Gender differences in travel behaviour
Travel, for me, denotes exploring true faces of life. Travel for me, refers the priceless practical ways of gaining objective experiences. Travel for me, indicates the exploration and to analyse the narratives and myths about life. Being born as a female child in a Hindu society, it is not simple to have free mobility. Usually a girl’s mobility in our society is limited to immediate spaces such as home, fields (if she belongs to a farmer’s family) and local social and religious institutions such as school (if she is fortunate enough to get enrolled), Temple, Guthi and the like. At many remote places of Nepal, women seldom step out of their villages. Even at urban places, by and large a girl’s mobility is restricted between the place of birth (the maternal home) and the place where she gets married (husband’s home). Generally, parents are always anxious for a match which is not very far from their residence. And usually whenever a woman travels she must be accompanied by a male companion. This is not a hard and fast rule nevertheless, a clause established due to her gender. A woman reconsiders her scholarship abroad, her job opportunities and contemplates every milestone towards her exposure to the world before she accepts it.
Though brought up in a metropolitan city, the status of my mobility as a school and college girl was no different than the girls in the villages. My world was limited to my home and educational institution. After graduating from college, I left home on my consistent perseverance for further education. Persistence won my further education in another big metropolis. However, this time the situation was different. I was alone in a new world and a new place. I realised, how hard it is for a girl to have sudden entrance to the practical world without any social skills. However, I believe if she is a good student, as usually girls are, in no time she masters the art of living in and around the unknown world. It takes no time for her to get befriended with the outside world. Women are without doubt adjustable, after all ironically, due to cultural norms; it is women who ultimately are oblige to adopt the flexibility to get adjusted due to the practise of virilocality.
I am one and half year younger to my brother. We almost shared similar growing environment except that the importance of being a son was always there for him. Though better in studies, my brother excelled every other art. He was mobile. He was social. He was free with no particular restriction of going out or spending his days wherever he wanted. Therefore, usually it is found that boys know everything even without any formal training, whereas girls know nothing. Rather than envy I consider him as a genius and capable of break-free, which we girls were/are not entitled to.
With my family, even in India’s one of the biggest metropolis (Kolkata) my space of exposure was limited, however, without them in Kathmandu I gradually learnt to know myself. I was a kind of reserved and had only handful of friends during my school and college days. University days were different. Though still limited in terms of friends, I was more socialising comparatively. I was obliged to get social in order to survive. I was not as smart as my friends in social terms but I owe my chance of mobility to Kathmandu for whatever personal development I could make during my university days. Still, my world was limited, Hostel, university, local market, sometimes to the main market and the occasional travel between Kathmandu and my home town- Butwal. Theoretically, very often it is women themselves who out of essentialism are extensively devoted to the rigid norms and culture of the society. A few days back while my observation visit to Jitpur VDC (North-West of the valley), a woman commented, ‘faulty is a woman who acts always as a sheep’. Men never face such societal restraint; however, a woman needs to take care of family values and reputation even if she is far away from her home. Not many women are fortunate enough to enjoy freedom of mobility. In this context, I consider myself privileged to gain the relative flexible mobility. However, the stigma constructed by the social and cultural concept of gender applies to me, not distinct from others.
Last summer I trekked to Gosaikunda. I needed a break from my work. However, without a company that was impossible. More than capability it is about restive concern about physical safety. Above and beyond, this is a typically found anxiety in both female and male in Nepal. Though planned several times, each plan was a failure because of the miss-match of available off-days of anticipated- interested cronies for the planned trek. Undeniably, apart from gender, other factors equally influence mobility, nevertheless, when wish is willed, finish-line is not far away. Finally, I found two possible co-travellers. However, there was no female. I was in dilemma, not because I would be travelling with guys, but because I’d fear if I would somehow be spoiling guys’ fun- time. In a woman’s presence they would have presumably restrict themselves from manly amusing activities; which they’d declared and I was aware of. Well! I decided to grab the opportunity. At first my co-travellers put the clause that I may join them if I can arrange some female company for myself but since I failed to find a female company, I wished them good journey. Later, I assume they might have felt pity on me and eventually, they agreed to form a group of three: a female and two males.
