We continue our series of summaries of the three presentations at our WTM event in November 2015: Gender Equality in Tourism: How can it be achieved? This time we hear from our Associate Arzu Kutucu Ozenen, the Chairperson and founder of Yesil Valiz Association for Responsible Tourism in Turkey. The Association’s aims are to promote women’s empowerment, environmental and cultural preservation and peace through tourism.

One of the Association’s key objectives is to address women’s unemployment, which is a serious problem in Turkey. According to OECD, only 30% of women in Turkey are in paid work. The rate of employed women in agriculture without security is 96%. Rural tourism offers a lifeline in this situation.

Photo 2The Association adopts a three stepped approach to implement rural tourism as a tool for women’s empowerment in a particular destination. The first step is helping the women to form associations, which help them to overcome social pressures. After taking the women’s association to a social enterprise level, the second step is to encourage women to stand up alone and succeed individually. The final step is then to transform the associations into marketing cooperatives to include individual entrepreneurs and producers as well as the collective social enterprise.

Misi is a small village which had been a big producer of grapes until rapid urbanization around the village. This challenged women’s role in the community and restricted them within their households. Rural tourism has been the best opportunity for transforming the system through new roles for women. With the sources supplied by “Future Lies in Tourism Support Fund” which is organized by the cooperation of Anadolu Efes, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the UNDP, one of the traditional houses in the village was opened as a workshop and living museum for silk farming and manufacturing and another historical house as a traditional Turkish restaurant. Rural Tourism enabled Yesil Valiz Association to provide 46 women of Nilufer Misi Village Women Cultural and Beneficiary Association with employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. It also made it possible to preserve the historical houses for the future generations.

Photo 4Another project, Yukarıyapıcı is a beautiful Pomak village. Although Erdek, the first tourism destination in Turkey, is only 10 minutes away, Yukarıyapıcı as a village has never been exposed to tourism. This was considered as the perfect opportunity by Yesil Valiz Association and of course a greater responsibility to do it right.

The project started with a value chain analysis. The aim is to identify the right value chain which will include all villagers with different economical means. The way to do this is to develop diversified tourism destination products. A diversified destination with a carefully planned responsible supply chain policy and town hotels practising responsible tourism principles would give the very poor rural women lacking the means to set up their own businesses, the opportunity for a fair share of the wealth created by tourism development. To expose a destination to tourism without an inclusive value chain analysis either turns the destination into a male-dominated area with women maintaining their household chores in bed and breakfasts rather than their houses –nothing changes, no gender identities are negotiated – or allow outsiders to come and take over the place with local women pushed to the very bottom of the value chain with the lowest wages possible.

A detailed value chain analysis process also prepares the local people for political participation. The Tourism Strategy of Turkey for 2023 published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism sets the goal to form Councils to ensure coordination across the tourism industry at national and regional levels. The smallest units of this formation are City Tourism Councils in which all the shareholders in the city would be able to vocalise their demands and make propositions. It is a great opportunity for the women to get vocal; today for their destinations, tomorrow for their equality in every aspect of their lives. In order to increase rural women’s informed and active participation in the decision-making processes, another project ‘Think Local, Get Vocal’ was started by Yesil Valiz Association. With this project, 174 women from 9 Villages will be trained to prepare a strategic plan proposition which will be presented to the local authorities.