Gender Equality in India Tourism

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Once prohibited from education, forbidden in politics, considered physically and intellectually inferior to men, women had been suppressed by the patriarchal societies for centuries. 

Thanks to a long history of fighting, including political activism, countless debates among academics, and media campaigns aiming to challenge female stereotypes, the world has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift on gender emancipation.

Today, traditional beliefs about gender roles are facing pressure as more and more people become familiar with the notion of gender equality. Academics, celebrities, athletes, and public figures are now speaking about the issue openly. Social media opens the space for gender discussion and expression. 

The  #MeToo campaign, for example, encourages people to step up and bring to light their sexual violence experience. With millions of people worldwide participating, the campaign has sparked global conversation about sextual abuse and caused widespread discussion on how to stop it. 

Likewise, the United Nations initiates the campaign HeForShe to encourage, not only women, but both genders to partake as agents of change and take action against negative stereotypes and behavior. 

The number of people who partake in the HeForShe campaign as of March 4, 2020

However, while the discussion on gender equality seems to be progressing, the numbers of women suffering from physical abuse, female underrepresentation, and gender pay gap remains high. Recent data from the United Nations indicates that up to 18 percent of ever-partnered women aged 15 to 49 are still suffering from physical violence.

Women are still underrepresented at all levels of political leadership, and although women represented 39 percent of world employment, only 27 percent of managerial positions in the world were occupied by women in 2018.

In the tourism industry, even though the majority of people employed are women, most of them are confined in the low paid, low skilled sectors and are not well represented in the highest levels of employment and management.

In India, for instance,  the female labour force participation rate is estimated at just 27%. Generally, Indian women either do not participate in paid work, or they are employed only in roles that allow them to return home to their families at the end of the day.3  

Because of the belief that women are not as capable as men to work in such a demanding role, the female tour leaders in India are exceptionally rare.3 This stereotype deprives women of their professional endeavour and confines them in the gender identity of mother and wife. 

Seeking to challenge this stereotype, PEAK DMC India came up with an initiative to empower women through inclusive work: by actively training and recruiting female tour leaders.

But in a country where gender stereotypes and a conservative cultural mindset remain strong3, changing traditional perceptions of women is no piece of cake. The initiative needs to be carefully planned. 

“It’s important to offer all genders the same opportunities, but in a country like India, it’s a challenge.” Ravindra Shekhawat, PEAK’s operations manager told National Geographic. 

PEAK DMC therefore began the initiative firstly by raising awareness among their staff members about the benefits of having female tour leaders and encouraged them to urge their relatives to apply for the positions. 

Successful candidates would then attend a week of intensive classroom training on the skills needed for the role, as well as training on our health and safety policies and procedures. Once they had passed the training, gained adequate experience, and showed passion for the role, they would be allocated to a senior tour leader to lead multi-day tours across India and Nepal, which can be up to three weeks in duration. 

Another project that empowers women in India is the Samrudhi Ethnic Food Restaurant at Kumarakom Panchayat which operates in India’s southwestern state of Kerala. 

Set up in April 2011 as part of Kerala Tourism’s Responsible Tourism project in Kumarakom, the eatery consists of three departments, namely Hospitality, Food and Beverage (F&B) Production, and F&B Services. All departments are run by women, and not a single job is outsourced.4

According to the Hindu Times, “the women underwent a six month training schedule with Café Kudumbasree on how to run an establishment, cooking included… The oldest among them is 58 and the youngest is 43.”

Due to their professionalism and the native cuisine and specialties they make using locally-sourced products, the restaurant attracts both domestic and international tourists and created a positive economic impact for the destination..4  

The overwhelming acceptance garnered by Samrudhi Ethnic Food Restaurant inspired the all-women team to venture out to new realms of work. As of 2019, these veterans have been part of 21 food festivals and acquired a profit of USD 21,945.

Having promoted equal opportunities for women, challenged deep-seated stereotypes, and provided educational activities to better improve their opportunities for working within the tourism, bothKerala Tourism and PEAK DMC demonstrate that in order for the tourism industry to achieve sustainable goals, especially in gender equality, it is better to walk the walk rather than talk the talk. 

Both projects, PEAK DMC’s recruitment and training of female tour leaders and Kerala Tourism’s Samridhi Ethnic Food Restaurant, won the prestigious PATA Gold Awards for Women Empowerment Initiative in 2018 and 2019 respectively. 

Introduced in 2018, the Women Empowerment Initiative is a new award category to recognise initiatives by travel and tourism organisations that forge positive visibility in women, including but not limited to:

  • Promoting equal opportunities for women
  • Encouraging women in leadership or women-led tourism projects
  • Raising awareness about gender parity and contribute to advancing women
  • Celebrating women’s diversity and social, political and economic achievements
  • Facilitating their access to jobs and/or career enhancement in tourism

These initiatives serve as a reminder of the immense potential for the travel and tourism industry to drive positive change in society. 

Apart from the Women Empowerment Initiative, new categories will also be introduced to the PATA Gold Awards in 2020 to encourage the sustainable development of the tourism industry, including Tourism for All, Climate Change Initiative, Youth Empowerment Initiatives and Human Capital Development Initiatives. These categories reflect the critical need for travel and tourism organisations to balance the economic benefits of tourism with its impact on society and the environment under PATA’s 2020 theme: Partnerships for Tomorrow.

The PATA Gold Awards 2020 will open for entry submission in March for PATA members, chapter members and non-members. Stay tuned!.



3 Empowering Women Through Inclusive Work: A Story of Recruiting Female Tour Leaders in India, Women Empowerment Initiative by PEAK DMC India submitted for PATA Gold Awards 2018  

4 Women Headed Micro Enterprise in Tourism – A Case Study on Ethnic Restaurant at Kumarakom Panchayat in Kerala, Women Empowerment Initiative by Kerala Tourism submitted for PATA Gold Awards 2019.