Navigator

RESEARCH & STATISTICS

Highs And Lows Of Women In Global Tourism

Imtiaz Muqbil

ITB BERLIN - In March 2010, 21% percent of countries had a women tourism minister compared to 17% of ministerial positions in general. In seven out of the 23 Caribbean countries, the chairperson of the tourism board is a woman. Latin America has the highest proportion of women employers in tourism, more than double the proportion in other sectors. In Nicaragua and Panama more than 70% of employers are women compared to just over 20% in other sectors. In Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand more than half of tourism businesses are run by women, in Pakistan, Iran, and the Maldives there are virtually none.

These are some of the interesting findings of the first Global Report on Women in Tourism launched by the UN World Tourism Organisation at the ITB Berlin 2011. Positioned as the first step towards establishing a set of indicators to monitor the performance of tourism as a tool for women's empowerment and gender equality, the report is designed to ensure that women get equal chance to move up the ladder in what is generally considered a male-dominated industry, get paid equally and have universal access to education, training, leadership and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Said UNWTO Secretary-General Dr Taleb Rifai at the report launch, "Research shows the different ways in which tourism can contribute to economic growth, poverty reduction and community development. However, less attention has been paid to the unequal ways in which the benefits of tourism are distributed between men and women, particularly in the developing world." Gladys Acosta, UN Women Director for Latin America of the newly-establish UN agency UN Women, pointed out that women's contribution to the tourism sector is often invisible. "In the Caribbean for example, 84% of contributing family work - unpaid - to tourism activities is provided by women. This is one of the key areas to address in promoting gender equality in tourism," she said.

The global report has been several years in the making. Structured around five thematic areas: employment, entrepreneurship, education, leadership, and community, the results are considered to be preliminary subject to a final report due out later this year. The stats have been derived primarily from analysis of International Labour Organisation's Laborsta database and sorted by developing world regions: the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. A selection of case studies highlighting success stories of women in tourism across the world gives the report a valuable human-interest element.

Although travel & tourism is one of the world's most important employers of women, and women have made considerable advances, the report does make a few sweeping generalisations that appear to contradict some of its other arguments. It claims, for example that, "Women are often concentrated in low status, low paid and precarious jobs in the tourism industry. Gender stereotyping and discrimination mean that women mainly tend to perform jobs such as cooking, cleaning and hospitality. Much tourism employment is seasonal and fluctuates according to the volatile nature of the industry. In some destinations links have been found between tourism and the sex industry which could make women more vulnerable to sexual exploitation." It adds, "Women in tourism are still underpaid, under-utilized, under-educated, and under-represented; but tourism offers pathways to success."

Inexplicably, the data only covers the "developing countries" although it could be argued that women in the developed countries also face similar problems.

Nevertheless, the opportunities for making positive change are huge. Says the report, "Tourism presents a wide range of income-generation opportunities for women in both formal and informal employment. Tourism jobs are often flexible and can be carried out at various different locations such as the workplace, community, and household. Additionally, tourism creates a wide range of opportunities for women through the complex value chains it creates in the destination economy."

Some of its key findings:

1. Women make up a large proportion of the formal tourism workforce.

2. Women are well represented in service and clerical level jobs but poorly represented at professional levels.

3. Women in tourism are typically earning 10% to 15% less than their male counterparts.

4. The tourism sector has almost twice as many women employers as other sectors.

5. One in five tourism ministers worldwide are women.

6. Women make up a much higher proportion of own-account workers in tourism than in other sectors.

7. A large amount of unpaid work is being carried out by women in family tourism businesses.

According to the report, analysis of global tourist boards shows just over 20% are run by women. The Caribbean was the region with the most women tourist board CEOs (35%). In seven out of the 23 Caribbean countries, the chairperson of the tourism board is a woman. Tourism associations are slightly more like to have a women chair. Twenty-three percent of tourism associations had women chairs.

The formal and informal opportunities tourism provides women can have a significant impact on poverty reduction in rural communities. The proportion of women "own-account workers" is much higher in tourism than in other sectors across all regions. The report also found that women are contributing a substantial amount of unpaid labour to home-based tourism businesses as "contributing family workers". Unpaid family workers are vulnerable to exploitation. This is one of the key areas to address in promoting gender equality in tourism.

In Nicaragua, for example, women occupy 40% of own-account jobs overall but 92% in tourism. In Bolivia, the figures are 44% and 95% respectively. Several African countries have high proportions of female tourism self-employed workers: 71% in Botswana and 65% in Zimbabwe 65%. The country with the lowest level is Syria, at 2%.

According to the report, "It appears that women are contributing a large amount of unpaid work to family tourism enterprises. The proportion of contributing family workers that are women is considerably higher in tourism than in other industries, with the exception of Asia. In the Caribbean, for example, 84% of contributing family work is provided by women, compared to 51% in other sectors. These figures are troubling for a gender analysis of the tourism industry. While women's work in family tourism enterprises clearly contributes to community development, if this work is unpaid it is subsidizing a large proportion of community-based tourism but makes little contribution to women?s empowerment."

