coverage of several high-profile violent incidents this year has pushed the topic
of solo female travel into the forefront of public dialogue.
New York City mother Sarai Sierra was killed while travelling independently in
Istanbul, her body
found near the city’s ancient walls in early February. In March, a
Norwegian woman who reported being
raped while on business in Dubai was charged with having extramarital sex,
perjury and drinking alcohol, and sentenced to 16 months in jail.
sexual assault and even gang rape have been recorded across India, including a
British tourist jumping off
her balcony in Agra in March to escape potential assault from a hotel owner. In
the first three months of 2013, female visitors to India fell 35% compared to
the previous year, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and
Industry of India.
For many, the
knee-jerk response has been to speak against women travelling alone, labelling
it as shocking
or unwise, especially in more conservative cultures where Western women travelling
alone can face unjust stereotypes regarding promiscuity. Jodi Ettenberg, travel/food blogger at Legal Nomads, said the number of women
reaching out to her with concerns about travelling solo has spiked.
discussing the subject of solo female travel as it relates to such incidents is
a faulty simplification, Ettenberg wrote in a post
published shortly after Sierra’s death. The real issue is violence against
women, regardless of where they are and where they are from.
Health Organization statistics from
October 2013 show that violence against women is a worldwide issue that can
transpire anywhere and with anyone. The majority of victims in India’s spate of
sexual assaults were locals, and when a group of vacationing Spanish women
were raped in Mexico in February, their male travel companions were tied up
by the assailants.
with today’s global connectivity, it’s not always that there are more cases of
sexual assault; it’s sometimes that more people are hearing about it. In India
for example, sexual assault was underreported before – and in rural areas
likely still is.
Doucette, a freelance writer and editor who penned a
piece about solo female travel for Forbes, said she researches potential
dangers and specific customs before leaving for a destination. She also has
taken self-defence classes. Ettenberg said she believes in respecting local
culture and norms as much as possible, but still there are some places she
cannot envision visiting because of how she might be perceived by locals. “As much
as I would love to study the history and food of the Gulf States and very
traditional Middle Eastern cultures, I haven’t gone,” Ettenberg said. “As a woman you can’t run around asking the questions
you want to be asking, generally speaking.”
public dialogue often focuses on the dangers of women travelling independently,
there are places in which it’s also inspiring change. The string of incidents in
India incited such strong protests that the Delhi government established a
24-hour hotline for women at the end of 2012 and passed legislation in March 2013
to better protect women against sexual violence. Services like buses and cabs,
as well as female-only hotel floors, have also become increasingly common in
Sites like Meetup have become home to a number of
grassroots resource and support groups for female travellers; many countries
offer government resources dedicated to the safety of women travelling abroad;
and guidebooks often include sections dedicated to female travel.
travel for countless reasons, whether to discover new frontiers, pursue
business opportunities, or simply to rest and relax – not unlike men,” the
Government of Canada’s Her Own Way – A
Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide reads. “But when it comes to health and security,
and how travellers are affected by the religious and cultural beliefs of the
foreign countries they visit, there’s a huge difference between women and men.
The truth is that women face greater obstacles, especially when travelling
Blogs like Ettenberg’s
have become a base for fielding concerns and queries about travelling as a
woman, and both Ettenberg and Burton spoke of the advantages they have
experienced, including access and trust, particularly in conservative cultures
where women’s and men’s duties are delineated.
writes of pouring tea for Turkish grandmothers and being close to bridal
parties in Tbilisi, Georgia, while Ettenberg has been invited into kitchens to
help prepare meals with women and their children in Jordan, where men are
forbidden. “I always say, ‘I travel in the body I’ve got,’” Ettenberg said.