Why I believe that tourism empowers women

It’s almost like asking myself why I do what I do today. But, like any human being, mainly being female, I’ve already questioned myself if I’m finally addressing my frustrations and fulfilling my desire (or purpose, to use a more fashionable word) through my work.

While reflecting deeply (in a beautiful coaching process based on anthroposophy, conducted by Fabiane Vasconcellos), I found that what bothers me the most and at the same time motivates me to do something, comes down to three main points.

One of them is the low self-esteem of Brazilians. We think that everything we have is worse than the rest of the world, I see this especially here in my country. Another, is the prejudice against everything that is different from us, whether it’s social class, race or gender (I have always seen beauty and richness in diversity).

And finally, the limited opportunity for women to choose, whether it’s due to lack of privileges or even social pressure. Who doesn’t have a friend who either got married, or had children or pursued a career, or all three by spontaneous “pressure”? I know a lot of girls, but very few boys in this situation.

After letting my frustrations out, it was time to think about how I wanted to address them. What were my wishes really? In an intense reflection, I concluded that what I really want is to generate opportunities for women to change their stories through their right to choose.

It sounds simple, but when we are talking about women living in small communities throughout Brazil, in my opinion, the best experiences, stories and foods are found. In short, in the most authentic Brazil, most of them have no choice.

Whether staying or going out, getting married or staying single, studying or not, many do what they do because they have to. Do they like it? Often yes, they learn to like it. They are strong, resilient and find beauty and happiness in little things. But if they could go back and have a choice, maybe they would have chosen a different path. 

And how can I help these women, their daughters and granddaughters to change this reality? With tourism, through Vivejar, generating three very objective results.

First, with income generation. Tourism is an economic activity. In the communities where we work, women are paid for all the time and work dedicated to tourists: accommodation offered in their homes or family inns, delicious meals that they prepare for us, workshops, activities and conversation circles they offer us.

Money that, in most cases, was not foreseen (extra income) goes straight into their hands to make small dreams come true, such as a house renovation or the purchase of an important and desired asset. A higher income equals making dreams come true.

Secondly, preservation of culture and the environment. Knowing that the tourists come and of course want to know the history, local customs, enjoy the natural spaces available and visit the most relevant places in the community, it is very important that everything that is there, is cared for, clean and preserved.

Another great reason for the community to take ownership, maintain and keep improving. Preservation in this case is equal to income. Good for the community, and good for the tourists too.

Thirdly, it results in increased self-esteem. We know the motivational value of public praise and recognition. At work, it renews our energy, satisfaction and desire to be even better.

In community tourism, when a tourist chooses to spend their free time (now increasingly scarce) in that community, it can already be seen as a great compliment.

And when they are willing to pay to experience everyday life – sleep in their homes, eat the typical dishes, learn about their activities, walk everyday trails and even dance and celebrate together with everyone – and still want to pay for it, isn’t that a super compliment don’t you think? 

Someone who is willing to invest in getting to know our life, which until then we might have found really boring, makes us feel really good. Praise is good and we like it a lot!

And after all, why women?

Well, in addition to being female, feminist and activist in the causes of entrepreneurship and female empowerment, I do have a very objective motive. Investing in women is investing in the collective, in local development.

Muhammad Yunus (my idol), Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, created a beautiful microcredit project in Bangladesh in the 1970s, in which only women could be borrowers.

He says: “They are the poorest of the poor. And they are desperate to properly care for their children. Men are not with their children in times of crisis. They are. They have more reasons to get out of poverty, because of their children”.

Since then, the main socio economic development projects in the world have had women as the main protagonists. At Vivejar, it should be no different.

By Marianne Costa for Folha de São Paulo March 8, 2018.

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