Gender equality is a basic human right. The promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of the Millennium Development Goals. Empowering women also has much wider socio-economic ramifications, by promoting more equal, inclusive societies and supporting economies, livelihoods and communities. However, gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society, including within the tourism sector. According to the International Labour Organisation, women make up 70% of the labour force in tourism industry and half are under 25 years of age. Yet women are often the most undervalued, underpaid exploited workers within the tourism industry. The UNWTO states that women in tourism typically earn 10% to 15% less than their male counterparts, and many undertake unpaid work in family tourism businesses. Women are often excluded from decision-making and see less of the tourism’s benefits. They are more vulnerable to exploitation from sex tourism, fuelled by poverty and unequal power relations. Because of their differing social role and status in relation to men, women also experience the changes brought by tourism differently, including its negative impacts. These may be more acutely felt by women, because of their relative position of social disadvantage. However, these particular impacts are often inadequately researched and poorly understood. For example, a large amount of unpaid work is undertaken by women in family tourism businesses. Women also play an important economic role in fishing communities in South India and Sri Lanka, which includes drying and selling the fish, so are also directly impacted when fishing activities are disrupted by tourism development. Research by Tourism Concern has shown that forced displacement and loss of livelihood due to tourism development in these areas has caused disenfranchised fishermen to turn to drink, which is often a forerunner to domestic violence against women and children, and even abandonment.
Exploitation of women
Jeremy Smith is the editor and co-founder of Travindy. He is a writer and communications consultant working for a more responsible and sustainable tourism industry. He is the author of two books, writes a fortnightly blog on responsible tourism for World Travel Market, and provides consultancy to a wide range of companies and organisations, ranging from National Parks to individual hotels and tour operators.