Female tourists unsafe destinations: Is travelling as a solo woman dangerous?

I don't travel solo so often these days, but there was a time when I was often on the road alone.

As a young woman travelling through countries I'd never visited before, trying to get by in languages I didn't know, knowing no one, I'm horrified now at how blithe I was about the chances of coming to any harm.

My advice is to stay well clear of countries where politicians and police notoriously blame the victim.

There was the time a guard at the Uffizi lured me to the prints room intending to lock me in so that he could return at night and have his way with me.

Then there was the creepy castle near Tours in France, where the sleazy son of the family who owned it hovered by my door at night and materialised in the hallways in the dark whenever I got up to go to the loo.

Or the countless Italian strangers who thought my bottom existed solely for their entertainment.

I've never accepted this behaviour, but I learnt to deal with it. That doesn't mean to say I didn't find it intimidating. When there is more than one perpetrator, or it gets physical, it certainly is.

I would not be able to recount these travel stories if any had turned into full-blown assault. While it is a dark subject, I think it's one that needs to be discussed. Sexual assault on travellers is not limited to women, but women travelling alone or in pairs do need to consider safety when they plan their trips.

It shouldn't be so but, sadly, the undertow of violence and abuse of women is worldwide, endemic in many cultures.

Even in enlightened Australia, our record of domestic violence is shameful. Australia is only ranked 24 on the World Economic Forum's 2014 list of best places in the world to be a woman, behind Rwanda, Nicaragua and the Philippines.

As a tourist destination, we're so well known for violence towards travellers, backpackers in particular, that they make movies about it. 

Predators are everywhere, unfortunately, but for women travellers, some countries offer too much risk, in my opinion.

Egypt, for instance, where sexual harassment and assault on unaccompanied women and girls on the street is systemic. Maybe you didn't see this on your bus tour to the pyramids, but if you're a traveller who likes to mingle with the locals, enjoy street culture, and you're a woman, this is very concerning.

Two years ago, during a gathering in Tahrir Square to celebrate the second anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, at least eighteen cases of mob sexual assault were reported, including a journalist who was stripped and assaulted for 45 minutes. The injuries were so bad, six women were hospitalised and one had to undergo a hysterectomy.

Tourists were caught up in it, as they can be in any flash mob situation. In most instances, tourists are not the target of the violence and escape relatively unharmed. But in Egypt, from what I've read, any mob situation, or even any situation where women are merely walking down the street, is carte blanche for Egyptian men to fondle whatever woman is unluckily on the spot.

A police general, when interviewed about this, said that 'a girl contributes 100 percent' to sexual assault.

According to the World Economic Forum, the worst places in the world to be a woman are Afghanistan, where female literacy is 17 per cent, Mali, where 91 per cent of women have experienced female genital mutilation, Syria and Iraq, Nepal, where unmarried women or orphans are regularly sold to human traffickers, Yemen, where women cannot leave the house without their husband's permission, Ivory Coast, Sudan, where women are flogged for wearing trousers, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and Chad.

Nepal aside, these are not exactly tourist hot spots, but other countries considered dangerous for women travellers include India, Brazil, Turkey, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Kenya.

In Japan, there seems to be some acknowledgement of the fondling problem in trains. Certain peak hour services offer women-only carriages.

The five-star Leela Palace and The Imperial in Delhi have rooms set aside for women travellers with extra security. It's not a bad idea, and when visiting challenging countries solo it's worth considering this kind of accommodation.

My advice is to stay well clear of countries where politicians and police notoriously blame the victim. Travelling hopefully is a good approach but a bit of clear-eyed anticipation doesn't hurt.

See also: Why every woman should try travelling solo, at least once

See also: How to travel solo safely

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