Social stigma limiting employment of local women in resort industry, report finds

A new study finds that Maldivian women are the least employed demographic in the resort industry, accounting for only three percent of the total eight percent of female workers at resorts in 2010. Local and foreign men constitute 92 percent of the industry.

Tourism directly accounts for 30 percent of the Maldives’ GDP, and for 70 percent indirectly.

The thesis, “Women in Tourism: Challenges of Including Women in the Maldivian Resort Sector” was prepared by Eva Alm and Susanna Johansson during their five-month stay in the Maldives in 2010.

According to their findings, “culture, religion, and women’s role in the family, the role of the family, safety, geographical spread, transportation, education and awareness” were the main factors preventing women from seeking resort employment.

Interviews show that resort life is perceived as ‘western’ and imposes the negative practices of consuming pork and alcohol, supporting nudity, and allowing extramarital sexual encounters on Muslim Maldivian women.

By contrast, Maldivian male resort employees are exempt from these risks.

“Working in a resort as a woman is perceived as bad, as going the wrong way, as not a good place for a woman to be,” said one source.

Women interviewed said social stigma prevented them from seeking resort employment. The combination of not being able to come home at night and working at a resort with a significantly higher ratio of men to women is considered intimidating, sources said.

One father said, “If my daughter would not have the possibility of going home every night, I would not let her work in the resort, it is not safe […] if a woman will not come home at night after work, and she would maybe have a relationship with a man in the resort, which could result in a pregnancy […] this would have very bad impact on the family and would not be tolerated.”

Maldivians who engage in extramarital intercourse risk social ostracism, and women sometimes face punishment for pregnancy outside marriage. The country has among the highest divorce rates in the world.

Parents are said to play a significant role in a woman’s professional future. “In Maldives, in our religion, we are not allowed to drink or be with just any guys and things like that. So our parents are scared about that,” said one young woman.

One resort manager said awareness is a major challenge to promoting female employment. “Convincing the parents is difficult. They are very possessive of the girls. The parent’s perception is that they will mix with the European culture and do bad things such as drinking alcohol.”

A government representative added that “there needs to be a focus on educating mothers and fathers of the women who are willing to join the industry and demonstrate that it is perfectly in order for their daughters to work in the resort sector.”

Female unemployment in the Maldives is estimated at 24 percent, while male unemployment is only eight percent. Reports indicate that the industrialization of fishing, an enterprise previously shared between women and men, and the beginning of tourism eliminated the need for two incomes per household.

According to the report, Maldivian culture does not encourage women to take on entrepreneurial or leadership roles in business. Women are found to be raised to follow men, and a lack of domestic care services prevent women from leaving their posts as mothers and wives.

Women interviewed said that in order to employ more women resorts should “become more Muslim.” Most said they would not work where they could not wear the burqa, although when told that several resorts allow the burqa they maintained their position.

Women were also unaware that many resorts provide mosques for their Muslim employees.

Separating resorts from local island culture was an early tourism strategy, claims the report. Tourism officials at the time were said to believe the policy would protect local culture.

The separation is now considered a factor in island underdevelopment. “The problem we have is that we have first class resorts in the Maldives, next to them are the third world local communities, the villages,” said a government representative quoted in the study. “We have to get these engaged as the people from the island communities can get direct benefit from the resort industry through participatory involvement and inclusive growth.”

Some resort companies, such as Hilton and Soneva, try to compensate for this gap by outsourcing tasks to local islands.

Hilton resort began the “Green Ladies” program, bringing in groups of women from neighboring islands to sweep the resort during the day. Soneva supported the Veymandhoo women’s production of chili sauce in 2008.

Soneva’s Social and Environmental Manager said localizing resort development made Muslim women more comfortable in new professional opportunities. “It has got all the elements necessary for a solid livelihood project. You got women involved, it’s got livelihoods, it’s got commercial value to it, and it’s got localization aspect to it”.

Yet island production capacity does not meet resort demand. “’The communities have to be very much upscale to be able to manage small businesses, because resorts are big business and they wont rely on people who can‟t provide for their demands’”, said one source.

“Women in Tourism: Challenges of Including Women in the Maldivian Resort Sector” was presented at Sweden’s Lund University in May, and is due for publication this month.

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25 thoughts on “Social stigma limiting employment of local women in resort industry, report finds”

  1. Sweden has some of the most liberated women in the world. I live in Finland and Sweden is our neighbour to the West. Maldivian women are in a totally different situation from Swedish and Finnish women. Maldivian tourist resorts should not have been established in the first place; at least not in the form the tourist industry has been upto now. Tourism has brought several unhealthy effects on Madivian society; and introducing Maldivian women in tourist resorts without the necessary safeguards will finally kill the Madivian nation as we know it today.

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  2. anekka aney hatharu kantha jehunee...

    if all the girls go to work in resorts, then who will take care of boys? ha?

