Women’s participation in tourism in Pokhara
In the last few decades, the tourism industry has undergone a period of massive growth. As a labor intensive industry, there has been continuous development of tourism and consequent job creations at rapid pace. Tourism development can bring about a positive outcome for the economic prosperity of the people in many underdeveloped countries like Nepal, who suffer rampant poverty, increased unemployment, subsistence agriculture and inaccessible geo-structure. In Nepal, tourism has been considered an important sector for its potential contribution to strengthen national economy, gender inclusion, improvement of the quality of lives and poverty alleviations by generating employment opportunities, and foreign exchange earnings.
Tourism is basically a labor-oriented service industry where the work of skilled and efficient labor (work force) has a positive effect upon its promotion and development. Hospitality attribute is a factor that matters for the efficiency of labor output. Due to the inseparable nature of guests and hosts in tourism service management, good hospitality attributes of the service providers are prerequisites for the successful tourism businesses and their sustainable operations and management. This rational state of affairs in one way or another is also linked with the optimum satisfactions of tourists as guests and is a dependable source of income (economic independency) of labor forces who are engaged in tourism industry as hosts. In this context, various hospitality attributes like aptitudes, mannerisms, softness, listening abilities, and responsible habits which women workforce naturally possess, can be additional advantages for tourism industry. However, these roles, characters, and contributions of women are incontestably associated with their inclusion, meaningful participations, and decision making abilities in tourism and hospitality industry.
The available literature (Acharya et al. 2001; Acharya and Wannet 1981; Hemmati 2000; UNWTO and UNIFEM 2011; Upadhayaya and Upreti 2008; Vidya 2008) reveals about two major aspects of women in tourism. One is about the lack of complete information on their status in tourism industry. The other is about the gloomy picture of women from the perspective of gender in tourism. The vertical typical “gender pyramid” is prevalent in the tourism sector where lower levels and occupations with the few career development opportunities are dominated by women and key managerial positions are held by men (Hemmati 2000, oo.17-20).
As a hospitality industry, the involvement of women in tourism industry in Pokhara can be important as well as for the women workers and entrepreneurs. However, gender inequality prevailed largely in the tourism industry of Pokhara as it was mostly dominated by males (Acharya 2001; Khanal 2005 as cited in Pahari 2008; Khatiwada 2009; pahari 2008). The entry of women in the tourism industry of Pokhara is a recent phenomenon which started only from 1988. At that time women had to struggle hard for their entrepreneurship in tourism, which was mostly captured by males.
Since tourism is an ever-changing and never-ending phenomenon (Shakya 2008), it is assumed that the state of women participation can also not remain static forever. The possibility and potential of any recent changes on women involvement in this industry of Pokhara cannot be neglected Nonetheless, there is a knowledge gap on the dynamics of any recent changes on women’s involvement. In this context, this chapter focuses on the following questions from the perspective of women’s participation in the tourism industry of Pokhara:
- Are there any exciting changes on the women’s participation at present
- Have the working women experienced a considerable growth in their skill and capacity-related opportunities
- Along with the opportunities, what challenges are women facing for their dignified participations
2. Conceptual framework on women’s participation in tourism
Tourism is considerably developing as one of the important industries in global economy. The involvement of women is considered to create sustainability in tourism. Social aspects and economic aspects as well as changes and problems shape the overall participation of women in tourism. Besides, women involved in this sector are affected more by additional aspects such as work place, participation in decision making, gender discrimination, etc. these diverse aspects are presented through the conceptual framework below.
Figure 7.1 Conceptual framework
Source: Adapted from Acharya (2010)
Age, religion, caste, ethnicity, marital status, education, family structure, monthly income, and economic freedom are some of the affecting factors. Young women, for instance, can contribute more to the productive sector than older women can. Highly educated women can play a more important role in promoting their business than women with poor education can. Women who make higher have stronger social and economic influence than those who have lower income. In decision making process of her business, a woman entrepreneur’s education plays a crucial role.
Important factors for determining the socio-economic condition of women in tourism business include income, family support, training, professional satisfaction, growth in skill and capacity, changes taken place in every day affairs, problems related to the business, problems faced in the commencing phase, difficulty in language, and gender inequalities.
