Stay Safe But Don’t Stay Home
By Zahara Heckscher
Zaraha Heckscher(left) with a Musonda friend in Zambia from Safety Issues for Women Traveling Solo: Stay Safe But Don’t Stay Home.
Women are frequently warned about independent international travel. Unfortunately, it is true that women are much more likely than men to be the victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In virtually every country I have visited I heard from female travelers and volunteers who had been subjected to "frequent come-ons, unwanted touching, or inappropriate comments," in the words of one Peace Corps volunteer. Harassment and assault range from verbal harassment, to crude propositions, to groping (especially by men in buses or trains), to, in rare cases, rape. Sexual harassment is particularly common in the developing world, but women are also targeted in Western Europe. In addition, female travelers face the other dangers that challenge all trekkers: illness, accidents, and, rarely, political violence. After traveling in numerous countries on five continents, I would hate to suggest that women should stay home. But I do urge female travelers to think carefully about safety issues before leaving home and to take prudent steps to increase safety on the road. Sensitivity vs. Safety One of the challenges for women volunteers overseas is that we may focus too intensely on being culturally sensitive and allow our personal safety to become a secondary issue. An American traveler in East Africa allowed a local acquaintance into her hotel room because she did not want to appear racist and
was shocked when he made sexual advances. A volunteer let her host father put his arm around her when they walked around the village, which he interpreted as a green light to initiate a sexual relationship. Follow your intuition about a situation—it’s better to risk offending someone than to risk being assaulted. You should know that in many places if a...