Empowering #RuralWomen as Tour Guides and Ambassadors of their Local Communities

This year on the International Day of Rural Women (15 October) we recognize the vital contribution of rural women in the Mediterranean´s sustainable tourism industry.

This year on the International Day of Rural Women (15 October) we recognize the vital contribution of rural women in the Mediterranean´s sustainable tourism industry. 

Toñi Gallego is the Project Director for Cicerones Rurales, a social innovation project which develops sustainable tourism experiences in Malaga Province, Spain. The project empowers local women by training them to be ´cicerones´ or tour guides in their local communities. Since its inception in 2017, the project has trained 120 women from rural villages to create and run experiences for tourists which are based around the traditions and unique cultures of their own villages. The experiences include, bread making, enjoying traditional folklore and learning about the process of making local Spanish wine, from harvesting the grapes to tasting the final product.

The overarching aim of the project is to recognise and promote the vital role of women as transmitters of local culture. When asked how rural women in Spain are perceived in local communities, Toñi states, that the role of rural women in Spanish society is often ´ínvisibilizada´ or overlooked.

¨With Cicerones Rurales, rural women are able to harness the skills which they use every day such as cooking, singing, dancing and working in agriculture, and transfer them into a form of employment and economic independence which is empowering. ¨ – Toñi Gallego

According to the UN 2030 Agenda, “The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities”[1]. In other words, without gender equality and empowerment of women, there cannot be any kind of sustainable development. As a branch of sustainable development, this statement also applies to the sustainable tourism industry which incurs a social, economic and environmental impact on our society and planet.

In a report titled, ´Sustainable Tourism – A Catalyst for Inclusive Socio-economic Development and Poverty Reduction in Rural Areas´[2], the International Labour Force Office describes rural women as ¨key agents in socio-economic development the empowerment of rural communities¨. Despite this, rural women face daunting challenges such as unemployment and limited access to productive resources, credit, healthcare and education, which prevent them from building successful careers in the tourism industry. Not to mention, the vast amount of unpaid work which is carried out by women in the tourism industry in order to support family-run businesses[3]. Toñi Gallego describes Cicerones Rurales as one potential solution to these challenges.

Cicerones Rurales provides an excellent case study example of how women’s empowerment and gender equality can be generated through sustainable tourism initiatives.

Establishing relationships between rural communities and the sustainable tourism industry is a large part of what DestiMED Project, is striving to achieve at an international level by working with 13 protected areas in the Mediterranean. By involving women from rural Mediterranean communities in DestiMED ecotourism products, which are commercialized through the MEET Network, DestiMED generates employment and promotes economic development, which in turn, allows rural women to be more financially independent and develop professional trades.

[1] http://www.transforming-tourism.org/goal-5-gender-equality.html

[2] https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/ed_dialogue/sector/documents/publication/wcms_601066.pdf

[3] https://www2.unwto.org/sites/all/files/pdf/folleto_globarl_report.pdf