To celebrate National Women’s Day today in South Africa, in this blog from 1 2 Travel Africa, Dilo shares his thoughts on how women are placed in Malawi’s tourism industry. From understanding traditional roles to adapting to a more modern society, Dilo shares the positive impact and inspirational paths women are taking in tourism.
Generally, in Malawi you’ll find a traditional division of roles between men and women. This is also reflected in the tourism industry. Women mainly work as receptionists or housekeepers. Rarely do you see a Malawian woman as a manager or guide. Even the chefs in restaurants are almost always men, while at home the women do most of the cooking.
One woman who is working hard to break these stereotypes is Kay DaSilva from Warm Heart Adventures. She has struggled for years to escape from the traditional division of roles. Against all odds, she has successfully started her own business. Go on a tour with her to experience the authentic Malawi, while she can also accommodate you in her beach lodge at Lake Malawi.
“I believe that Malawian women have so much to offer in tourism,” Kay says, “despite the fact that we often stay behind the scenes now. Women simply don’t get the same training and opportunities as men. That starts in primary school. I look forward to the day when as many women as men work in tourism and hospitality in Malawi, in equal positions.”
I wish that tourism (and also the nature conservation that goes with it) in Malawi gets shaped more by women. And that it finally goes beyond the Mama Africa’s who welcome you and take care of you so hospitably during a Homestay. As much as we love these ladies, and as much as they enjoy their work, their daughters deserve the chance to take on other roles as well.
Fortunately, you see positive changes. Tourism courses are welcoming more and more female students. And that’s good news for the country.
Women bring a different energy, a different perspective and therefore also different ideas than men. For a company or organisation, it is very important to have this diversity within the team. But for the guests, customers or travellers it is just as valuable!
Women are generally more attuned to the wishes and feelings of their guests. They are more focused on details, and even seem to have a better sense of which direction the wildlife is moving on safari.
As Theresa Khomani from The Travel Centre puts it:
‘’Women have a certain positivity which comes naturally like welcoming visitors, cleanliness and serving or hosting guests, as they are a bit flexible with their jobs, as we know customer service is the main key of the industry.
I wouldn’t say that women can do better than men or vice- versa, as we all contribute positively. For example, The Travel Centre is owned by women. We do administration, marketing, making packages, running operations and sales, while we have men who actually work as tour guides going into the bush with clients. At the end of the day we are all contributing positively to the industry and I hope that in the near future more women can be inspired to take up different roles in tourism companies.’’
In South Africa you will find the Black Mambas, an anti-poaching organization made up entirely of women. And in Botswana they proudly have the Chobe’s Angels, a group of female safari guides. Dutch travel agent Matoke Tours is working in Uganda with Ukarimu Academy to train more women to become tour guides.
It is time to follow suit in Malawi.
Heston Malenga Robert is a Culinary Arts Lecturer at the Malawi Institute of Tourism. He is seeing an increase in young female students, like Lissah McLloyds Mwase, who explains:
‘’I chose the tourism industry because it is one of the world’s largest industries. It opens up great opportunities and gives you the ability to travel. On top of that the industry is easy to get started. It accelerates your career if you put much effort and focus. The tourism industry also helps one to develop stronger interpersonal skills which allows you to effectively communicate with other people.
Although women face inequality in a perceived male-dominated environment in Malawian tourism industry sector, I feel women can build an inspiring work culture by fostering team work, bringing in healthy competition and coming up with different unique ideas. Thereby helping the tourism industry to grow to its full potential. I mean, imagine how lives would be without women adding the much needed flavour and fibre to the industry!’’
Another inspiration for many young women, is Sherrie Kankhomba. In Lilongwe, she opened the first and only real Mexican restaurant in Malawi. The way she and her team manage to combine local products with authentic Mexican flavours, make La Cantina a great success.
‘’I feel like women manifest leadership styles that relate positively to effectiveness and knowing this’’, Sherrie says, ‘’I strongly believe that women could possibly contribute a lot more in tourism, hospitality and the travel industry.
Although it seems that women are still restricted to certain roles simply because they have not been given a chance to shine. Or rather, they are lacking support from their husbands or families. Even the government has never counted on women as potential leaders.’’
Michelle Ferng adds:
‘’Studies have found out that women bring new and innovative ideas to the workplace. In one particular study by Babson College / MassMutual Financial Group, results showed that female owned businesses were 1.7x more productive than male owned firms. Women are better at building deeper relationships with customers, suppliers and vendors than men. All of which are key necessities in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.’’
Of course, this is not a plea for all men in tourism to quit their jobs. It’s about the balance. Men and women can complement each other so much better than currently is happening in tourism and hospitality!
People sometimes question my integrity as a white man in Africa. And it is very good to discuss privileges. But I don’t say it from a kind of socially desirable political correctness, that I hope that women will play a greater role in tourism in Malawi. What am I saying? In the whole world!
So are you reading this, and are you going on that amazing trip soon? Maybe ask specifically for a female guide or driver. See if you can stay in a guesthouse with a local power woman as owner, or at least as manager.
It starts with awareness. Create the demand and supply will follow. Step by step towards a more fair and inspiring world!
Find out more about 1 2 Travel Africa on their dedicated page here.
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