However, it requires good coordination among old and new women tourism entrepreneurs to increase the participations of women in tourism and to exchange their ideas and experience. Equality in right and opportunity rather than reservation matters for women empowerment in tourism (NTB 2009).
3. Trends of women participations in tourism
Women’s participations in tourism of Nepal began as early as 1920s and 1930s in mountain tourism as porters, cooks, trekking guides, and group leaders (Upadhayaya and Upreti 2008). Since then, women have shown great hospitality to tourists through cooking, conducting cultural performances, and producing handicrafts. While males benefited from the direct employment, women were mostly associated with indirect employments that included farming, handicraft producing and selling, cooking etc. They felt largely hesitant to come openly to this business because it could then be labeled as an unnatural and inappropriate job for them. Due to the social and cultural norms and taboos, the number of participation of women was absolutely low. However, a number of aspiring women have started to be involved in tourism and other hospitality industries both as entrepreneurs as well as workers in the present changing context.
A report published by NATHM (2012) reveals that a total of 30,609 people had taken various academic courses and skill trainings2 during 1972-2011 at Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hotel Management. The number of women participations in those courses was only 4,23 (15.43%). Despite the fact that women’s participation is still very small in terms of quantity, they have reached a stage today where female trek leaders are leading solo women tourist trekkers, working as team leaders in mountain expeditions and operating hotels, lodges, restaurants, trekking and travel agencies from the top management positions.
According to a holistic survey report in Pokhara in the year 2002, only 2.1 percent women were reported to have been involved in whole tourism industry in Pokhara in which 6.5 Percent were in travel agency and 7.5 percent in hotel business (khatiwada 2009). According to a former study conducted on hotel tourism in Pokhara in 1998, this sub-sector was on the highest position in generating employment opportunities. Altogether 3,397 persons were employed in hotel business at that time in which women were only 19 percent. Among the women participants of the same survey, 57.5 percent were involved as cleaners and kitchen assistants, whereas only 14.2 percent women were reported to have been working at reception and management sector (Khatiwada 2009). Hence, a very less number of women were found to be involved in tourism business. Among them most workers were unskilled and were limited to lower jobs.
Shrestha (2002) had analyzed women’s socio-economic condition in travel agency in tourism industry of Nepal. His study clarifies that nowadays more women workers are educated and are drawing a handsome remuneration. Women, as the study claims, have received a favorable and encouraging support from their family and are found to be more satisfied with professions than men are.
A survey conducted by Nepal Rastra Bank has presented a comprehensive data which reveals that only 20.6 percent women are involved in tourism and other industries related to it (Acharya 2010). Pahari (2008) has made a study on the socio-economic status of women who are participatory in tourism. This study reports that most women workers are under 10+2 level in education, married, and involved in limited familial trade. It discloses the dissatisfactions of women in tourism business due to low income, work burden, and longer working hours. Women in this sector have to confront the economic and language problem besides their occasional suffering from the crimes like murder, theft, and robbery. They also have to undergo problems related to gender discrimination.
Acharya (2010) conducted a study entitled ‘Women Participation in Tourism Business’ in 2010. This study, however, finds positive changes with some exciting pictures. Women in travel, tour, and trekking sub-sectors in Pokhara are found satisfied with this business because they have become economically independent. Similarly, it also mentions that there is a significant growth in their skill and capacity after joining this business. They have had significant roles in decision making process regarding the household activities. Despite the fact that the society in the past had a negative attitude toward women involved in tourism business, most of the women have now realized that there have been visible changes as regards the society’s attitude to them. Among the women as employed in the tourism sector of Pokhara, most of them are local as well as the inhabitants of neighboring villages of Pokhara. There is the highest number of women engagement in tourism, who are aged from 20 to 30. In this age group, unmarried women are found attracted more than married women. While analyzing the family condition, more women from single families are employed in tourism.
The number of Hindu women working in tourism business of Pokhara is higher than those of any other religious groups. In addition, women from other ethnic and indigenous communities are also involved. In this way, women from all classes and communities of society have been benefitted from the tourism promotion of Pokhara. In other words, a situation of ethnic harmony can be observed in the tourism sector. Trekking agency sub-sector is found as the interesting refuge for the employment of those women who are divorced. Tourism has appeared as a new potential sector for employment generation in Pokhara. Greater numbers of women workers have been involved as porters in seasonal basis in trekking companies and as housekeepers, and cooks at hotels and restaurants. At present, women have also joined a new tourism sector called paragliding.