It makes a series of recommendations:

EMPLOYMENT: Increase awareness of the important economic role that women play in the tourism industry. Strengthen legal protection for women in tourism employment; such protections include minimum wage regulations and equal pay laws. Improve maternity leave requirements, flexible hours, work-from-home options, and arrangements for childcare.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Facilitate women's tourism entrepreneurship by ensuring women's access to credit, land and property as well as providing appropriate training and resources to support women's enterprises.

EDUCATION: Promote women's participation in tourism education and training and improve the educational level of women already working in different areas of the industry through a targeted and strategic program of action.

LEADERSHIP: Support women's tourism leadership at all levels: public sector, private sector, and community management by establishing leadership programs at the national level and in large and small-scale tourism enterprises.

COMMUNITY: Ensure that women's contribution to community development is properly recognized and rewarded by taking into account women's unpaid work and by monitoring tourism activities carried out in the household and in the community.

It concludes by noting the need to monitor the effectiveness of policy actions in improving the situation of women in tourism, and re-evaluating the indicators themselves at least every three years, using this year's baseline as a yardstick against which to evaluate future results.

The report can be downloaded free here.

Status of Female Education Levels Worldwide

A few stats on the status of female education levels worldwide, as cited by speakers at an Asia-Pacific Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women on March 8, 2011 in Bangkok.

-Women make up nearly two thirds of the world's 759 million illiterate adults.

-In 2007, 72 million children of primary-school age were out of school, 54 percent of whom were girls. In Asia-Pacific, although two-thirds of countries have achieved gender parity at primary school level, girls' participation starts to diminish in secondary and particularly tertiary education, especially in South Asia.

-The ratio of girls' to boys' school enrolment has steadily improved, now reaching 97 girls per 100 boys at primary level, 96 girls per 100 boys at secondary level and 108 women per 100 men at tertiary level in 2008.

-Women continue to be underrepresented in the field of engineering and, across 121 countries of the world, women account for only 29 percent of researchers.

-Worldwide, female labour force participation was estimated to be only just under 53 percent in 2008, compared with a male participation rate of 77 percent. Only 36% of women participate in the labour force in South Asia.

A Blind Woman Who Helps the World to Read

Speech by Yoshimi Horiuchi at the Asia-Pacific Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women on March 8, 2011 in Bangkok

Good afternoon to all of you. My name is Yoshimi, and I am a director and founder of a nonprofit group called Always Reading Caravan, or ARC for short.

Now, let me tell you a story.

About twenty years ago, in a corner of Asia, there lived a girl in an old farmhouse. She was full of energy, a chatterbox, and always had cuts and scratches from running around. Yes, she was very healthy and strong, except that she was blind.

But she didn't feel sad at all because she could see anything through a "magic window" that each and every child in the world is allowed to have. And she really loved looking out of this magic window. She could see birds flying, people laughing, and stars shining in the sky. As she grew up, things that she saw in the window kept changing. She was horrified to see a big bomb blast and take people's lives. She was amazed to see a beautiful horse running through the prairie grass under the spectacular blue sky.

Ten years later... she was in her late teens. She has decided to leave her farmhouse because she wanted to see countries that she saw through the magic window. She wanted to meet people of different colors and language whom she has seen through the window. And she was shocked to find out that so many children in the world didn't have the magic window that she's always loved. Some said they didn't have enough money. Others didn't know how great it is so kept the curtains shut. So she decided to travel around to help open the windows for all children.

As you perhaps have assumed already, that is my story. And the magic window actually means reading and learning. I believe that books can enrich a child's life and develop their imagination skills. They can experience different lives regardless of their circumstances. Through ARC, the group that I have set up last year, I have been promoting the joy of reading and learning with mobile library service around Thailand. I have great volunteers who do story-telling and games to empower kids to read more with fun.

But I probably wouldn't have had courage to start ARC all alone without encouragement of my role model, Ms. Sabriye Tenberken, the co-founder of first school for the blind in Tibet, and IISE (International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs) in India. When I was at IISE for a year, Sabriye always told us, the participants from 12 different countries around the world, that people who have gone through difficulties can become strong leaders. As I have started to work, I've come to realize how big a benefit it is to be a blind woman. I have a feeling that people wouldn't have been this helpful and willing to work with me if I were not blind. When I go to villages, I can encourage more children and adults because they would think "Wow, she is blind and travel around like this, then maybe I can do something more!?"

Women with disabilities are often described as a group with double burden, but to me, it's a group with great potential and strength. All we need is the magic window and encouragement from others. So I will keep pulling the curtain and handing out the keys to unlock the windows.

Thank you for listening to my story.

Editor's Note: the sideshow/VDO used for the opening of International Women's Day 2011 has been uploaded to the website of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. It can be accessed from http://www.unescap.org/sdd/videos.asp.