Dear Unseen Friends (hope to meet somehow somewhere sometime),
If you are in touch with this book and reading the letters, it means that you are already in the amazing academic world to explore, expand and/or express your virtues. I would like to congratulate all of you for being a part of this knowledge domain which gives us the incredible opportunity to learn every time and be a student of all time!
Although I am not sure how far my journey into the academia would facilitate your pathway, I must say the letters (with inspiring stories) in this book along with the remarkable contributions by many amazing women from different corners of this world have broadened my view towards life (both personal and professional) and given me new enthusiasm and solutions to some of my questions (unasked but always curious to get the answers). Henceforth, I am writing this letter to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those amazing women and also to say hello to the new tourism academics with my sweet and sour journey into the academic world so far.
This is Easnin speaking, a woman from a small but beautiful country – Bangladesh – where almost half of the population is female. However, the misery of the fate is that females here still need to struggle a lot if they want to build a professional career (although there are recent efforts from the government for women empowerment, the problem lies within the mindset of the society). I am one such example and following is the story of my tenacity to do something different (other than the ‘so-called feminine role’).
I was born in 1988 in a patriarchal society where females were allowed to get an education but were not expected to work outside of their home domain. They also got married early in life even leaving their education incomplete. My mother was one such example. She was a very talented lady but could not build any professional career because of family responsibilities and social boundaries. Her sacrifice became my inspiration to challenge the limits for female boundaries. In doing so, I never disregard the duties of females toward the family (‘so-called duties’ I must say as I do believe those duties are applicable for males as well), rather my objection lies upon their role ‘only within the home boundaries’. Henceforth, I have grown up with the belief and strong desire that being a female my duties should not be confined within the family; rather, those should be broadened towards mankind and the world.
Regardless of being members of a patriarchal society, my parents had a very progressive mentality which added wings to my thoughts, encouraging me every time to look beyond the horizon (feminine role). Their open-mindedness enabled me to have a colorful and amazing childhood. Despite ‘so much’ social pressure, they always tried to pay attention to my desire to blur the boundaries between ‘man and woman’ considering both as ‘human’. As well as playing doll house, I used to wear masculine attires, play cricket with my elder brother, ride a bicycle and so on which always put me and my parents in a questionable situation (e.g. How could my parents allow me such freedom? And, how could I do all those ‘so-called masculine things’ with my female identity?).
When I was about to pursue my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at a university a long way away from my hometown, my feminine identity simultaneously appeared as a major problem for many (e.g. senior family members and family friends) which put me and my parents under great pressure. I had also decided to study ‘Marketing’ (tourism was not well-introduced as a subject to study then) which was not a very well-accepted subject to be studied by females in our context at that time. Although it was a tough decision for my parents (considering our social context), they did not restrict me, seeing my cravings and courage to do something different as overshadowing the stigma relating to femininity (e.g. moving out for higher education from parental house without being married). Irrespective of the criticism from elsewhere, my parents’ continuous support and belief in me gave me the energy and courage to move forward to prove that ‘being female is not a curse rather we can do anything like a man if we strive for it’. It is important to mention that I am the first female of my family who has successfully completed university education and also earned a PhD.
Although my interest in tourism research is primarily connected to my personal interest in traveling to know the people, their culture, lifestyle, and also the destination itself, it was solidified by the trajectory of my university education when I became a part of a tourism research project as a research assistant. Later, my career in the academic arena facilitated my further research interest in tourism and encouraged me to seek my PhD in this domain from the University of Otago, New Zealand. As already mentioned above, tourism in our context is still in its infancy as a subject to study and/or research; my research interest in tourism hence is connected to my personal stand for doing something different and/or doing something which is perceived necessary to do considering the greater interest (e.g. recently our government is paying attention for the development of this sector). Also, in my doctoral research I reflected on the non-human agency in tourism, prioritising the relational perspective which further (re)addresses my such interest moving beyond the predominance of anthropocentricism and impact perspective.
My journey as a female tourism researcher is not an easy but rather a quite challenging one. Facilitated by my educational background in marketing, and personal values and interests, I am currently researching different areas in tourism (e.g. tourism product development, tourists’ travel motivation, non-human agency in tourism micro businesses, cultural and handicrafts tourism development, and social capital and empowerment in rural tourism), prioritising qualitative critical interpretative worldview which demands my direct participation and/or presence in the researched context. While my personal interest and values (e.g. travelling, socializing, collecting local products, and learning different culture) facilitate my engagement with the people and the places visited, my female identity always appears to be problematic. In our context it is unusual for females to travel alone which was/is a critical problem for me as a woman tourism researcher. Moreover, I have to face lots of unpleasant questions (which I am sure a man never faces) not only from research participants but also from collaborators, local contacts and more or less everyone being met. For example, Am I married? Am I permitted to do this job? With whom am I travelling? Where is my husband? How many kids do I have? Why have not I planned for kids yet? However, my optimism and persistence to stick with my determination have kept my journey into tourism research alive. Although having my husband as a travel companion and sometime as a co-researcher overshadows some of the complexities, I still feel agony (deep down inside my heart) thinking of my struggle to make them accept my sole presence in the research contexts because of my female identity.