4. Challenges and opportunities
Like any other sector, tourism is mainly dominated by men in decision making and controlling resources. Although many women have actively contributed making process. The top positions in the tourism industry are mainly occupied by men, especially in travel agencies, mountaineering, trekking, rafting companies, accommodations and communication services, with better remuneration and involving more than frequent travel outside the village. Women are often found in the lower positions. They are often neglected stakeholders of tourism development because of the different gender obstacles that exist for a visible participation in tourism (Sherpa 2012). Inequality in wage, harassment, insults, males’ dominating tendency, and sexual abuse are some of the major gender related problems frequently seen in this business.
They study of KC (2013) highlights women’s choices in picking roles and challenges encountered on such roles in few villages of Annapurna Conservation area in Western Nepal. Her study reveals that women’s roles and outputs are determined by factors such as education, family background, and physical condition to bear works, holistic work environment, language and the ability to set one’s own criteria.
4.1 Socio-economic status of women
Women are made economically and socially dependent. They have very low access to the decision making process in economic matters in both within household and outside.
4.1.1 Dual responsibility status of working women in general
Women lack access to capital assets and family resources in their own rights. Gender bias has played a key role for women’s low involvement in income oriented outside-home affairs. Many employers of the business sector think that women cannot continue the job due to their social and biological reproductive responsibilities. Such attitude of the employers about women may be due to the discriminatory nature of the patriarchal system of the society. As women, to a greater extent, have been confined in the unproductive work of the household such as cooking, cleaning, and rearing children, they are prevented from realizing their full potential and have the least exposure to the work beyond the household.
Though limited numbers of educated and trained women have got opportunities for employment and income in local tourism industry in the changing context, still majority of them are forced to act as double-career women in general. They also have to perform all the household activities alongside. Such women have to work as a bridge between the household and office (Pahari 2008). On the one hand, they have to perform all the household affairs and on the other they keep continuing their career outside home. Till now male counterparts have not developed a culture of assisting women in household works.
4.1.2 Inequality as the structural reality in tourism
Tourism is a socio-economic sector which is naturally embedded with the potential for various economic opportunities. However, inequality has remained the structural reality of Nepalese tourism where males have commanded strong hold over and decisive roles. In the tourism industry of the country, males have a dominant and leading position. This is also owing to the fundament structure of Nepalese society which is basically patriarchal, where women have been suffering from gender exploitation, oppression and discrimination since time immemorial. Sometimes negative attitudes of the society and family members and also the patriarchy system harass women involved in tourism activity (Acharya 2012). At present, some women have reached the higher managerial levels of hotel, lodge, restaurant, and trekking, and travel agency. Yet, the majority of women involved in this sector are at the lower posts. Due to lack of mobility and exposure to tourism-related activities, women also lack confidence. Less exposure, mobility constraints, and less confidence keep the women behind in markets transactions for inputs and outputs. They have very little access to the highest level i.e. policy making, planning, and managerial level.
4.1.3 Unfavorable social setting, unbalanced participation and poor work environment
Poor education and superstition in the present patriarchal society are the roots for unfavorable mindset that has generally enforced women to the fragile and vulnerable state. Women are supposed to be inferior in the capacities to handle both household work and business at a time. This is one of the main reasons for the limited presence of women in the tourism sector. In the study entitled “Tourism and Employment”, (Khanal 2005 as cited in Pahari 2008) reveals this state in the scenario of gender discrimination in the employment generated by tourism industry. Khanal has depicted women’s participation in the employment opportunities generated by five-star hotels. Women, according to this research, were found to be less in both the number and status than their male counterparts.
In this male dominated business, women had confronted economic problem in the beginning. Once women join this industry, they are found facing other discriminatory problems which are prevailing in the business and work environment. For example, male workers are found dominating, teasing and insulting the female workers. Women are sometimes accused of having a misleading character and are also the victims of sexual abuse committed by hotel owners and tourists. Women working in dance bars and massage centers are sexually exploited (based on an interview with hotel entrepreneurs in December 2012). Thus, women in tourism are still facing different kinds of difficulties and hardships.
