Ladies produce their local handicrafts with geopark designs and offer them to visitors as a reminder of the value of the Earth. They will have effective communication links to tourists when they receive them in the local accommodation. Women who live in geosite villages will train other ladies in that area about protecting the Earth. Empowered ladies in geopark projects can push the local governors to realize and respect their social rights. Women are the main figures of concern since they offer good services and local lodging and facilities to geopark visitors. The visitors not only come for geosites but also to experience the local culture and the hospitality of the local community. Local residents and businesses have the capability to facilitate this exchange of information while building relationships with potential and returning travelers.
Activities of the Qeshm women’s community could gain more credit for the geopark and positively influence the project. Due to the eminent role of local communities, as the definition of geopark implies, the involvement of women community members, as one of the biggest sub-communities in the Qeshm population, can be used as a corrective indicator for plans and the direction of the project.
Men are busy during the day with their jobs related to tourism or otherwise, so they have less chance for communication with visitors. But women, as they serve tourists, have a relatively good chance of talking to them about the geopark, its philosophy and importance, and opportunities and challenges. In this manner, they help the project by training tourists.
Women’s influence has another advantage. For the villages with active women groups, there is more attention and investment from governmental organizations and the Qeshm Free Zone Organization. Women’s activities, by its positive social effect, bring honor to the village and the Qeshm Free Zone Organization. Active women are invited to tourism-related exhibitions, nationally and internationally, to show their capabilities. As this brings honor to the government; in recent years, it has invested more and more for building handicrafts selling stands, making docks, and amenities for tourists and enhancing environmental and public health issues.
Effects of the Geopark on Women
Geopark management requires a solid, efficient, flexible and as autonomous as possible a management structure that will be able to decide on the protection, promotion, economic development and progress of the geopark (Zouros N. & ValiakosI, 2010).The geopark can improve women’s knowledge and self-confidence. It provides job opportunities for them and the chance of traveling to other areas. Ladies who are active in the geopark will attend social events and will have fame. The geopark paves the way for women to take part in participatory projects and provides a good opportunity to meet tourists; where they can share their experiences with each other. During these processes, they realize the value of their cultural and natural heritage. Their motivation to improve their knowledge will increase. Tourism and tourism contribute to the creation of employment, economic growth, and poverty alleviation, while also enhancing the quality of life for women and their families. In fact, the above-mentioned facts on the bilateral effects of ladies and geoparks on each other will be greatly affected by social, cultural as well as geographical features of the area.
The geopark has had a lot of effects on the women of the region. Some of the experiences gained by them are of course the result of similar projects. Nevertheless, those projects and the geopark are to some extent in sequence to each other and form the empowering of women in the course of tourism flow to the island; therefore, they can be counted as complements to one another, and their results would be dependent on each other.
The most important effect that the geopark can have on the women of Qeshm, is to change the society’s attitude which restricts their social and financial role in the society. The project gradually leads the local society, and in particular, their husbands, to believe that women can handle more responsibilities and important roles in social activities. Such a new attitude has been established mainly during the previous projects done in the area. Nowadays, most of the husbands, who once objected to their wives’ involvement in social and economic endeavors, encourage them to continue their actions. In the past, women wouldn’t let the tourists and documentary filmmakers take their photos or film them, but today, they are even eager to take part in TV interviews and share their experiences with others and inspire them to increase their role in their society. They are now traveling to different cities to participate in the handicraft exhibitions; which in turn increases their level of experience. Moreover, the officials in the other villages try to encourage their people to take part in more entrepreneurial activities. This is one of the most important goals of the Geopark Project: to provide a proper platform for the sustainable development of tourism.
Women’s involvement in the ecotourism and geopark project has increased their self-confidence. Project participants have formed tight relationships with each other to reach their common targets. They also feel proud of having such capabilities and have earned the respect of people all around the country; and even around the globe. The project has also inspired women of the region – and is affecting more each day – to read more and pursue their education. Their life has been strongly affected by their new role in the family’s income. Traditionally, it was always the men who worked outside the house and provided the money, and women were only in charge of house chores and therefore had no financial contribution. Nobody took women’s involvement in economic activities seriously and selling their handicrafts was considered a hobby. Men’s income was mainly based on fishing, which is noticeably influenced by the modern industrial mass production methods, causing many of the fishermen to lose their jobs and in turn increasing the poverty rate in the region. As a result, even the small household businesses run by women and their income are considered really important and have helped women find their place in the society and family.
The involvement of women in financial aspects of their family has resulted in some of them considering investing their savings into ways to increase their income and experimenting with different methods to achieve their goals. This shows their faith in the future and their passion for life; which has encouraged them in expanding their entrepreneurial activities to nearby villages by asking for help, especially in tourism seasons, from women of the neighboring areas.
They teach their children how to shape their own future. Children’s communication with the tourists has also affected their public-relation abilities and communication skills positively to the point that the kids now provide some information to travelers about their village and its importance, what their mother and sisters do, and also the handicrafts available for sale, and even encourage the tourists to select the indigenous houses of their village for the duration of their stay. Moreover, the well-formed relation between the visitors and the children has resulted in more respect from the tourists for the kids and their family members (Ehsani, 2010).
To attract the tourists and keep them satisfied, the hosting families have to keep their house more sanitary and organized than before, which has led to a better quality of life for the whole village. At the same time, more attention is paid to keeping the public area of the village clean, although non-recyclable waste is still a major dilemma for the Qeshm Island;, especially in tourism season.
Because of the presence of Persian-speaking tourists, the fluency level of women in Persian is strongly improved. According to themselves, their only interaction with the Persian language was what they heard on the TV channels and had no chance of speaking and practicing the language. However, this has changed since tourists visit the island from different regions of the country, and they are even inspired to learn English in order to communicate with the tourists coming from other countries.
Although these changes are also partly due to the use of TV, satellite channels and to some extent internet, the direct interactions between the locals and the tourists provide a gradual and effective method of influencing their way of life, and the mutual interactions with the tourists allow both sides to exchange experiences and knowledge with each other; compared to the mass media with which only a one-way communication and influence is possible.
There is some useful advice to have better results in similar cases with the local community; especially women. For a local community to be empowered, what is required is change and interaction in new ways, teach and transfer of technology, facilitate and support each other, enabling those who are weak and marginalized to express and analyze their needs, to plan and to act. For this, it is we who have to behave differently; it is our attitudes that have to change (Chambers Robert,1996, page 8). Taking the following points are important: exhibit honesty and affinity, learn from each other, do not threaten, be friendly, stay as long as possible with them, do not lecture, be an active listener, respect innovations, be open, give them a hand, have an understanding of their limits and real-life conditions, have a close watch on their progress, pave the way for empowering them to be independent, and encourage survey and studies.
The rest of this article is published in the 1st volume of Gilgamesh international edition