This blog was written by Tariro Sibanda and Joseph M. Cheer. It is based upon research presented in their recent book chapter ‘Impacts of tourism on livelihoods of women in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’, which can be found in Tourism, Change and the Global South, edited by Jarkko Saarinen and Jane Rogerson.
We have all heard about the benefits that tourism can bring and how it can empower women, but the reality on the ground does not always match this expectation. The town of Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe’s premier tourist destination – this has been the case for decades. In recent times, the country’s government has ensured that the town has had access to vaccines to aid in the restarting of tourism – it has reached herd immunity with 77% of the town vaccinated.
Zimbabwe is traditionally a patriarchal society in which women must know their so-called ‘place’. We (Sibanda & Cheer, 2021) sought to find out how the local women in Victoria Falls were impacted by tourism. Both men and women in Victoria Falls were interviewed in order to establish how they differed. We took into account basic demographics, quality of life indicators (using the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach) and empowerment levels (based on Sara Longwe’s Empowerment Framework).
While the research did not specifically focus on identifying existing barriers for women, it was found that their ability to participate in the town’s tourism industry was limited by their lack of education. The overall education deficiencies of women impacted the types of jobs they were able to work in, as well as the resources they had access to. Family obligations also played a key role in career decisions – for example selling souvenirs at markets was an acceptable role for women as they could still perform their household and child care duties. Cultural beliefs also influenced the types of jobs that women were allowed to work in. Women were considered unfit to work as rangers due to concerns around safety and their ability to interact with wildlife.
Overall, women did positively benefit from tourism with a large proportion reporting improved welfare outcomes. However, the empowerment of women still lagged due to their limited influence on decision making. In the tourism industry women were found in lower level positions and had limited involvement in tourism associations. Similarly, at home women were empowered to make decisions around the household but not in regards to their career aspirations. While women in Victoria Falls are making strides towards uniting to implement change, they confront cultural norms that constrain and dictate the extent to which they can participate in public settings as well as on the domestic front
Women in Victoria Falls are now more aware of the opportunities that are available to them through tourism. More work must be done to challenge and change the mind-sets of both men and women in order to affect change to the status quo. Changes in how future generations are socialized must occur which will likely lead to increased access to opportunities for women, that were only available to men in the past.
Sibanda, T.N. & Cheer, J.M. (2021). Impacts of tourism on livelihoods of women in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. In: Saarinen, J., & Rogerson, J.M. (Eds.). Tourism, Change and the Global South (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003091325.