Equality in Tourism is a non-profit international organization specialized in promoting gender equality in tourism and raising the voice of women from all around the world about different issues on gender and tourism. In this interview Angela Rodriguez talks to Daniela Moreno Alarcón, Equality in Tourism´ director, about the importance of a more gender-balanced industry to reduce poverty, promote sustainable human development, improve the sector’s ethics and protect the environment.
Angela: When we talk about gender equality in tourism, what do we really mean?
Daniela: We mean that no tourism model, including those that are promoted as less harmful, will be sufficiently sustainable and accountable if it does not incorporate in a real and sustained way a gender-based approach and the empowerment of women. This implies on the one hand, adjusting all declarations, instruments of planning, management and analysis related to tourism. And on the other hand it means shifting the attitude of, firstly, those who plan tourism (public & private sector, academia and social movement) and secondly, those who consume tourism: the tourists.
Including the gender approach in tourism is a clear and concrete action not only to reduce poverty, but also to invest smartly in that reduction. Thus, at Equality in Tourism, we firmly believe that if the gender approach is not incorporated in tourism, there will be no sustainable tourism development, let alone one that has an interest in the fulfillment of human rights.
Angela: You talk about ‘smart investing in poverty reduction through gender equality’. Can you explain this concept a bit more?
Daniela: Indeed, tourism is an industry that moves millions of people, a situation that has occurred thanks to its expansion at the global level while promoting its potential for poverty reduction and the promotion of sustainable development. Hence, most countries, especially developing countries, have directed all their policies to empower this sector because it’s understood as a poverty reduction strategy.
Gender equality allows us to see what for the majority is not evident: gender inequality and the disempowerment of women is a structural cause of poverty not only in monetary terms but also in the development of skills, autonomy and self-esteem. For example, most people working in tourism are women, but most of them work in precarious, flexible and sexist jobs. This situation impoverishes employment in tourism as a whole, both for women and men, because the principles of decent work are not respected. If we improve the situation of female tourism workers, that is to say if we invest wisely, we are supporting the whole industry.
Angela: Could you give us some examples of specific issues in Europe associated with gender inequality in tourism?
Daniela: In Spain due to the labor reform, the outsourcing of the work of the chambermaids leaves these workers totally unprotected, despite the enormous physical effort they have to make, which makes them intake ibuprofen daily. This is completely unacceptable. In 2013, Equality in Tourism released a report that revealed that women, even when they participate in tourism, are not in the positions where decisions are made. Of a total of 78 UK tourism companies, only 15.8% of them are led by a woman, and there are no women in less than a quarter of them.
“Gender equality allows us to see what for the majority is not evident: gender inequality and the disempowerment of women is a structural cause of poverty not only in monetary terms but also in the development of skills, autonomy and self-esteem.”
Then there is the issue of sex tourism. Here the situation is extremely serious because in Europe there is a lot of trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. This leads to sex tourism become an euphemism for the sexual exploitation of women and children in tourism. The bodies of the women are turned into tourist attractions. Any man can have access to any woman, it is only a matter of asking the taxi driver, the bellboy, etc. It is estimated that “sex tourism” through trafficking moves between 8 to 7 million people a year. And Spain is one of the most desirable destinations.
Angela: This year you are taking part in a roundtable about ‘Working conditions, women and Tourism’ for the Vilamon Festival (the only responsible tourism festival in Spain). What is the purpose of this forum?
Daniela: The roundtable will focus on gender equality in employment in tourism, especially in the hotel sector. The objective is to raise awareness of the importance of tackling employment in tourism from a gender perspective and in defining equality strategies, in a critical and constructive way, for the hotel sector for the next decade. As for my role in this forum, I will share my reflections on the subject, some of them product of the work that I am doing with Albasud.
Angela: What other connections exist between gender equality, tourism and the SDGs?
Daniela: The Agenda 2030 (document that contains the SDGs) emphasizes that “it is not possible to realize the full human potential and achieve sustainable development if half of humanity is still denied the full enjoyment of their human rights and their opportunities.” It also points out that gender mainstreaming must be applied in a systematic and continuous way, ie gender analysis should not be limited only to SDG5 (which makes specific reference to gender equality) because that would dilute mainstreaming gender equality in the rest of the SDGs.
Tourism is part of the SDG situation that states its active responsibility for sustainable human development, especially in the areas of employment and environmental protection. I believe that promoting measures to reduce gender inequality in employment in tourism forges the sustainable development of the economy, reduces poverty, improves tourism policy and even the ethics of the sector. It also promotes responsible consumption. Working on tourism from the gender perspective implies, therefore, a gender analysis in all phases and models of tourism, which will show us in as much detail as possible the gender gaps in order to promote compensatory measures to eliminate them. What is needed from the tourism sector? Political will and allocated budgets.
Angela: While political will is very important, what about focussing at a more grassroots level? What have been the most successful communication strategies you’ve seen?
Daniela: I also believe that political will can be built from the bottom-up. That is why responsible tourism has to work hand in hand with social and community-based movements. In fact, and answering your question about communication, in most places where I worked the demands have come from the bottom up, including communication strategies.
I regret to say, but up to this day I have not seen a consistent communication strategy of tourism with a gender focus. UNWTO carried out a communication work in 2011-2012, but as it did not continue with the work of gender the communication ended; Cape Verde has done a great job thanks to UN Women-Cape Verde. In Spain the tourism authorities that have shown great interest on working conditions thanks to the book “Those who clean the hotels” (Las que limpian los hoteles by Ernest Cañada) has promoted an important communication work. The Forum Of Responsible Tourism made some gender and tourism events as well as the NGO CIC BATÁ.
Angela: You have recently been working in Nicaragua and Cape Verde, would you share with us some of the most inspiring stories about gender equality you have come across?
Daniela: Nicaragua has great stories. One of them is the women of the Quelántaro reserve who spontaneously have developed a gender work in the management of tourism. I could also mention Costa Rica where I was fortunate to meet several entrepreneurs committed to tourism and who are doing an exceptional job and with much effort and sacrifice.
On my last visit to Cape Verde, a country that I love very much, I was fortunate to meet Neussa Gonsales who is the first female owner of a travel agency, and for that reason she has had to overcome many gender barriers. Ironically most of these women are successful in tourism with limited direct support from tourism authorities. Can you imagine what they could do with sufficient support and a tourism policy with a gender focus? Wonders.