Kochi: Despite the undeniable fact that tourism industry provides opportunities to women in terms of employment and income generation in the state, it is a reality that the industry is not women-friendly. Studies have shown that exploitation of women is rampant in the tourism sector, from the unorganized street vendors to the much organised sex tourism.
Recently a Bangalore based NGO, Equations submitted a memorandum to the Union minister of Tourism and minister of Women and Child development, National women's commission and National Mission for Empowerment of Women seeking urgent measures to address issues of women in tourism, with special focus to Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Citing media reports, Equations pointed out that Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are the two states where sex tourism flourishes.
It has been pointed out that the issues of women street vendors and artisans in tourism destinations have been neglected and the letter requests effective coordination between various ministries concerned to prevent blatant and inhuman exploitation of women in the sector.
“Several women are compelled to work for sex due to their dire living conditions. Living and working conditions of women at tourism destinations needs immediate attention. Women’s groups have failed to address the issue. Feminist groups should seriously take up various kinds of women's exploitation under the cover of tourism industry,” said Jyothi Narayanan of Sthreevedi.
According to experts, gross violation of human rights occurs due to sex tourism and trafficking of women is the dark side of the booming tourism industry.
“Instances of using minor girls in sex tourism involving foreigners have been on the rise over the last few years. Though many of the adolescent girls willingly engage in it, it is a kind of trafficking. Sex tourism has become an organised racket with a proper supply chain,” said Dr. Sarada Rajeevan, clinical psychologist and former professor, School of Management Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology, who has been researching and writing books on child and women trafficking.
Neither the government nor the tourism sector are taking decisive measures to protect women and girls from harm and abuse citing reasons such as not having complaints, statistics and proper evidence.
"Absence of statistics can't be cited as a reason for absence of sex tourism in state. It's a veiled business where group of young girls are being exploited and in most cases their boyfriends serve as the agents. Being a clinical psychologist, I've come across many cases in which girls from dysfunctional families are exploited and become part of the sex tourism industry. Some girls, highly educated and from affluent families, are also lured into the trade, for whom it is just fun and pocket money," added Dr. Sarada Rajeevan.
Healthy parenting, effective counselling and proper rehabilitation of victims with the support a strong policing system, psychologists and an efficient juvenile justice system is what experts propose to address the issue.
Meanwhile, Tourism department officials admit that despite innovative initiatives like responsible tourism which focuses on financial independence of women and empowerment them through promotion of self-help groups, the issue of exploitation of women and girls still remains unaddressed.
“Though responsible tourism initiatives are focusing on livelihood and income generation for local women, the issue of exploitation or abuse of women is yet to be addressed. We will consider creating gender sensitization as a major element of responsible tourism. Responsible tourism can make society vigilant about abuse of children and women in tourism destinations,” said Saroop Roy, state project coordinator, Better Together, Kerala’s Responsible Tourism Initiative at Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies....