Gender and Tourism

Empowering Women in Local Communities Through Sustainable Tourism Initiatives 

How tourism can be used to create positive change in destinations and empower women and local communities.

By Willow Fasakin

Nyamirambo Women’s Center
Nyamirambo Women’s Center, an organisation using community-based tourism to empower women and the local community

According to recent data from the United Nations, only 15.4% of the indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 5, which focuses on gender equality, are currently “on track.” This sobering statistic underscores the global challenges we face in achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. The repercussions of this shortfall extend far beyond mere statistics; they reverberate throughout our interconnected world. However, the tourism industry, as one of the largest global sectors, possesses the potential to serve as a catalyst for progress toward this critical objective.

The Tourism Industry

The tourism industry has a largely positive image, valued for its ability to create jobs, attract foreign exchange, and alleviate poverty, particularly in developing countries. However, hidden from most tourists is the industry’s darker side, which can erode the rights of communities in tourist destinations by excluding locals from decision-making processes, depleting their resources, and redirecting financial income away from local economies.

One of the biggest issues facing the tourism industry is leakage. Tourism leakage is when international companies monopolise all elements of the tourist experience, providing hotels, excursions, imported food, and international chains in tourist destinations. Consequently, money spent on tourism, which could otherwise support local communities, leaks out of the local economy and into international companies. Tourism practices need to address leakage to ensure that local communities benefit from the lucrative tourism industry. Sustainable tourism is a way to minimise these negative impacts and maximise tourisms positive potential. 

To foster a more sustainable and resilient industry, it’s imperative that local communities directly benefit from the tourism sector, and tourism practices must proactively address the issue of leakage. Sustainable tourism serves as a viable approach to mitigate these detrimental effects while harnessing the industry’s full positive potential.

Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism holistically addresses the needs of visitors, the environment and host communities while considering its economic, social and environmental impacts. Using local knowledge to make the tourism industry more sustainable could provide longevity in the current climate while helping local communities, tourism businesses and the environment. 

In the mission towards a more sustainable tourism industry, gender equality cannot be ignored. Sustainable tourism encompasses environmental and economic considerations as well as the empowerment and inclusion of local communities. Social equity depends on our ability to recognise the relationship between environmental preservation and economic growth, and one cannot be favoured above the other. Promoting gender equality in sustainable tourism initiatives has the potential to have lasting positive impacts on women in local communities, contributing to sustainable development. 

Community-based Tourism

Community-based tourism is a form of sustainable tourism that focuses on the participation of local communities. The concept was popularised in the 1990s as a practical method for community development, environmental conservation and tourism management. It refers to tourism run by the community for the community and the participation of the local community in tourism initiatives as leaders, managers and partners. 


Done well, community-based tourism empowers local organisations to decide how to preserve their culture and habitats. These initiatives are particularly important for women’s empowerment as they enable women to participate in the tourism industry as employees and leaders, preserving their unique cultures and environments on their own terms.

Image Source: Nyamirambo Women’s Center Facebook

Community-Based Tourism in Action: The Nyamirambo Women's Center

Around the world, community-based tourism takes on various forms, often serving as a catalyst for positive change within communities. A shining example of this can be found in the tourism initiative spearheaded by the Nyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC) in Rwanda.

Back in 2007, the NWC was founded by 18 Rwandese women residing in Nyamirambo, a neighbourhood in the southwest part of the capital, Kigali Their mission was clear: to combat gender inequalities by offering education and vocational training to local women, thus expanding their employment prospects. Initially, the organisation relied on financial support through development funding but soon recognised the need for a sustainable, long-term revenue source.

Embracing the growing tourism industry, the NWC turned to community-based tourism as a means to not only financially support their centre but also to further their mission of empowering local women.

Following the principles of community based tourism, the NWC conducts a variety of tours that give insights into everyday life and social culture in Nyamirambo. These tours are led by members of the Umutima cooperative who facilitate and organise tours of Nyamirambo, giving tourists an authentic experience while helping women in the local community. All profits generated from the tours go back into running the NWC and paying the wages of the Umutima cooperative members.

The NWC collaborates with local businesses, who also share in the economic benefits of increased tourism. This collective effort bolsters the village’s financial well-being. Importantly, all funds derived from tourist activities are funnelled directly back into the local economy, thereby contributing to the preservation of cultural heritage and community resources. The success of this tourism initiative has enabled the NWC to empower more than 5000 women through its various training programmes. 

The Nyamirambo Women’s Centre’s community-based tourism initiative stands as a testament to the transformative potential of sustainable tourism in empowering women and local communities. By actively participating in the design and implementation of tourism activities, local women are the primary beneficiaries of the economic benefits generated through the programme and empowered through cross-cultural exchange.

Image Source: Nyamirambo Women’s Center website. Image showing the traditional cooking class offered by NWC as part of their Tourism Initiatives


The NWC’s tourism initiative represents the potential of sustainable, community-based tourism initiatives. The program was designed not only to empower women in the NWC, giving them the skills needed to generate income, but also to empower the local community at large, contributing to social and economic progress and sustainable development in the community.


By embracing community-based tourism initiatives like the one spearheaded by the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre, community leaders, stakeholders, and us as responsible tourists can actively participate in uplifting and empowering women. This collective effort not only ensures a more sustainable and equal tourism industry but also reinforces the transformative power of tourism as a force for positive change in the lives of women and their communities. In the mission to realise Sustainable Development Goal 5—gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls—initiatives like these illuminate a path towards a more equitable and inclusive world through responsible and sustainable tourism practices.

To Find out More

To find out more about The Nyamirambo Women’s Center, visit their website.