How safe do women feel on a night out?

Young people in a bar in Lebanon

For many young people around the world, a night out often involves seeing friends, dancing and drinking - and it's not only on St Valentine's day that romance is on the agenda. But as these young women from five cities around the world explain, personal safety is rarely far from their minds.

Maisaa Bazlamit, 22, Ramallah journalist

Maisaa Bazlamit in Ramallah, West Bank

Thursday is the big night out for me in Ramallah. I like to go wherever there is good music and good company. I like drinking shots - fewer calories, instant effect.

I love to dance, so I never wear heels. I like to make a statement with what I am wearing. As Oscar Wilde put it, you can never be over-dressed or over-educated.

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It's almost impossible to walk in downtown Ramallah and not get hassled”

End Quote Maisaa Bazlamit

There's a thin line between sexy and slutty. Cross that line and you won't be taken seriously, but you will certainly get the attention. But then again, who gets to define the borders?

I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy the attention of men - but only from certain people. I don't mind getting attention from open-minded people, but they make up only 20% of Ramallah, if not less. However, getting it from the [others] is rather repulsive to me and upsets me a lot.

It's almost impossible to walk in downtown Ramallah and not get hassled. [Some] guys take it upon themselves to make walking in Ramallah for women like walking through hell. I've had so many bad experiences, I don't even know where to begin.

I do walk on my own at night, but not without constantly looking over my shoulder, and sometimes even pretending to be on the phone with my father whenever I see a group of guys walking near me.

Jacky Kemigisa, 20, Kampala student

Jacky Kemisiga (L) and her friends on a night out

I usually go out on Fridays or Saturdays, with my friends, dancing and drinking.

The clothes I wear depend on the mood am in, the company that I am with, and which transport I am going to use.

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  • The women's stories were featured on the BBC World Service programme Newsday

If it is a girls' night out, then I would wear a body-hugging dress, mostly very short, showing some skin and a pair of high heels. But that means someone has to pick me up in a car. If I am going out and using a motorbike taxi, I prefer to wear jeans and flat shoes.

I don't feel safe walking alone at night at all, but if I am with male friends then I am granted some degree of safety.

I do think about the attention that I am going to get, both positive and negative. If a gentleman gives me positive and respectful compliments then I like that kind of attention, but if they are drunkards throwing negative insults, then I loathe it.

Some nights I go out wanting no attention whether positive or negative, just to sit and laugh and talk with my friends.

I have had hassles, guys throwing insults at me, calling me a slut and asking openly how much I charge for a night.

Men in Uganda expect you to be "decent" - their idea of decent is long skirts. Some have now adjusted to jeans [but] when young women wear shorts or skimpy dresses in some parts of Kampala market vendors can hurl insults like "whore" at you.

Jo Lehmann, 25, Melbourne youth worker

Jo Lehmann in Melbourne, Australia

A great night out means a good venue with good friends, listening to good music - lots of laughter and dancing.

I always wear a dress if I'm going out at night. I decide on how I'm feeling on the day. Am I having a "fat day" and need to hide my body? Or am I feeling confident and want to show skin?

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I don't feel safe walking alone at night ”

End Quote Jo Lehmann

I guess men look at me when I go out and am all done up. I have learned to showcase my assets. If I am in a place I feel comfortable around people I'm attracted to, then I don't mind people looking at my body. In other circumstances I would feel very uncomfortable. The way I dress definitely affects the way men respond.

I have not really had any bad experiences when I have been out - though I have friends that have had drinks spiked or have been taken advantage of while drunk.

I don't feel safe walking alone at night - I usually go out close to where I live.

A young journalist who wasn't much older than me was raped and murdered in a suburb very close to here. It happened in a place where I frequently go out and I have girlfriends who live there. So, in light of that incident, my girlfriends and I often discuss safety and security.

Overall, though, Australia is a great place to be a young woman.

Daniella Brasil, 31, Rio de Janeiro HR manager

Daniella Brasil (3rd from left) and her friends on a night out

Saturday is the big night out. We rarely go to nightclubs. We usually go to parties with specific attractions, such as a band that's become a new hit and a DJ.

We mostly wear skirts or dresses - Rio is usually hot, after all. When the party is less sophisticated, we use flat shoes because they are more comfortable to spend long hours in, standing and dancing. When we do wear high heels, we choose the most comfortable kind.

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I've had cases where men are very persistent and spend a big part of the night bugging you”

End Quote Daniella Brasil

When men are interested in us, they keep observing us, staring at us. If they realise that we are open to it, they start a conversation. It's good to be looked at, it makes us feel pretty and attractive. We don't consider it a lack of respect.

Although we wear clothes that are often tight-fitting or short, we avoid wearing things that are vulgar. Men are a bit more "aggressive" and have less respect when women dress up too sensually or behave in a vulgar manner.

Nothing grave or serious [has ever happened to me]. At worst you get men that come at you grabbing you or holding your hair, but it's easy to free yourself. I've had cases where men are very persistent and spend a big part of the night bugging you. In these cases, we try to keep a distance and stay close within our group of girlfriends.

[When we go out we] always travel by taxi, because we can't drink and drive. Since we always go out in a group, we share the cab. On the way back, the last one to be dropped off has to let us know that she got home safely.

There's no doubt that Brazil is a good place to be a woman. There are lots of ways to have fun… the risks are small, we have freedom and it's easy for us to impose limits and to be respected.

Jillian Rae Greenwood, 23, Ottawa lobbyist

Saturday is my preferred night to go out. I go wherever my friends want to go - I am a sheep, not a shepherd.

I wear a lot of black, but it's still hard to decide which black items to wear. Sometimes I want to show some cleavage, but I don't want to misrepresent who I am.

Sometimes I get a glance here or there. I usually don't let the eye contact linger… even if it's an Einstein in the body of James Dean, I still feel absolutely dirty, and disgusted, when I feel someone's eyes looking at my body.

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Telling a girl that you 'know she wants it' is NOT sexy”

End Quote Jillian Rae Greenwood

I have had great conversations with men at bars when I was dressed very conservatively. I personally feel the conversation is richer when I am dressed conservatively, but it may be that I am more receptive to having a conversation with a guy who I know isn't looking at my boobs.

I have had moments where I want scream and give long lectures to men (or boys, as that would be more fitting) who I witness yelling degrading comments in the general direction of women. Telling a girl that you 'know she wants it' is NOT sexy.

It is common to see men at bars who prey on girls who are too drunk to have the clarity to think: "This guy is a creep, and his body language is aggressive - I know what he is after, and I need to just walk away."

I have always been very cautious when walking at night, especially alone. I do not feel safe walking at night, but I do not assume that danger lurks behind every corner. I just know that as a woman, I am at a greater risk. I always keep my hands on my keys in my pocket, just in case I need a weapon.

The five women's stories were featured on the BBC World Service programme Newsday. You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook.

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