Though my husband and I have our own (happy)understanding with which we can better balance our personal and professional engagement, my presence as an enthusiastic player within the professional world is not always well-appreciated by my in-laws and relatives. Such pressured situations have provided me with the understanding that being female not only enables us with a specific gender identity but also expands our identity as a fighter/warrior if we want to stand tall besides men in every sphere (as we need to raise our voice to be in a professional career which a man never has to).
Regardless of all the troubles I face due to my female identity, I must say I do love this identity as it provides me the opportunity to raise my voice against the discrimination which in turn empowers me every time. Simultaneously, all my steps and/or achievements so far (although it is still very little), give me immense satisfaction as I do perceive those as the motivation for the next generation (e.g. some of my nieces and relatives are now in boarding schools, some want to do PhD in tourism, some want to be academics). Below are some suggestions from my side (by-product of my ten years of little academic life – long way to go yet!) to early career women researchers which may possibly be of some value to you somehow.
Speak, even if it does not bring any immediate result: Never remain quiet if you see/find something is not right. If you are tolerating something wrong (whether to self/others), you are giving a scope for injustice. Always raise your voice for yourself and others. Although your voice might not bring any change, at least you will have satisfaction for having had the courage to stand for what is right and/or to stand against the odds.
Be a concrete and honest person: I have seen many people declaring themselves as a person of strong voice against the odds, however become a different one at the time of such voice. Please never do that. Keep your voice always ‘intact and loud’ (although it seems hard to do so) to be a concrete person of all time. Also, try to be honest in every aspect of your life (both personal and professional). Such honesty would in turn bless you with the virtue of fearlessness and strong voice which are really required to live a respectful life.
Believe yourself: Even though you find something difficult to do, never consider quitting without giving it a proper try (at least). In my little life span whatever I have done/achieved so far, I have not found a single thing easy. Nonetheless, at no point did I stop trying. Living with such difficulties along with my tenacity to achieve my goals provided me with the lesson that ‘everything is possible only if you believe’. So, my advice to you is to have the courage to believe yourself and to relentlessly chase your dreams.
Respect people, place and entities: Please be respectful to the people and the surrounding environment. I mean respect all the people (regardless of their position or age) with whom we interact every day (e.g. colleagues, office assistants, cleaners, shopkeepers, drivers). Sometime only a greeting or a smile means a lot to someone. Moreover, be respectful regarding the use of resources as well. I always try to keep my office and living place clean. Also, if I see any unattended classroom, I turn off the electric connections to save energy. I do this with the belief that if I show respect to someone/something/some cause, I will get the same respect in return somehow someway at some time.
Take some days off: Within this competitive world it seems pretty hard to find any break, however we need to plan for it to have some quality time with family and friends who are a great value to us. We can work probably at the last day of our life, but maybe we would not have our dearest one (e.g. parents) with us till that time. While I had ignored days off earlier, recently I am trying to consider it (even sacrificing the good earning scope from professional courses run on weekends) to relax (with family and friends), to nurture my hobbies (e.g. gardening, practicing yoga, cycling), and last but not least to do research (as it seems very hard to find time for research during the week days due to lots of teaching and administrative duties all the year round). I have found such days off effective for my work outputs too. You can also check it with yours.
Never compare with others and choose goals that serve your soul: Do not compare yourself with anyone as it never brings any good, only unnecessary pressure and a restless mind. Everyone has their own time to reach their goals. So, have patience and do your work, and you will be there in your own time. Also, do not set goals seeing others. Try to have goals which feed your soul and make you happy. I have found researching tourism is such a space for me where I can utilise my knowledge of marketing and other disciplines as well, and vice versa that gives me immense satisfaction.
Never be a part of gossip: Although I love to pass time with family, friends and colleagues, I always try to safeguard myself from taking part in any gossip. In so doing, I find myself ‘alone’ most often. However, I enjoy this ‘me time’ to do my stuff (e.g. researching and trying to be a better version of me).
Although I have shared a lot of myself, my prime suggestions to you are to love your work, and have your own set of principles and nurture them, which will enable you to be a charismatic woman tourism researcher.
Lots of love and best wishes,
Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP), Bangladesh