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The Fight for Gender Equity is Far from Over: Realities of Women in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry

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In Rwanda’s march towards becoming a middle-income country by 2035, the Tourism and Hospitality industry remains one of the primary growth sectors and a significant foreign exchange earner.

Young people are being encouraged to pursue careers in the promising industry, but the reality on the ground could be more bright for some, especially for women.

Despite the significant strides that have been made in the fight for gender equity and equal rights, in reality, women continue to face challenges in the workplace. Tourism is no different.

Aicha Mwavita, a food and beverage operations trainer at Glory Academy School, highlights one of the key challenges women face when teaching practical courses such as food preparation.
She said, “There is still the belief that women cannot excel in practice, which results in a lack of confidence in women teachers and trainers”.

Mwavita also points out that hospitality and tourism establishments, especially hotels and restaurants, prefer to employ men over women. This bias stems from the belief that women have more family responsibilities that may interfere with their work schedules.

Mwavita expressed, “This mentality makes it challenging for women to gain employment in the hospitality industry, even if they possess the necessary qualifications, drive, and passion.” This attitude results in a loss of motivation to challenge the status quo, leaving women feeling silenced, trapped in their homes, and excluded from participating in the economy.

Pelagie Mutuyimana, a Research Assistant in the Gorilla Program at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, identifies the lack of representation of women in fieldwork as a significant challenge. As a result, women are overlooked for positions they may be well-qualified for, leading to feelings of devaluation and a lack of confidence when applying for jobs or going after promotions.

The lack of women in fieldwork also means that those in the field may not have anyone to voice their concerns to if they face discrimination or bias in their work. They may not have a safe space to discuss their issues and relate to one another. This makes it very difficult for them to effectively advocate for themselves or others.

Peninah Mpabwanimana, a Dental Therapist at Primo Clinic, identifies the lack of childcare support for mothers with babies as another big challenge across many sectors. She said, “Women are often discriminated against when pregnant or with children as employers believe they are less useful in such situations.”

Mutuyimana points out that three months of maternity leave is a significant step forward. Still, more time and flexibility upon their return are needed for mothers who breastfeed their children.

The World Health Organization urges all babies to be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. But many organizations lack the physical set-up (e.g. mothers’ rooms) of the practices (e.g. flexible work hours) to support women to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.

Emphasizing the difficulties of balancing work and motherhood, especially for women who work in the field, Mutuyimana said, “If it is only three months and they still need to breastfeed their children, they cannot breastfeed while on the field.”

The problem, however, is not with women or women having children; it’s with the old systems that are too rigid. Research suggests that women with children become more productive than their childless peers over time – it could be due to them having to learn to prioritize better and manage their time more efficiently.

Over the past few decades, we have made significant progress in driving gender equity in many areas of society. Women have made gains in education, employment, and political representation, and many gender-based discriminatory laws and practices have been abolished. However, despite the progress, there is more work to be done.

And we can’t do it alone! Husbands, fathers, male employers, and managers should be more cognizant of how they can create a level playing field and better support their wives, female colleagues, and employees, so they can continue building their careers, too, rather than wait on the sidelines.

Employee Development Centers (EDCs) are needed nationwide to support women in fieldwork. These centers can provide childcare support for those with young children, allowing women to combine their work and family responsibilities. Employers can further encourage women to return to work after maternity leave by introducing greater flexibility, affordable (or how about paid-for) near-site daycare facilities, increased use of video-conferencing technology, and the option to work from home.

Another critical step is changing negative stereotypes that limit women’s opportunities. When hiring, do you ever stop to reflect on your biases? The narrative that women are not capable of excelling needs to change.

For too long, women have been held back by stereotypes and biases suggesting they are less competent or deserving of opportunities than men. This pervasive narrative has resulted in women being undervalued, underestimated, and underrepresented in many areas of life, including education, employment, and leadership positions.

It is time for society to recognize and celebrate the talents, skills, and achievements of women and to create environments that support and empower them to thrive and excel. Women are the bedrock of a nation and often the overlooked backbone of the economy. They are not the only ones missing out on inequality. Countries and employers lose out when women are not actively participating in the economy.

It is time to fully embrace equity – Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and faces different barriers or biases. Working towards equity means allocating the resources and opportunities needed to achieve an equal outcome.

It’s up to all of us – men, women, educators, parents, government, industry, employers, and managers – to constantly and consistently reflect on our biases, recognize and redistribute power, and remove barriers, so all individuals have fair and equitable treatment, access and opportunities.

Women’s perspectives, talents, and skills must be valued and recognized. Working together, we can create a more inclusive and diverse workplace, industry, and nation, benefiting everyone. When we strive for equity, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society, and more inclusive and diverse workplaces and industries, that benefits everyone.

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