4.1.4 Prejudiced appraisal to women
Women are regarded physically weak or vulnerable who cannot contribute to tourism, especially adventure tourism. In tourism industry, women are placed on the basis of gender roles. They have been victimized by gender biasness. While males hold the highest posts and decisive roles in this industry, women are given lower positions as cleaners, waitresses, and assistants. Due to various social, Cultural, and religious superstitions, a fully conducive environment has not yet been created for women’s participations and their roles in tourism. The lack of proper education, superstitious culture, familial obstruction, and lack of women’s self-confidence are some of the major hindrances for women’s respectable presence in the tourism sector.
4.1.5 Weak social status of women
Most of the women have joined this business owing to poor economic status of the family and problem of unemployment. It is observed elsewhere women’s entry to this business has been looked down by the society. It was found that in the beginning of working in hotel, lodge and restaurants, women were insulted and their job was labeled as lower status job. Some women were also found to have been questioned upon their character. Some women kept their work in restaurant secret for preventing social and familial harassments and negative views (based on an interview with working women in lodge and restaurant in December 2012).
4.1.6 Lack of capacity building related interventions and empowerment
Language problem is another obstacle women have been facing. It was also found that women found it very difficult to continue this business because of the lack of trainings. Women lack access to capital assets and family resources in their own rights. So they take the activities that require low investment and that produce low returns. Due to less access to education, inappropriate and inadequate skills, and training related to tourism, women have less confidence to take timely decision and lack risk-taking capacity. Thus, owing to the lack of related skill and knowledge, only a very few of women are involved in this industry.
4.2 Opportunities in changing context
In spite of a number of challenges, some positive signs of changes have been observed with increase in women’s knowledge, awareness, working skills, sensitization, and increasing job opportunities. Chettri (2009) expresses her wonderful experience on the gradual positive changes with some increment on the number of women participations in tourism sector. The paragraphs below offer these aspects from the perspectives of entrepreneurs and workers in tourism industry.
4.2.1 Positive aspects of women entrepreneurs in tourism
This author’s interviews with working women in tourism business show some encouraging positive results. Some women have also adopted the alternative professions like teaching, trade, and farming. The income of most women has supported their livelihoods. They are satisfied with tourism business for being independent. Majority of women are found to have spent their tourism-based income in household work and education. Some women are satisfied for being able to give technical education to their children. After getting involved in this business, they have not only enriched their skill and talent but also received honors and rewards from different national and international organizations for their activities and commitment to this business.
4.2.2 Positive features of working women
Tourism has remained influential in global market day by day. And women are also being attracted to it. Ghimire (2009) reveals the increasing attraction of women to tourism business in the present context in her article titled “Attraction of Women to Tourism Business”. This trend shows both women and men as equally active in tourism businesses. According to a survey conducted by 3 Sister Trekking Agency in Pokhara in 2011, the participation of the number of women entrepreneurs has increased by 40 percent in comparison to the previous years’ condition. Women are observed with active participations in big hotels, casinos, travel agencies, and trekking agencies.
In Nepal tourism has potential to uplift women’s socio-economic status and to enhance their sustainable empowerment. In his article ‘Trekking Guide from Porter Turned Hotelier’, Sharma (2009) has described how women who started their career in tourism sector as porters, turned tourist guides, and finally hoteliers. Women, according to him, are attracted to this profession because of much income as well as getting opportunities of extending their social horizons.
Tourism has become the main source of income of many women working in this sector. Women have started to realize some slow but steady changes taking place in the society regarding people’s attitude toward female entrepreneurs and workers.
Most of the women involved in tourism have also been associated with different organizations. The recent entry of women as birds watching guides in Annapurna conservation area in Kaski is the other milestone on the participations of women in tourism. There are seven trekking guides who have entered this profession through forming Himalayan Daughters’ Birds club (Sharma 2013). Regardless of their struggles in the past and at present, there have been considerable changes in their living standards, conducts, and life styles. A higher number of women in this business have realized economic independence.
