The third shift? Gender and empowerment in a women’s ecotourism cooperative

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Department of Social Sciences


Ecotourism is lauded as a path toward sustainable development and women’s empowerment in rural areas around the world, but little is known about how gendered expectations shape its processes and outcomes. This paper employs an in‐depth qualitative case study of a female‐only ecotourism cooperative in rural Mexico to investigate how local gender dynamics influence women’s opportunities to benefit from ecotourism development. Findings show that women’s family and work commitments prevent their ability to devote the resources and energy necessary to make the cooperative successful. In this context, women are first expected to be wives and mothers, and to fulfill the substantial daily expectations associated with those roles. In addition, most women work outside the home. This leaves little time or energy for a “third shift” as ecotourism entrepreneurs running their own cooperative. Women put their own interests and goals on the back burner, because of the demands of the first two shifts. If ecotourism is to empower women, localized gender structures must be understood and addressed. Overlooking these challenges can mean that ecotourism projects, even those specifically aimed at empowering women, may only further burden women and reinforce gender models that perpetuate inequality.

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Rural Sociology