“I met Afonsia in Zambia while she was weaving this scarf, and now it keeps me warm in Melbourne’s cold climate.”
by Dr Kate Neely (Director of International Programs, RoundTrip Foundation)
For info on empowering women through community development, and how RoundTrip goes about it, see Kate’s first article in this series about women and travel.
I recently realised that, despite my firm belief that trickle-down economics doesn’t work, I have been applying ‘trickle down’ beliefs about what happens when I spend my tourist dollars. I had assumed that if I was spending my money on local products and services then everyone in those communities would benefit, eventually. I am pretty sure now that I was wrong. When I travel, I really do want to contribute positively to the communities that I am visiting, and I particularly want to ensure that my tourist dollars benefit women in those communities.
My desire to help out women is based on an understanding of women’s roles in many of the communities where I travel. Women are often the family caretaker, reinvesting 90% of their income into families, compared to men’s 30%. Women make sure that resources are used to benefit the family, everyone gets fed, kids go to school and elderly family members are looked after. In some countries, tourism jobs are dominated by women, but the higher paid tourism jobs are dominated by men. Women clean the toilets; men are the tour guides. Women get the dirty work; men get the tips. So, are there ways that we can specifically empower women through tourism?
Women led tourism
My google search on tourism and women’s empowerment reveals quite a few sites that focus on the empowerment felt by the female traveller. There is a lot less discussion on the benefits of tourism to women in the places where tourism is occurring. One blog ( https://wander-lush.org/women-in-tourism/ ) gives examples of female-led tourism companies. It also notes that one of the joys of having a female tour guide is that you finally get the ‘other half’ of the story – most of our tourist experiences are framed by male guides and this has an impact of what we see and how we understand a country.
Reading this I thought back to my experience on the Inca Trek in Peru. Our guide was Tina Valeriano, one of a very small number of women who are qualified and working as guides in Peru. Walking with Tina was a genuinely lovely experience – she was patient with the slow walkers, pointed out miniature orchids along the way and brought to life the history of the Quechua people. Tina was approachable, funny and allowed us to see into her life in a way that I have rarely experienced with a male guide.
As tourists we can use our influence as paying customers by asking for a female tour guide when we book a tour. We might not get one (there probably won’t be one available) but the more of us that ask, the more likely companies are to train and hire women.
I love local markets – pretty much regardless of what is being sold! The colour, the unique products, the loud chatter between stall holders and the ensuing hysterics when I buy and eat something that local people know isn’t usually to ‘foreign’ tastes (grubs for lunch anyone?). All this makes me feel part of the everyday – because this is the everyday for local people. Local markets are not there for tourists, and this makes them an ideal place to spend money that will go directly to the community. Usually, there are just as many female stall holders as male stall holders, and often many more, as women come to town to sell produce and handicrafts. When you look for a female stall holder and ask how to cook, make or wear whatever she has produced before you buy it, you will not only support a local woman but you will almost certainly go home with a smile, a photo and a story to tell.
Taking a class
Learning a new skill in a new country is fun, and a great way to get to know the culture – whether it’s a cooking class, a surfing class, a painting class, or handiwork of some sort. Learning naturally involves questioning, so you often have a teacher who is happy to talk about both the skill that you are learning and about other parts of life in their country. You can ask to take a class with a female teacher. The more that
we, as tourists, ask to have women as part of the mix of teachers and guides, the more we will see women being offered these ‘front-of-house’ positions.
Sometimes when we travel we get the opportunity to volunteer. If you are volunteering your skills, either prearranged or on the spur of the moment, then it’s a good idea to make sure that the work that you are doing will be beneficial and accessible to women (and kids) in a community and not just the men. So, whether you are teaching soccer or building a school, check there is gender equality in the outcomes.
We can support women through travel, but it often means making conscious decisions to look for opportunities to support women as we meet them. And if we notice when we are just not seeing many women in public life and in the tourist industry, this is when our voice and money can be used to encourage more gender equity. If we make the effort to contact the head of the organisation that we are travelling with and ask about the inequality, and request a change, then change is much more likely to come. Encouraging women’s voices in the tourism industry will benefit us just as much as it will benefit women who will have access to better jobs and better pay.