Scheyvens (2002, p.138) analyzed tourism from a gender perspective: “The key theme running through accounts of women’s involvement in tourism in the Third World is that they have been used and often abused by the tourism industry for its own ends, and rarely do they exert any control over tourism forms and processes. Women’s labour in tourism has been concentrated in lowly paid, casual and subservient positions where they are vulnerable to exploitation both by guests and their employers. In other cases women have been passed over when more senior positions arise, or cultural constraints have prevented them from pursuing economically lucrative forms of employment, such as guiding”. Scheyvens used the empowerment framework with its four dimensions (as introduced here) to assert how women in developing countries benefit from alternative forms of tourism. Scheyvens (2002, p.139) came to the conclusion that “alternative tourism initiatives may offer more positive examples because they are operating at a smaller scale where women have a better opportunity to exert some control over their operations”. The following paragraphs will highlight some of these empowering examples that were presented in a report for the United Nations’ Commission on Sustainable Development (Hemmati, 1999, cited in Scheyvens, 2002).
Scheyvens (2002, p.130) observes that “ensuring women gain economic benefits from tourism is a particularly difficult issue in societies in which men control household finances. There are ways around this issue, however, even with an ethnic group such as the Maasai in Tanzania where traditionally women have neither income nor possessions of their own”. Retour, a Dutch tourism consultancy organization, was asked to help Maasai women to pursue small-scale, low-impact tourism opportunities. They first convinced the men of the tribe to allow women to be actively involved in tourism. Then they began to work with groups of Maasai women. After building up their confidence and skills, they helped the women “to cooperate with youth groups to offer complementary tourism products: campsites, walking safaris, and beadwork shops. A major achievement of this venture is that women have been able to retain the income they have earned through selling beadwork” (Scheyvens, 2002, p.131). The Maasai women gained control over their own income and were thus economically empowered.
In Belize, women took economic empowerment a step further by controlling their own ventures. To supplement their husbands’ income, a group of 12 women formed the Sandy Beach Women’s Cooperative and established “a very successful lodge as part of a self-initiated ecotourism venture (…) to attract nature lovers who were interested in the adjacent wetland area, birdwatching, hiking and village tours” (Scheyvens, 2002, p.132). Apart from the economic success, which allowed the women to expand their business and supplement the family income, their involvement in the cooperative enabled them “to gain valuable skills in business management and marketing, as well as a deepened knowledge of environmental issues”. Through their work the women gained the respect of the entire village, mainly because of the ecological and sustainable approach that allowed many people to benefit economically from the venture. “Multiplier effects, for example, stem from use of local materials and labour in construction of the lodge and local food in cooking, sales of crafts from the lodge and work for local people as cultural performers, demonstrators of traditional food and guides. Thus while women retain their hold over management of the initiative, both men and women have benefited economically from it” (Commonwealth Secretariat, 1996, cited in Scheyvens, 2002, p.132).
However, the availability of alternative tourism products will not automatically benefit local women. An example from Solomon Islands shows that it can also worsen their situation. Small-scale ecotourism lodges in the Marovo Lagoon area largely use women’s unpaid labor “for the cleaning, cooking, and laundry for the guests staying in these lodges, and in addition the women still have to fulfill most of their domestic tasks as well as extending their food gardens so they can supply enough produce for both their families and their guests” (Greenpeace Australia Pacific and Oliver, 2001, cited in Scheyvens, 2002, p.132). Scheyvens (2002, p.132) concludes that “opportunities for economically beneficial involvement of women in alternative tourism initiatives are somewhat dependent on favourable attitudes of male members of their communities”.
According to Scheyvens (2002, p.133), women are often at the center of efforts to preserve aspects of tradition. She refers to Swain (1998) who claims that the production of ethnic art “…serves as a viable way to resist cultural assimilation”, and Lama (1998) who describes women as the “keepers of cultural traditions and knowledge”. Scheyvens (2002, p.133) explains “Women maintain traditions and therefore build strong communities through supporting religious functions, producing handicrafts, using natural medicines, speaking local dialects, wearing traditional dress and performing traditional songs and dances”. In Samoa, women faced the dilemma whether they should produce “handicrafts used for household and ceremonial purposes, such as prestige fine mats and tapa (…) or to produce goods for tourists” (Scheyvens, 2002, 134). Since the tourists did not appreciate the cultural significance of the ceremonial items and were not willing to pay enough, the women’s committee decided to produce culturally important items mainly for their own purposes. Additionally, they developed new skills such as printing techniques that allowed them to produce items for the tourists that are less elaborate but still have the notion of the traditional product (Scheyvens, 2002).
