Equations struggle against violence against women in tourism, continues with the response to the statement made by Mr. Jaitely on Delhi gang rape as a small incident causing loss to tourism and concerns over women issues in tourism.
A few months back, we have launched a signature campaign demanding systemic engagement on women issues in tourism and shared our concern with the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Women and Child Development, National Mission for Women Empowerment and National Commission for Women. The same can be viewed at http://www.equitabletourism.org/campaign.php?AID=2884
The statement made by Mr. Jaitely reiterates the need to highlight such issues in the public domain. Find attached the statement we have sent to Mr. Jaitely, Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Make Tourism Work for Women: A way to engage with Women's Safety in Tourism
EQUATIONS, September 2014
Recent statement made by the Union Finance Minister Mr. Jaitely about the incident of Delhi gang rape costing millions of dollars to the tourism industry has once again brought the attitude of the State towards women to the fore. It does not only speak volumes about the government perception towards women's safety but also reveals the approach of government towards tourism. It clearly indicates that earning foreign exchange carries much more weight than ensuring safety and security of its citizens. The minister must remember that a series of harassment against foreign women tourists has led to 25% decline in foreign women travellers to the country. However, the minister has chosen to see violence against women causing losses to the tourism industry while conveniently veiling the issue that demands engagement at systemic level in tourism sector.
It's only been a year since the government acknowledged the issue of safety and security of women at tourist destinations. Responding to the gang rape of a foreign woman tourist and series of harassment cases against women tourists, the Ministry of Tourism launched a campaign "I respect women" in 2013. While the initiative shows recognition of the issue by the Ministry, one wonders if the reason was because India's image globally was taking a beating or if they were truly concerned because of the harassment faced by women tourists. If the reason is the latter, why hasn't an initiative like this been taken earlier when so many Indian women tourists have also been faced with similar situations. Moreover, on the initiative itself, there is lack of information about implementation of the campaign by the state governments. More importantly, it raises a question of whether wearing a badge written "I respect women" is enough to mark a dent on the outlook of society towards women.
Another important concern is framing the issue in the language of protection than rights-based framework. The incidents of abuse to women tourists received attention from the hotel industry, mainly few big players who have taken initiatives to cater to the needs of women travellers. Such initiatives include allocating rooms close to the elevator, providing women attendants for room service, a separate section on a particular floor, better patrolling and security, screening of the calls made or received by all single women travellers, installing CCTV cameras, keeping one month data of single women travellers, maintaining privacy of women guests' room number and identity and hiring more female attendants . This was also followed by dos and don'ts for women tourists by the Lonely Planet , advisory on safety and security issued by foreign governments (British and Australia for example) and safety tips for women travellers advising dos and don'ts for women travellers . The attitude of providing protection to women along with absence of right based framework has in fact fed into seclusion of places like providing a separate section on particular floor for women and segregation of jobs in hotels which is very much reflected in the initiatives taken by the hotels. With this approach, it is not difficult to understand why hiring more female housekeeping staff is considered but not hiring more women managers? Denial of women's agency is the core of such practices.
Denial of responsibilities by the sector to address the cause is another manifestation of such initiatives as it imposes 'dos and don'ts' on women but does not talk about the responsibilities of the government and the industry. Significance of making infrastructure women friendly cannot be ignored but at the same time what has prevented companies with the tourism industry to form the Internal Complaint Committee under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. What has prevented the government to strengthen the mechanisms like Code of Conduct for Safe and Honorable Tourism. The code was launched by the MoT in 2010 which aims to encourage tourism activities with respect to basic rights like dignity, safety and freedom from exploitation of both tourists and local residents i.e. people and communities. Lack of awareness about the code among state tourism officials and lack of legal enforceability allows service providers such as hotels, restaurants, lodges, guest houses, tour agents, transport operators like taxis, buses, tour guides and other services to escape from their responsibility to make the destination safe and secure.
The question of unfriendly tourism destinations and right to access public place is yet to form among such initiatives. An important question that remains unanswered is whose accessibility is accepted at tourism destinations? Accessibility of women tourists from certain strata of society with purchasing power is legitimate but not women from lower working classes. Street vendors, sex workers, rag pickers, construction workers and women artisans are in constant denial of access to the destinations but their issues are never recognised. Legitimacy of access of marginalised women is evidenced through constant eviction from the destination. Paying a bribe to authorities including police and goons is one of the only options left to these women to access these spaces. Increase in drug abuse, alcoholism, molestation/ eve teasing at public places like beach, temples and heritage sites seclude local women from such spaces. Thus, legitimacy to access such spaces is constructed at the cost of marginalisation of other women.
Making tourism work for women is the need of the hour. The government and the tourism industry need to respond to the critical questions raised by engaging with the issues at a systemic level to ensure that women's needs and rights are taken into account in tourism.