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  3. Michael,

    The Maldivian nation you knew is dead. Although hypothetically if it weren't, how does just female employment in tourism "kill" the nation?

    The book "Half the Sky", written by Pulitzer winning authors Nicolas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn should be compulsory reading for all, especially men involved in policy level decisions.

    Women in the form of mothers mould all future citizens, men and women alike. What happens to the future of a society depends on the status of women within the society today.

    Emancipate women all all walks of life today and everyone would be better off tomorrow.

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  4. I have been to Qatar and Dubai, one of the two newly developed places in middleast with a boomed tourism industry. I didn't see any arab girl or wife of arabs working in their hotels, bars or restaurants. Do these researchers know this? Their staff were from phillipines, india, sri lanka etc. Its our society, the culture and our religion. We don't want our women to serve beers or clean your rooms when you are on holiday in our resorts. Our women has many good jobs which they can to in the city or in the local islands. So don't try to make news out of nothing. Its alright for our girls not to work in the resorts. Anyways, what matters to you is a good service when you come for holiday in maldives, the nationaly of the person who gives you that service shouldn't bother you at all. If there are no maldivian girls, there would be a girl from another country serving you. So please stay out of this topic, respect our culture if you want to be respected too when you visit here.

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  5. It's not just women who refuse to work in resorts.
    Men too do not particularly favour resort work. So this is not a gender issue.

    Simply put resorts operate as a rich parallel world within a very poor country called Maldives. Resorts were not built based on an economic policy framework taking in the social factors. Compared to tourist economies like Thailand, very little benefit goes to ordinary maldivians.

    There is no use of seeking a gender argument or Islamic argument when low local employment (both men and women) is due to poor policy design. Remember that tourism was left up to resort owners to do what they please

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  6. Working in these Satanic islands filled with lewdness and debauchery, by a gender that should be content to stay home and breed faithful, healthy male infants for our nation, is an abominable sin, and those tempted by it must be garroted on the spot!

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  7. It is abhorrent that local women are denied the opportunity to work in bars, restaurants, recreational activities and management. Remove the cause of the stigma and many would volunteer. The resorts must be opened to local patrons too because there are many local women and men who would gladly pay to spend their holidays in these facilities, frolicking on the beaches, having a quiet beer and a juicy bacon and egg breakfast.

    It is not Maldivian culture that some of these people are talking about. It is the culture of their ideological masters.

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  8. women also have freedom of working in the resort or any place she likes...parents also have thye right to state their opinions... then why are we struggling....?? why do we demand all to sell beer and work in the resort?

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  9. @Michael. What 'safeguards' are you talking about? And when you say 'Tourism has brought several unhealthy effects on Madivian society' you should understand without Tourism you would not be living in comfortable and civilized Finland and you would still be fishing on your island and sitting in your holuashi all day!

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  10. A more comprehensive research on this area has already been conducted and published by Dr. Aisthath Shakeela. Some of her work in this area include the following publications:

    Shakeela, A., Ruhanen, L. and Breakey, N. (2010). ‘Women’s Participation in Tourism: A case from the Maldives’. In Scott, N. & Jafari, J. (Eds.), Tourism in the Muslim World (pp.61-71). Emerald Group Publishing Limited, UK.

    Shakeela, A., "Tourism Education and Local Employment as Factors Contributing to the Sustainable Development of Tourism in SIDS: The Case of the Maldives", PhD thesis, 2009.

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  11. A thesis topic already covered by Aishath Shakeela in 2010 at the University of Queensland. Numerous publication on the topic including:

    Shakeela, A., & Cooper, C. (2009). Human Resource Issues in a Small Island Setting: The Case of the Maldivian Tourism Industry. Tourism Recreation Research, 34(1), 67-78.

    Shakeela, A., Ruhanen, L., & Breakey, N. (2010). Women's Participation in Tourism: A Case from the Maldives. In D. Scott & A. Jafari, J. (Eds.), Tourism in the Muslim World (Vol. 2, pp. 61-71). UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

    Shakeela, A., Ruhanen, L., & Breakey, N. (2011). The Local Gaze: Social Inhibitors to Engagement in the Maldivian Tourism Industry. Paper presented at the Council of Australian University Hospitality and Tourism Education, Adelaide, Australia.

    Shakeela, A., Ruhanen, L., & Breakey, N. (2011). The Role of Employment in the Sustainable Development Paradigm – The Local Tourism Labor Market in Small Island Developing States. Journal of Human Resources in Hospitality & Tourism, 10(3), 331-353.

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  12. What a load of shite! women should work where they want to , how they want to , when they want to and if they want to! It's a woman prerogative! Inequality between genders is the real crime here!
    Islamic rules really poops on all things fun, exciting, independent and happy and its clearly made by some insecure man many trizillion moons ago. FACT!

