This year’s International Women’s Day is themed Be Bold for Change. Having worked extensively in the tourism sector, I believe there is no better custodian of this narrative than the women who give of their time, skills and expertise while working in tourism; bringing, serving and delivering a hospitable experience to all who have the pleasure of being exposed to their work.

At the Regional Tourism Organisation of South Africa (Retosa) Women in Tourism Conference last year in Lilongwe, Malawi, it was reiterated that tourism had the potential to contribute greatly to gender equality and the empowerment of women in line with the Third Millennium Development Goals, and that the majority of people employed in tourism worldwide were women, both in formal and informal jobs. Further, while tourism offers women opportunities for income generation and entrepreneurship, women within the sector, are often concentrated in the lowest paid, lowest skilled sectors of the industry, yet often carry out a large amount of unpaid work in tourism businesses.

On a policy and decision-making level, women are not well represented in the highest levels of employment and management of the tourism industry, and these are some of the truths tourism authority bodies need to consider and engage when supporting the workers in their organisations.

But, despite the hurdles that serve as hindrances to the progress of women, we move, shake and make strides in our respective roles.

South African Deputy Minister of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa, lives this notion. She continues to champion the empowerment of women on the continent, particularly pertaining to entrepreneurial development. She holds the view that collaboratively building solutions to grow and develop female entrepreneurs can shape and influence the landscape of African tourism.

Another woman is Nondumiso Pikashe from Gugulethu, South Africa.  She founded Ses’fikile Wines, a winery that is one-hundred percent owned and controlled by women. While Pikashe admits the difficulty it took to penetrate a largely male-dominated industry, Ses’fikile (Nguni for ‘we have arrived’) signifies a “foundation of communal struggle, while looking forward positively with a hope of a better tomorrow”.

Nana Gecaga, acting Managing Director of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, has been instrumental in facilitating the visits of international firms to Kenya on various projects, and has been involved in bringing international celebrities to Kenya to showcase products, including business tourism.

In Ghana, former Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts; the affable Dzifa Gomashie, has been lauded for pioneering initiatives that work for the betterment of the country’s domestic affairs, particularly with regard to the arts, even after her term in office had ended.

From the women in Mozambique who run the renowned fish market in Maputo with the greatest competence, transparency and management, to how women in Mukono Parish, southwestern Uganda, are navigating their local gender relations in order to work in and earn through tourism; to Irina Inantore, who heads Burundi’s Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Industry, Posts, & Tourism, designing and implementing government policy on trade, industry, tourism, and the development of strategies of promotion; and Mama Esther Mahlangu, a South African artist who has dedicated her life to developing, promoting and evolutionising traditional Ndebele wall painting – these examples offer perspective to anybody who doubts the capabilities, value and importance of women in shaping this continent, and serve as a reminder that we’re here to stay. 

As we honour these and many other women who live boldness, courage and tenacity in pursuit of change, I ask that we continue to cultivate spaces that encourage young women across the continent to consider careers in the tourism sector, thereby passing on the baton to those who are still to come. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 serves as a roadmap for Africa’s long-term development, and includes the need to place gender equality at the centre of the continent’s social and economic development – this is crucial for building and sustaining major industries; tourism included, which contribute to the overall advancement of our continent.

Further, it’s come as no surprise to me that the running thread in the stories of all these women has been the presence and camaraderie of other women – further proving that a united front will take us places.

I wish you every success in your respective journeys and contributions – the world awaits your greatness.

Halala basadi, halala!