Trekking as a recreation for the Nepalese nationals has not been started long ago. According to Nepal Tourism Board, domestic tourism has risen in recent years. Along with non-nationals, the number of natives visiting different touristic places of Nepal is on increase. The contribution is mostly from the youth, both from inland and outland. Well, I would call it a kind of positive impact of ‘globalisation’, with changing Nepalese life-style; there we stand with ‘changing consumption behaviour and leisure activities’. We have already crossed half-way of tourism year 2011. I’ve read about a few women trekkers guide who despite the strong prevailing conditioning in a very patriarchal mountain culture, have bucked the social order bravely to claim a stake for themselves in a lucrative, yet male dominated adventure tourism industry, nevertheless, I wonder about the count of native women trekkers among domestic trekkers. Nepalese woman are yet far from leisure activities such as trekking. I don’t believe if someone points the answer towards woman’s physical ability or woman’s less attraction towards exploring nature’s beauty. Examples are the women guide trekkers, porters, women pilgrims, and the western plus Asian women trekkers; presumably the answer again lies somewhere in theories of gender and also to some extent in the fact that development is always a second hand concept for females; they receive it late.
There were no native female trekkers in the bus (neither found any during whole journey). There were a few foreign tourists who were travelling alone. Two of them were young females. A 24 years old Malaysian girl was travelling Nepal for the first time, she expressed that since she found Nepalese as helpful, she carry no fear about the possible occurrence of bad incidences. It amazed me. Also, there was an Israeli girl of around similar age. She’d finished her bachelors and army training which she informed is compulsory for every Israeli. I wondered! Would army training had been compulsory for Nepalese woman too; would it have brought the changes in the number of woman trekkers? Erm! Even though we belong to this place, Nepalese girls never ever dream of travelling alone. Well, in our society no matter how educated or empowered a woman is, she is always considered vulnerable to physical assault. This is the reason why a majority feels secure in men’s company. In contrast, all other foreign women whom I met during trek were travelling alone: Malaysian, Korean, German and Israeli. They mentioned that they formed the group only after they started their trek.
‘She is amazed to see the only girl in the group’ commented a woman pointing to her 4 years old girl child; in the hotel where we took evening shelter at Dhunche (Rasuwa). I smiled! I didn’t paid much attention to the words; later I was confused if those were words of praise or criticism; if it was the woman or her just 4 years old child who got surprised at a female travelling alone. I got perplexed whether to commiserate myself or should I be provoked to an indignant exasperation. Most likely it is astonishing to see women tourists visiting high hills of Nepal alone in the absence of any female company. No matter where, in cities or in villages, women are expected to maintain reticent self-effacing demeanour, and to her surprise I was the bolt from the blue.
A medical doctor friend of mine exclaimed at the idea of two days trip outside the valley without any company of men in this way’, it would not be safe to travel alone without boys; who knows anything could happen to us. Paradoxically, the initial idea of taking break from her monotonous work and to plan for a few days travel came from her however; her desire got stuck in between the risk of losing female chastity and the permission of her fiancé. The later impasse arouse when I proposed her the plan of paragliding in Pokhara before I started for trek and the former was after the trek. She was exhilarated when she saw the pictures of Gosaikunda trek and promptly expressed her desire to take a break from her work, alas! I found her caught in the rift of modern and conventional life-style. The doctor is highly educated and experienced adult, well exposed, and has travelled most part of the world. Alors! When I think of her, the statement of the woman at Dunche less surprises me. The comparison between two women blurs the contrast of educated vs. Uneducated, mobile vs. Immobile, and empowered vs. Not-empowered. Probably, travelling abroad is less risky then to travel within the country. Nothing is wrong with their thoughts, after all even today freedom doesn’t guarantee the safety to our chastity. The truth is: every woman is vulnerable no matter in which part of the world she lives.
