Female entrepreneurship, creating shared value, and empowerment in tourism; the neutralising effect of gender-based discrimination


Fatemeh Bagheri, Zahed Ghaderi, Naser Abdi & Colin Michael Hall

By Yasmin Begum

The unrest in Iran in recent months has highlighted how gender inequality is pervasive in the country and extends far beyond the tourism sector.  The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was arrested by the morality police for violating the law which requires Iranian women to cover their hair with a mandatory hijab, sparked domestic protests using the slogan of “women, life, freedom” and global condemnation.  As of late November, Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported that Iran’s security forces have killed at least 448 people since protests began after Amini’s death and the UN high commissioner for human rights warned that ‘a full-fledged human rights crisis was taking place’.

Research by Bagheri et al. published in Current Issues in Tourism journal in September 2022, coincided with the protests that started taking place in the aftermath of Amini’s death.  Though located within the tourism sector, the paper points out the broader cultural context and the ‘serious efforts that need to be made to change the negative stereotypical societal beliefs on women’s abilities and their potential in business’.  The authors use the idea of ‘creating shared value’, which refers to the social and economic connections that create new social and economic values and supports the view that such values `created by female entrepreneurs empower them economically, socially, psychologically and politically’.  Crucially, it points out the critical need to examine the structural barriers and discrimination faced not only by women entrepreneurs but by all women in Iran. 

The study sets out to first investigate the interrelationship between women’s entrepreneurship, creating shared value and women’s empowerment.  A second strand, examines the effects of gender-based discriminations on women’s entrepreneurship, creation of shared value and women’s empowerment specifically in the tourism context.  The results highlight the positive, and sometimes indirect, effects of female entrepreneurship on women’s empowerment and the importance of the mediating role of creating shared value between these two constructs.  

The study collected data from 167 Iranian women operating various tourism-related enterprises and adopts a quantitative approach using a ‘self-administered questionnaire’.   The tourism subsectors that the women were operating in range from accommodation, food and beverage, arts and crafts, tour guiding, etc and were spread across Iran’s cities so as to try and understand the impact of gender discrimination on women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship and creating shared value.  The authors also point out the limitations of the research and acknowledge the ‘lack of reliable data’ as they ‘were unable to access a higher number of respondents across the country’.

There were 45 questions using a 1 to 5 scale (1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree).  Despite the research limitations, some of their findings in the descriptive data is illustrative of how structural inequality is ultimately detrimental to the country’s own economic and social prosperity.  A significant portion of the Iranian female entrepreneurs participating in the research (42%) had a bachelor’s degree and almost the same number had a postgraduate degree.  Given the fact that Iranian women account for half of the population and have advanced education (Aghazamani et al., 2020), the authors of the research recommend that the tourism authorities should be aware of the ‘untapped source’ of potential the country has and is not utilising. 

Though focused on tourism, what this research highlights, taken in context with recent events in Iran, is the need for the Iranian government to revise existing policies (legal and financial) on women’s entrepreneurship or formulate new plans to encourage women’s engagement in tourism businesses.  Female entrepreneurship is fundamental to economic and regional development (Brush & Cooper, 2012; De Vita et al., 2014) and meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Figueroa-Domecq et al., 2020b).  If the issues around women’s freedoms are addressed at a more fundamental level, then tourism will be one of the many areas to benefit.

As Moghadam observed, ‘Iranian women are speaking out about their grievances concerning second class citizenship in both the private sphere of the family and the public sphere of the state, culture and employment’ (2004, p.9).  But despite, the increasing number of Iranian women becoming educated and wanting to work, the fate of Mahsa Amini and others like her are a stark reminder of the challenges that women and girls in Iran face – which ultimately costs them their lives.


Aghazamani, Y. et al. (2020), ‘Women’s perceptions of empowerment in Ramsar, a tourism destination in northern Iran’. Women’s Studies International Forum, 79, 102340. 

Bagheri, F. et al. (2022), ‘Female entrepreneurship, creating shared value, and empowerment in tourism; the neutralizing effect of gender-based discrimination’, Current Issues in Tourism.

Brush, C. & Cooper, S. (2012), ‘Female entrepreneurship and economic development: An international perspective’. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 24(1-2), 1–6. 

De Vita, L. et al. (2014), ‘Women entrepreneurs in and from developing countries: Evidences from the literature’. European Management Journal, 32(3), 451–460. 

Figueroa-Domecq, C. et al. (2020). ‘Sustainability through the tourism entrepreneurship journey: A gender perspective’. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 30(7), 1562–1585. 

Iran Human Rights (2022), ‘Iran Protests: at least 448 people killed’.  Available at https://iranhr.net/en/articles/5608/

Moghadam, V.. (2004). Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Legal Status, Social Positions, and Collective Action. The conference of “Iran After 25 Years of Revolution: A Retrospective and a Look Ahead”, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on November 16-17.

Skopeliti, C. (2022), ‘’We walked in front of the police with no veil’ – voices from Iran’s women-led uprising’.  The Guardian, 2 December 2022.  Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/02/we-walked-in-front-of-the-police-with-no-veil-voices-from-irans-women-led-uprising?ref=upstract.com.

Türk, V. (2022), ‘The deteriorating human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran’.  Speech by UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, 24 November 2022.  Available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements-and-speeches/2022/11/deteriorating-human-rights-situation-islamic-republic-iran.


Mahsa amini stock photos, royalty-free images, vectors, video (adobe.com)

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