Education and training are often key to psychological empowerment. “External development agencies have assisted Nepalese women to develop their self-confidence and become actively engaged in trekking tourism through providing education and training for them. In other cases, development agencies have made clear their expectation that women should be involved in all aspects of their activities, thus giving women the opportunity to develop leadership skills and gain wider recognition within their communities” (Scheyvens, 2002, p.134). In South Africa, the Siyabonga Craft Cooperative in KwaZulu Natal increased the confidence of its members. They raised funds to buy a piece of land where they could set up a permanent craft outlet. In addition, they held night classes at a local primary school where the women could “learn English so they could speak to the tourists who came to their shop, and to learn maths so that they could serve customers, give the correct change and understand the bookkeeping system.
While these initiatives were very successful, Scheyvens (2002, p.135) states that psychological disempowerment can also occur “if tourism work interferes with women’s community roles and their spiritual development, leading to reduced social interactions with their wider community and feelings of guilt”.
In Nepal, women have used tourism as a source of revenue to fund community projects, which led to social empowerment. “For example, Langtang women perform cultural dances for tourists and are using the funds raised to restore their local monastery (Lama, 1998). Similarly, funds raised by a women’s group in Dhampus were used to build 500 metres of trail, used by both trekkers and villagers, which was widely recognized and appreciated” (Scheyvens, 2002, p.135). According to Scheyvens (2002, p.135), such activities can help women gain greater respect in their communities, which can create greater freedom for them. “For example, because the Dhampus women’s group was working on a project to benefit the entire community, men felt compelled to allow their wives to attend meetings, even if this meant the men had to take on domestic roles while the women were absent”. (Gurung, 1995, cited in Scheyvens, 2002, p.135). Scheyvens (2002, p.136) concludes that the involvement of women in tourism ventures often leads to social empowerment. “In communities where culturally and environmentally appropriate forms of tourism are occurring, and where women are involved in running or servicing tourism ventures, this often leads both to greater respect for women and a consideration of gender role stereotypes”.
Scheyvens (2002, p.136) explains that “in tourism ventures which occur at the community level, there is often a need for a community-based decision-making forum which can convey community interests and act on behalf of the community. This forum may be an existing traditional or government institution, or it may be a specially formed grouping such as a tourism committee”. Women are often excluded from the active involvement in these community forums, but there are exceptions: “Some communities, however, have genuinely overcome cultural constraints to women’s participation in meetings and on decision-making forums” (Scheyvens, 2002, p.137). Scheyvens (2002, p.137) highlights the case of the Palawan village in the Phillippines “where women have emerged as the organisers and managers of a sustainable tourism project”. Since the ecological degradation of the surrounding seas was impacting negatively on the local fishing industry, 30 small boat operators joined forces and created the Honda Bay Boatmen Association (HOBBAI). Women were heavily involved in this initiative that aims to operate an ecologically friendly service, alleviate poverty among fisherpeople and establish a fair rota that allows all HOBBAI members to gain income from boat tours with tourists, while continuing their fishing activities at other times (Scheyvens, 2002, p.137). Scheyvens (2002, p.137) observes that traditional gender roles are still in place, but she also recognizes that HOBBAI has led to women’s political empowerment. “In one respect, HOBBAI may be seen as reinforcing gender roles as men continue to operate the tour boats while women carry out administration for the cooperative. In another respect, however, women have been highly politicized by their involvement with HOBBAI and are now active in local tourism planning and natural resource management forums”.
The examples discussed show how participation leads to empowerment, and how communities can benefit from the involvement of women in tourism ventures. It is therefore recommended to support the active participation of women in tourism beyond their traditional roles.