5 Policy perspectives
The new tourism policy 2009 was drafted after the success of Second People’s Movement in 2006. It has raised issues related to women’s participation in tourism (MoTCA 2009). It aims at developing the infrastructures that guarantee the community’s access to the benefits obtained from tourism, especially promoting rural tourism with the involvement in it. This policy reveals about various tourism development policies. One of such policies mentions that a mechanism with the help of cooperative to allocate the benefits of tourism to disadvantaged people. A woman is considered one of such disadvantageous groups amidst Madhesi, Adibasi, Ethnic groups, etc. It has further aimed to promote touristic activities conducted by women organizations and groups as well as under women leadership with special incentive packages. Such activities are targeted to benefit directly to women by extending the touristic activities to every nook and corner of remote villages which have potential from tourism perspectives. The thrust of this policy to organize various short-term and mid-term trainings is the additional focus to capacitate women in tourism sector (Joshi and Joshi 2010). However, the government has not yet been able to put this into effect. As a result, the present time involvement of women in tourism industry is not very encouraging at the national level. Nepalese women have not yet got access to tourism planning, policy making and managerial level in real sense. They are still confined in only the management and operation level of commercial tourism industry like hotels, restaurants, travels and tours, trekking agencies etc.
6 Interventions for the inclusion and empowerment of women in tourism
There are some limited interventions made by Governments and Non-Government Organizations (NGO) to include and empower women in tourism. The paragraphs below highlight such interventions.
6.1 Role of the Government
Women’s considerable participation in tourism industry of Nepal can undoubtedly play a remarkable role in women’s empowerment. Various conferences and programs have been conducted regarding the issues related to women in tourism industry. In this regard, an interaction program on “Women Mainstreaming in Tourism” was organized by Nepal government in Pokhara on 18 February 2009 so s to discuss the role of women in the tourism industry of Nepal commemorating the forthcoming Women’s Day. Women from different walks of life as well as different districts including Kaski, Gorkha, and Lumjungactively participated in the interaction and sought their role in tourism in the changing context (NTB 2009).
Recognizing the soaring importance of the role of women in tourism, the then Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation asserted that the role of women in tourism should be redefined since women are the base of this industry. ‘involvement of women in tourism will create sustainability in tourism and there should be good coordination among old and new women tourism entrepreneurs to increase the participation of women in tourism and exchange their idea and experiences’ said the Minister. In the same interaction, a senior woman tourism entrepreneur and managing director of Hotel Dwarika’s mentioned that women must not ask for reservation but for equal right and opportunity. Sharing her four decade long experience in tourism, she said women have now become successful in many areas, and encouraged all participants to be the employers of the tourism business, not employees.
6.2 Roles of Non-Government Organizations (NGO)
Some roles and involvements are gradually observed for the inclusion and empowerment of women in tourism in Pokhara.
6.2.1 Role of Empowering Women of Nepal
Founded in 1999, Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN) is the other NGO which has been conducting programs to enhance learning, skill and capacity of the women of disadvantageous communities. The organization has aimed at making women economically independent, increasing their decision making role, enriching their self-confidence, identifying their hidden capacity, forwarding them in adventure tourism, empowering them through skill and learning, and more importantly by teaching them life skills. Since its inception, the organization has been conducting training programs for women related to trekking guide, rock climbing, mountain climbing, hospitality, lodge management, cooking, eco-tourism, tour guide, ice climbing, and fundamental tourism. Nearly 2000 women have benefited from the various trainings related to tourism. EWN has developed a norm that women can strongly involve in tourism if their capacity is enriched by means of learning’s skills and knowledge. EWN has been providing training with a high priority to women from Dolpa, Mugu, Humla, Kalikot, Jumla, and other remote areas. The majority of women, who have acquired trainings from EWN and professionally involved in trekking tourism, belong to lower castes from remote and Himali region (Khatiwada 2009). By providing training for adventure tourism and trekking guide trainings, the organization has played a remarkable role in increasing women’s participation in tourism.
6.2.2 Role of Annapurna Daughter’s Club
Annapurna Daughter’s Club is a non-profit NGO under the Ganesh Laxmi Charitable Trust. It was founded in 2010 with a view of developing, publicizing, and promoting Pokhara and Annapurna region as well as managing these destinations.
