Tourism is a sector where there is a greater concentration of women in informal activities and informal workers face greater poverty and vulnerability than employees with formal employment. For example, female street vendors suffer from personal insecurity and harsh working conditions impairing their health and wellbeing. The direct relationship between being a women and working in the informal sector results in economic shortcomings, vulnerability and further challenges - not only for female workers but also for their children accompanying them.
The gender perspective must be applied for three fundamental reasons. Firstly, most studies in tourism and gender do not include neither unstructured workers nor unpaid family workers. Secondly, there are economic shortcomings and further challenges in developing skills resulting from the direct relationship between being a woman and working in the informal sector. Thirdly, the majority of women work invisibly in the informal sector from home or as street vendors.
Informal work means all those businesses that are not incorporated as legal entities. They tend to operate at a low level of organisation and on a small scale. Most informal workers do not choose this form of work, but engage in it due to a lack of alternatives. In the specific case of the tourism sector, the unconventional and fragmented nature favours the emergence of informal work, especially in tourist destinations and during the high season. Moreover, tourism is a sector where there is a greater concentration of women in informal activities. A common example of informal work in the tourism sector is found in street vendors. In general, these workers do not have permission to carry out their activity and may suffer from police harassment, being forced to pay bribes to work, having their property confiscated, and being expelled from the places where they carry out their work. In addition to the personal insecurity, there are consequences of being in constant contact with the pollution of vehicular traffic and inclement weather, which can be incredibly detrimental to the children accompanying their mothers. A specific case study is that of workers in Baja California Sur, a Sun and Beach tourist destination located in Mexico. The tourism growth in this area was accompanied by the economic integration of women, although the income they receive is not stable or fixed. Likewise, the lack of legal recognition of their work leads to the tax or police authorities’ exploitation. Informality also leads to the marginalization of women in their training aspirations. For example, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, street vendors express the feeling that, despite being important for the productive tourism chain, their situation of informality excludes them from training programmes (which often allow access to financing for business improvement). Informality also results in an unequal balance in decision-making and myopia in visualising particular situations of clear inequality, which prevents women from being subject to rights.
Cultural appropriation and commodification of Indigenous art
The Guatemalan weavers are protagonists of a movement for the revindication of their culture, heritage and art. Women fight against cultural appropriation of their ancestral textiles, representatives of their past, present and future history. At the same time, the Government and the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (INGUAT) constantly use the fabrics and indigenous crafts to promote the tourism activity of the country. In this promotion, the State utilises the image of indigenous women with the huipil, carrying out tasks of their daily life without questioning the poor opportunities that exist for women, naturalizing these actions and lifestyle. Moreover, there is no compensation for the income coming from visitors in a country where Mayan people are one of the main tourist attractions. Instead of being recognized as an authentic Guatemalan culture, communities are seen as a “folklorized” culture and have to endure mockery in form of scenes of tourists dressed in indigenous clothing. By treating cultural heritage as an economically exploitable and profitable product and turning local communities, their identity and their culture into exotic products for sale in the tourism market, tourism can become a form of colonization that strengthens the dominance relations between the northern and global southern countries. Another typical picture are communities dancing or singing for tourists, who are attracted by exoticism and the search of authenticity, and consume cultural identities without thinking about social and political realities in which the majority of indigenous people live.
This is how the struggle for the defence of indigenous peoples’ heritage proves latent racism, both institutional and social, and shows the necessity of a social transformation which does not reify the Mayan art, their culture and their inhabitants, but rather recognize their millennial value, their complexity and their richness as a cultural bond between the past and the present. Moreover, the commodification of the Mayan culture and the textile art places the weavers in front of a triple oppression: racist-colonialist, sexist-patriarchal and social class-capitalist.