Equality in Tourism’s webinar on the 18th June, 2020, was one of the first to take a global look at the gender-differentiated impact of COVID-19 on those working in the tourism sector, and to examine strategies for strengthening gender equality as we emerge from the COVID induced crisis.

The key objectives of the webinar were to explore the ways in which this might happen and how the pandemic might provide an opportunity to rebuild global tourism in a more sustainable, resilient and gender-equal way.

In front of an audience from all over the globe, and moderated by Equality in Tourism’s Chair, Dr Angela Kalisch, discussion and debate on these issues were triggered by informative and stimulating presentations provided by 5 expert panellists, based on their analysis of the experiences of women in various tourism and hospitality sectors across the globe.

Dr. Stroma Cole, one of EiT’s Directors, researcher and Senior Lecturer in International Tourism Development at the University of the West of England, and author of several academic journal articles and books, including ‘Gender Equality and Tourism: Beyond Empowerment’ (2018), started the session with an overview of how COVID-19 has affected women in the tourism sector. In her presentation, she highlighted the ways in which the current crisis, resulting from COVID-19 has laid bare structural inequalities, in particular gender, race and age within and between societies, and has also revealed the vulnerability of destinations and communities over-dependent on tourism. She pointed out that Covid-19’s impact on tourism will hit less economically developed countries hardest and women in those countries the most. Key consequences for women include: fall in incomes; higher incidence of poverty; increased financial dependence; and increased gender-based violence at home.

Two speakers from Equations (Equitable Tourism Options), a research, campaign and advocacy organisation working on tourism and development issues in India – Joyatry Ray, the Director, and Durang Bosu Mullick, Senior Associate for Women and Tourism, spoke about the ways in which women, most of whom are concentrated in the informal and other precarious sectors of Indian tourism, have suffered disproportionately in the wake of COVID-19. The collapse of tourism and the tourist trade, resulting in the closure of hotels, crafts markets and other small tourism businesses has left millions of women with no income or employment. Workers in the homestay sector, the vast majority of whom are women, have been particularly badly hit because their work is mostly invisible and unrecognised. For the most part, women have largely been neglected in the responses of both government and the industry. Stimulus packages and loans are insufficient to meet the essential survival needs of women. Moreover, the majority of self-employed women are not in a position to repay loans. Immediate crisis protection measures are needed in the short term. These should include capacity-building and support for digitised transformation towards moving businesses online. In the medium to longer term, policies aimed at increasing women’s access to social security, employment rights and access to improved employment opportunities are called for.

Elisa Spampinato, an expert on Community-Based Tourism (CBT) in Brazil presented strategies and measures adopted by the female led CBT sector in Brazil, in both urban and rural environments that have paved the way for the survival of this sector by discovering new ways of linking to their communities and beyond. In her presentation she highlighted the empowering potential of the CBT sector underpinned by its underlying values of cooperation and solidarity. COVID-19 has presented new opportunities for women to take on new initiatives and responsibilities, thereby enhancing their empowerment. Technology has played a crucial role for women and communities during the pandemic, both by enabling isolated communities to remain connected and also resulting in the upgrading of women’s technical skills and their ability to share their knowledge and experience at the grassroots level. In summing up, she highlighted three key lessons to be drawn from the experiences of the Brazilian CBT sector. First, the functional role of technology from a gender perspective internally, through enhancing their professionalism and, externally, by increasing the visibility of social and cultural struggles. Second, the importance of solidarity and collaborative platforms. And third, the importance of cross-sector collaborations, networking and bottom-up approaches as a tool to build resilience into communities.

In her presentation, Sue Longley, the first ever female General Secretary of the IUF, the global trade union federation representing workers in agriculture, food processing, the hotel and tourism industries, focussed on the unequal hardship faced by women, who constitute the majority of the workforce in all the sectors represented by the IUF. She pointed out that women, who are already over-represented in precarious, casual and low paid work, were the first to be impacted by the huge economic and social crisis brought on by COVID-19. The enormous strains on all hospital and social care workers, not just nurses have been well documented, but in addition many women working from home are struggling to maintain the same work output levels, whilst at the same time taking on most of the home schooling and additional domestic chores arising from lockdown restrictions. The IUF wants to ensure that a gender approach to the COVID-19 crisis is adopted by employers, health authorities and governments. This is essential to ensure that gender inequalities are not reproduced, perpetuated or exacerbated in the context of the pandemic. They have produced a raft of detailed policies for this purpose. Unfortunately, the chances of these being adopted are very limited in the light of the reality of heavily male-dominated decision-making bodies and processes across the globe.

Dr Daniela Moreno Alarcón, another Director of Equality in Tourism, a researcher and expert in the field of gender, tourism and development, focussed on the pervasive resistance across the board to recognising and understanding the concept of gender equality. She highlighted the primary focus on numbers in relation to gender issues. Women are in the majority of those employed in tourism. So, the issue is not increasing the numbers; the focus should be on challenging the inherent gender bias in existing policies and structures. In order to achieve greater gender equality, it is necessary to shift the focus on to key strategic issues, such as budgets and policies. Rather than a gender-sensitive approach, we need a gender mainstreaming approach involving gender equality strategies, accompanied by funding and actions. In the post COVID recovery, we need to discuss the role of technology, take on board the implications of climate change, think about governance and accountability, and work with the new emerging dynamics of the tourism workforce. The new approaches need to be linked to the Agenda 2030 and to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Summing up, Dr. Cole stated that Gender Equality is essential if tourism is to be truly sustainable. However, focusing on Gender Equality is not just about acknowledging the importance of women and focusing on increasing the numbers of women in under-represented fields in tourism and hospitality. It’s about collective commitment and actions on sexual harassment, proper employment contracts and conditions for women, solidarity and networks, such as Women’s Rights Organisations, technology to promote empowerment and independence, disaggregated data, including intersectional data, and alignment with all the 17 SDGs.

New industry networks and coalitions, recently formed to build a sustainable tourism future after Covid-19, such as FutureofTourism and RestartTourism, need to include gender experts, otherwise how can they develop gender equal resilience?

It is imperative that women from all sectors in societies and in the global tourism community are included in key decision-making fora on the future of tourism. By playing a central role in shaping the post Covid-19 recovery, they can help to create new approaches to the sector’s resilience in future. This webinar has highlighted the importance of networking, sharing data, and finding ways to collaborate on making tourism a force for a more just and resilient global community.

More information, presentations and briefing papers from the Webinar are available on our Events page.