Indeed there are visible differences in terms of leisure mobility when compared to western women counterparts. I was stupefied to see women experiencing lively exhilarations in Europe. Their passion to explore the world and the sturdiness, with which they achieve it, is undeniably praiseworthy. We were alike; it is not long that we have made improvements’, my Norwegian friend informed me while we went for a 3 days hike in south Norway. Considering the history of women’s development in Norway, I felt as if we are 50 years behind them in terms of liberating ourselves from gender stereotypes. In Norway, women hold majority of high positions. At the same time, it is inspiring to see women enjoying leisure activities (hiking, swimming, skiing, skating, travelling, aerobics, and gymnastics) on an equal strand as men.
Women are good saver; notwithstanding, it is always men who enjoy greater mobility. Hiking, trekking, and all other outdoor leisure activities are men’s arena. Exceptional are the cases of pilgrimage. With no offense, I declare we still live in men’s world, nonetheless, I accept the happening power and authority transition, although at slow pace. There are improvements. Women are working. Female participation in outdoor activities is rising. Women in the cities are more cautious about health and recreation recently. Aerobics, gym and swimming among urban women are becoming a part of daily activity.
A couple of years back, it would have been rare to see a woman jogging on the streets of Kathmandu. Back in Butwal, I remember, whenever I’d examined the gender of morning joggers, I always found myself as an only female on the streets. More than me, guys would get surprised to see the only girl jogging on the streets of Butwal. Streets without woman joggers are discouraging and discomforting as well. Receiving typical gaze and comments are usual. All I could do was to ignore as if I hadn’t heard and observed anything. Changes are there. Now if you start jogging early at 5am, you no longer find yourself alone with staring gaze from male co-joggers. You can find a combination of female joggers- young, mid-age and old. For a majority of the later two, jogging is a part of doctor’s medical prescription, and for the former the need arises out of appearance temptation. Whatever the reason, good news is women are out on the streets. Slowly, women’s love towards adventure, fitness and the wilderness is becoming apparent.
The only Nepali woman I found during my whole trek was a mother accompanied by her two sons who were travelling for pilgrimage to Gosaikunda. Paradoxically, a woman on pilgrimage is much accepted idea than a woman on trek. I wonder if the number of women trekkers would increase in a similar way as that of female joggers after a few years. I wonder if women wouldn’t have to face the suspicious gaze and if it would become possible for her to travel free of cultural disgrace that ‘I am a female and I shouldn’t travel with males or I should travel within female company’. I wonder if one day, women would be liberated off from intimidation of losing female chastity. I wonder if situations would be safe enough for women to be able to travel alone whenever and wherever they wish.
This piece certainly is not dedicated to point the paradigm of tourism culture in Nepal however; it indeed attempts to represent the understudied issue of gender differences in travel behaviour in our society. I travel because I love travelling not because Nepal is celebrating 2011 as a Tourism year. I want to celebrate each year of my life as Tourism year. I want to travel the world. I want to explore nature, people, place and culture. I try not to lose opportunity unless I face severe constraints (money, time, health). I wonder if I would have been enjoying similar freedom in mobility if I’d been married, or if I hadn’t received the opportune exposure to travel aboard. I wonder if my economic earning alone would have bought me flexible mobility free of social, cultural and gender dogmas. I wonder if I would had been similarly independent enough to decide my mobility if I wasn’t living far from my family. It is true there are several influencing factors, yet it is woman who ought to strive for break-free. Unless, she won’t put effort, she would be literally caged inside and around her man, family and society’s labyrinth. I ponder over the relative weight of social and cultural precincts against recently emerging economic prosperity among females; the happening transformation in power transition; and the degree of freedom in decision making enjoyed by females in this country. Until now, to generalise, cultural norms and stigmas weigh more than improvements in woman’s social and economic standings. There are long term challenges, and it won’t change until and unless women themselves try to defy them.
Hopefully, in coming years, women would be encouraged to venture out into the wilderness, the nature – the world. Hopefully, she would be able to make herself free from her own cage of restraint thoughts. To all the women out there, believe me, first it may feel that you won’t be able to finish it, however, when it is finished the feeling is different; the feeling of joy, pride, accomplishment and individuality.