It has been working to popularize Annaurna region in the world through documentary. With an objective of preparing women manpower for tourism business of Pokhara, it had provided a two-day training on “Design the Future” and “Role and Necessity of Women in Tourism”, in which altogether 25 women were the participants. Based on the goal to promote women in tourism, this organization believes that Pokhara and its surroundings can get recognition only through women’s pleasant tone, calm nature, and good behavior. The organization has been conducting awareness programs and welcome ceremonies to tourists every year on tourism day. It has also managed home-stay for foreign female tourists. It had privately managed a children’s program named “Small World” for two and half years and a residential care center for 9 orphan children so that skilled women human resources would be produced in the tourist sector in future (ADC 2013).
Tourism is one of the rapidly growing economic activities in the world that open doors equally for both women and men. As tourism industry is mainly based on hospitality attributes, women’s active participation in it is substantially valuable. However, women holding up half the sky have showed their very limited presence in tourism. In this scenario, it is necessary to pay much attention to women’s participations.
The study and analysis of women’s participation in tourism industry of Pokhara showed that the history of their participation is just one and half decade old. Since then, there have been growing participations, awareness, and decision making capacities of women than earlier. However, their overall positions are far behind their male counterparts. Hotel sub-sector holds the first position for involving the highest number of women workers, which is followed by trekking sub-sector as the second highest jobs creating sub-sector. It is found that women involved in trekking sub-sector of tourism have not only become independent, but also able to financially support their family members with their income. However, they still lacked the access to household as well as business decision making process.
A majority of women, who are involved as tourism entrepreneurs, were found to be satisfied in their businesses. This is because they experienced that it helped them to participate in economic activities with their ownerships. From the perspective of the inclusion of women in tourism industry in Pokhara, it is largely dominated by males in spite of the reality that women’s involvement can be equally more important for the excellence of hospitality services. This chapter brought attention that the sustainable growth of tourism business and women’s inclusive participation are reciprocal for each other’s benefits. Tourism businesses’ respective inclusions of women can up-scale the hospitality levels in working environment which can ultimately benefit the industry both immediately and in the long run. This, however, needs the considerable growth in the knowledge, skills, and capacity buildings of women in tourism. With the capacity building endeavors, women can also observe a lot professional satisfactions through positive changes on their life styles, economic independencies, habits, and manners. It can be instrumental for not only their awareness building but also promoting tourism in Pokhara and also Nepal.
This chapter pointed out various challenges for women involved in tourist business of Pokhara. The patriarchal ideology, with a belief that women cannot handle work and duties as swiftly and skillfully as men can, has still prevailed in tourism in Pokhara. However, in spite of the negative attitude of the society (both family relationships and work environment) toward women in tourism, the honest, diligent, and hardworking women have started to experience a significant development in their skill, capability, and positions. Additionally, some women have realized a gradual change in the society’s attitude from negative to positive toward their involvement and potentials in tourism in Pokhara.
There is great concern for gender equality in tourism where adequate, dignified, balanced, and respectful presence of women can be developed in a sustainable manner. All stakeholders like professional tourism associations, tourism entrepreneurs (practitioners), government, Nepal Tourism Board, researchers and academicians, and women (both as workers and entrepreneurs) themselves need to sit together to identify the most pressing issues and addressing them jointly. The government should play constructive roles to offer equal right, opportunity, and capacity building related interventions for women.
Furthermore, the following recommendations should be considered for releasing women from various problems they face;
- Existing patriarchal mind set in tourism is a barrier to women to enhance their role in hospitality conduct, which needs to be changed with proper sensitization, advocacy and awareness campaigns. It also must convince, encourage and build their confidence for the better opportunity for them in tourism industry.
- Public awareness regarding the positive aspects of tourism should be increased.
- Very few women are involved in tourism. Therefore, women’s contribution to tourism should be appreciated.
- Women can grasp better opportunity if they have learned skills and taken training before joining this industry.
- The law against sexual abuse should be implemented effectively (also the formulation and implementation of codes of conduct are desirable).
- In view of limited involvement of women in tourism, equal opportunity should be created for women’s proportionate participation.
- The negative attitude of the society toward women’s career in tourism should be changed.
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