene with family responsibilities and often they many think males are more suitable due to their skills and experience. A fact that I discovered through my research was that employers are often looking for cheap employees to fill lower skilled job roles such as cleaners and waiting staff and these often end up being women or migrant workers, also when referring to brochures women are often photographed as waitresses or in low skilled job roles so this could be why women are expected and portrayed in hostessing job roles. (Baum, 2015).


Baum, T. (2015) Women in Tourism & Hospitality: Unlocking the Potential in the Talent Pool. [Online] Available from: https://www.diageo.com/Lists/Resources/Attachments/2706/Women_in_Hospitality___Tourism_White_Paper.pdf [Accessed 19th March 2017].

Baum., T, Duncan., T and David, G. (2013) The mobilities of hospitality work: An exploration of issues and debates. Annals of Tourism Research, 41(1) pp 1-19.

People 1st (2016) Skills and Workforce Profile Hospitality and Tourism Available from https://blackboard.lincoln.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/pid-1578433-dt-content-rid-2803953_2/courses/TOU3098M-1617/Skills%20and%20workforce%20profile%202016.pdf [Accessed on 20th March 2017].