Transformed gender relations in community-based tourism development: performing gender in homestay tourism

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Tanya Promburom

Abstract

This paper addresses how community-based tourism (CBT) in an ethnic Lahu community located in northern Thailand has transformed the village women’s gender performance. This pertains to how they leverage socio-political influence with economic gain acquired from CBT activities. Place-making, and how CBT homestay development has shaped these women’s struggles to negotiate traditional gender roles, in the domestic and public spheres, as well as in virtual (social media) and offline (household) realms, is addressed. With homestay tourism, place-making overlaps the public and domestic spheres. In the past, the women of this study endured mobility limitations that many men did not. Capitalism can open new social-ecological space. Tourism in this village has expanded. Resulting economic activity has transformed gender relations, particularly as women are playing primary roles in tourism management. They now have empowering connections with outsiders, and more socio-economic status. They are resultantly negotiating traditional gender roles, especially during high tourism season. CBT-derived earnings, however, now comprise a large share of their family’s income. Women, therefore, still cannot realize significant and autonomous family decision-making power. Moreover, women (as mothers, wives, farmers, and CBT entrepreneurs) perform multiple gender identities. They juggle a quadruple-burden struggle. As caretakers, this hospitality service has therefore reproduced culturally traditional gender roles. Another aspect of this phenomenon is that non-income-generating work (e.g., as a housewife and mother) has predominantly been deemed non-value work. CBT, however, has transformed domestic activities into value-work that is accepted by men and by overall society. Homestay tourism, by shifting non-market labor to market labor, hence blurs the line between the domestic and public spheres in terms of the social reproduction of gender roles. Concerning gender performance, these women, in some ways, are experiencing bolstered agency in online and offline places and spaces. This is positively altering how society at-large perceive them.

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