Leaving no one behind: Empowering Indigenous women in the post-COVID-19 tourism recovery

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By Marina Diotallevi

It is estimated that more than 400 million Indigenous people live across 90 countries. In Latin America, Mexico and Peru have the largest populations, and Guatemala has one of the highest numbers of Indigenous peoples per capita.

Indigenous peoples inherit and transmit unique ways of interacting with other peoples and natural surroundings. Their knowledges and cultural expressions enrich the world’s heritage and cultural diversity, and support sustainable land use.

Despite their global relevance, Indigenous peoples share a historical struggle for the respect of their identity, cultures, and rights. They comprise 5 percent of the world’s population and account for 15% of those living in extreme poverty.

The COVID-19 has shed light on socio-economic struggles for Indigenous peoples. In Latin America, the crisis has exposed numerous challenges to communicate and support Indigenous communities, particularly in the provision of essential services, implementation of monitoring and early-warning systems, as well as accurate pandemic records segregated by ethnicity.

For Indigenous women, the sustained migration of men searching employment has transformed Indigenous communities’ demographics. Women act as the community pillars as they are income providers, caretakers, guardians of tradition, and educators of younger generations. At the same time, they have acquired more economic independence through their art crafts. The COVID-19 is posing limitations on their economic activities, an increasing housework and caretaking burden.

The World Tourism Organization, as a specialized agency of the United Nations for tourism, facilitates platforms and tools to support the development of Indigenous peoples and their cultures through tourism. UNWTO’s work is driven by the UNWTO Recommendations on Sustainable Development of Indigenous Tourism, a set of global guidelines for the tourism industry, Indigenous communities and visitors on responsible and ethical tourism involving Indigenous communities.

In the efforts to bounce back from COVID-19, UNWTO in collaboration with the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA), Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Latin America (CRESPIAL), Centre of Indigenous Arts (CAI) and the NGO IMPACTO, fosters an inclusive recovery that will tackle systemic inequalities faced by Indigenous women in Latin America.

As we transition towards recovery, the Leaving no one behind: Empowering Indigenous women in the post-COVID19 tourism recovery project, revises actions and governance models applied in indigenous development and gender empowerment. It offers an inclusive and resilient system, supporting policymakers in their actions to never again leave Indigenous women behind. The outcomes go beyond the mutual economic benefits of Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners, as they enable Indigenous women to access the market and alleviate post-COVID-19 recovery with their newly acquired skills.

The project consortium is driven by the conviction that by empowering Indigenous women through tourism and culture, with a special focus on textiles, their livelihoods can be considerably improved; Particularly through three main elements: 1) one toolkit combining already successful models, 2) strengthening of Indigenous women’s skills, and, 3) mentorship guidance, all of them securing long-lasting benefits and ethical partnerships with tourism.

The initiative does not have the capacity to eliminate the inherent vulnerability of Indigenous women, aggravated by COVID-19. What it will do, however, is facilitate market access for them and their communities. The mission of the project is to see Indigenous women foster their heritage and take pride of their own culture and gender, while enjoying the benefits of fair and ethical partnerships in tourism.

UNWTO believes that tourism can make a meaningful contribution to people’s lives and our planet. The project Leaving no one behind: Empowering Indigenous women in the post-COVID19 tourism recovery acts as the founding stone of future collaborations between tourism, culture and Indigenous peoples, from Latin America and beyond.

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

Marina Diotallevi, Head of the Ethics, Culture, and Social Responsibility Department at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations specialized agency for tourism

Marina is entrusted with monitoring the implementation of the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and leads the technical support to the World Committee on Tourism Ethics, the independent and impartial body of the UNWTO General Assembly. At UNWTO, Marina also leads the cultural dimension of tourism, particularly Indigenous peoples’ cultures, and creative industries, as well as other social aspects in tourism related to gender equality and women’s empowerment, accessibility for persons with disability, human rights, and corporate social responsibility.

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