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  13. @Ziyan

    Your argument doesn't hold water for even a second. Comparing oil-rich countries with a country that has zero natural resources does not work, it's the old oranges vs apples dilemma. "We don't want our women to" is exactly the problem. Nobody forces anyone to work in a resort, but people should be given the chance for a better life if they chose so, it's not your prerogative to make collateral decisions for a whole nation, though you seem to be arrogant enough to think so. You are trying to be smart by addressing your comment to the writers as if they were tourists, but this is not a matter of service quality, it's a matter of bringing the country forward. Is it that which you are scared of? "Respect our culture if you want to be respected too" - what a lovely catch phrase, but which culture is that? One that denies another human being the chance for betterment? Respect has to be earned, and with that attitude you unfortunately don't qualify.

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  14. There is a broader problem behind lack of women employment in the tourism sector

    how many Maldivian parents or newly formed families wish their children to become a qualified GM or a Master Chef at a Resort? The kind of percentages we are talking about in here will not be too far from what this article has discovered about women employment.

    Our country's only matured and thriving industry is tourism, it is one of the world's most sought after tourist destination with multi-national hotel brands invested in it. but the employment in that industry is distorted with foreigners occupying higher paid positions, local workers with few prospects of progressing to the top of the ladder and women's employment as seen in this write up - abysmal!

    So what does that say about the employment figures of this country? We all hear America making a fuss whenever their employment figures drop even a point percent? I think Maldivians are just a bit lost on this subject.

    do we still want to send our kids out to study some random marketing or IT course in Malaysia and have them return back to a country that has no place for the education parents invested so much? seriously IT???? Interior design???? in Maldives????

    Why not a hotel school education where they learn to cook, make beds and wash sheets? I'm sure that kid will make far more money than the IT kid who will at best struggle to find a job in first place.

    we need a paradigm shift, a major one, from the top to the grade 1 kid in school -

    and its already too late with religuous extremism taking a stronger foot last few years enforcing the buruga on all our girls using a fear campaign. Take it lightly, but the infamous Ali Rameez scare CD has really had a stark impact on the way pictures taken in 2010 and 1990. Majority of young girls now wear buruga as opposed to the 90s!

    We are regressing into a situation day by day and getting detached from the reality of industry and the only way to earn a decent living in the Maldives, and yet complaining about poor salaries, lack of opportunities and criticizing the government.

    Wake up Maldivians!

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  15. The younger generation of girls are willing in some cases even desire to work in resorts. They are held back by their parents and society at large that go about saying resorts are no place for girls.

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  16. Faibo, at least bother to ask Michael Fahmy when he went to Europe before telling him "without Tourism you would not be living in comfortable and civilized Finland and you would still be fishing on your island and sitting in your holuashi all day!" It may also be worth asking him what he did before he went to Europe because he may not have been fishing or sitting on a holuashi ever in his life.

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  17. It seems that Eva Alm and Susanna Johansson have spent time in Maldives to find out facts on Maldivian women on social standing in society as regards to sex, work, marriage and family life in general.
    Maldives have been a Muslim country for centuries but the women’s have freedom of choosing their spouse and extramarital sexual encounters were an excepted norm as long as the woman did not get pregnant. If a foreigner talks about Maldivian ways of life usually they mislead giving falls information and pretend to be good Muslim but in reality it is other way around.

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  18. Thank you Eva and Susanna for bringing up this particulary subject so we can discuss it. If you want a change every voice is important.

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  19. @adhaalath boy.... when girls go to the resorts to work, the boys can take care of themselves. I dont understand why there is this misogyny in islam... when u think bout it, women gave birth to men, they fed the boy children, they brought them up...
    and yet as a grown man you still cant take care of yourself? shame on u.

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  20. As a horse is safe in its stable, a woman must be kept safe at home, away from the lascivious eyes of unrelated males. Female employment is an abominable sin, when there are menfolk better suited to the task, and to looking after them, within the boundaries of fatherhood and marriage.

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  21. why your people talking on this topic. funny. Our Muslim women is not that much cheap to clean your bedroom, toilet, to serve pork,alcohol and to dance at your night clubs. i am a resort worker. I can see some neighbor country women doing in the resort or other jobs. They do their jobs but they don't have future. No body keep their diamonds in the walking streets. If women working in the resort who care our children. we don't want any nanny to kill our children future. Your poor cheap Europeans ladies get lost.

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  22. hi researchers do you know in Maldives civil servants more then 50% are young women. they stay in there island With their family.:) Why women have to go resorts to wash Tourist pant's and do belly dance.:(

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  23. Considering the fact that young Maldivian women are being brought up in a culture that encourages promiscuity and drugs/alcohol, the very notion of "social stigma" is ridiculous and does not apply to the next generation of women.

    I reckon it is safe to predict, an increase in the number of women employed in the tourism sector in the forseable future and with it the demise of our own identity.

    (Un-related note)

    Democracy is a just a tool for elites to rule over the majority and indoctrinate their ideology within our once peaceful nation.

    Freedom? hah!

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