HARASSMENT WHILE TRAVELING- HOW TO PREVENT IT AND FIGHT IT

Sudan: While showering in a shared bathroom of a hotel I look up and see a guy staring at me from the next shower parcel. I hurry to wrap myself in a towel, but before I manage to scream for help he is already gone.

Sudan-2: Cancelled concert in Khartoum – The crowd is furious. I need to get out of the place as chairs are already flying all over the place. Forcing my way through people, I am touched everywhere. I try to slap everyone who dares to harass me and strike some stomachs and testicles with my elbows.

Egypt: A man on the street jumps on the roof of the taxi in which I’m sitting in. He tries to get into the car while I and my hundred-years old driver are speeding through Giza. Slamming onto the roof and windows, he finally falls on the side walk.

Jordan: I wake up in the middle of the night due to somebody’s hand touching my thighs (underneath the blanket). I was supposed to be only with Ben in the room, but there is someone else too. After a dramatic fight we end up at the police station, together with our host.

Poland: Swimming pool. When I leave Ben behind in the sauna and head to the changing room by myself, two Georgian men start to make awkward horny sounds while I’m passing by, wrapped only in a towel. The room is full of people, sadly nobody reacts.

Israel: I travel through a desert road with a Palestinian taxi driver. It’s the only way to get to the border. Half way in he asks if I would kiss him. I play it cool, but I’m dying of fear inside.

Gambia: A (supposedly) very religious man let us camp in his garden overnight. As soon as Ben looks back, the man grabs my hand and massages it. I tell Ben only after we leave so he doesn’t beat the hell out of the Gambian.

Lebanon: A taxi pulls over for me and leaning through the open window I try to strike a deal with the driver. He asks for too much money so I thank him and he drives away. Right after that, a car with two young men inside stops. One tells me that I will make more money if I stop drivers on the highway (suggesting that I am a prostitute) and laughs. I answer that I can’t work on the highway because his mother is already there. He drives away, swearing and calling me names.

These are only a few examples of many situations happening to me and to other, mainly female travelers every day. I can’t even count how many times someone touched me, showed me an obscene gesture, slapped my butt while driving (!) or even tried to lick my hand. I don’t want to know how many times I was called a whore, but believe me- enough to get pissed.

There is no excuse for this behavior. I want to stress out the most important thing: Women, not only the traveling kind, deserve to always feel safe. We are all ENTITLED to it. People, both men and women, who say that being safe is on us, make me sick.
It shouldn’t matter if a women was out during the day or at night time. It can’t ever matter if she is wearing a mini-skirt or a long dress. AND it has to have no meaning whatsoever if she is a foreigner! There is nothing, absolutely not a single reason in the world that can justify harassment.

Obviously, one has to always respect and regard the customs and the culture of the country they’re in. We can’t confuse catcalls with protests of offended people. If it is socially incorrect to show too much skin, one can’t expect to be welcomed without any comment while wearing shorts and a tank top. This kind of behavior is disrespectful and surely should be avoided.
It is also very important to highlight that harassment happens everywhere, also in western countries. There are creeps everywhere. It freaks me out when I listen to opinions of people who think more developed countries are free of danger but describe the Middle East and other places as the Sodom and Gomorrah.

You may argue with me, but first think how many times you have been harassed by construction workers in your own country.
I am astonished that living in the 21st century, women still have to fear for their safety and well being. Nevertheless, it’s an undeniable and sad fact. Here are some things I’ve learned while traveling on how to avoid harassment and how to react when it does happen. Hopefully it will help some of you in the future.

1. Educate yourself on local traditions and customs

As I mentioned before- knowing the culture of the country you’re in makes it much easier for you to stay safe. Do your research about the dress code, relations between men and women and all the other rules to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings.

2. Minimize attention

On one of the travel blogs I’ve read that ultimately you shouldn’t change who you are, not lie about your marital status or wear a fake wedding ring, only because you travel to another country. Right?

Wrong! If it is about your safety and it makes you feel even slightly more comfortable, you should certainly do all you can! Tell people that your friend is your husband, wear a wedding ring, put on a hijab, if that helps. Dress down to drag away the attention of people if you want to, who cares if you change who you are if that saves you from harassment? Better safe than sorry!
At the same time remember that blending in is not always the best way to pass unnoticed. ‘If you are a blond women wearing a sari in India, you obviously attract even more attention and instead of blending in, you stand out.’

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This picture was taken only for fun- my friends and I never wore a niqab in Jordan as it was absolutely unnecessary. But if that would make you feel better- go for it.
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While working in Sudan we always covered our hair. Not out of obligation but to prevent unpleasant comments and feel comfortable.

3. Don’t question your fear

Listen to you guts. If somebody doesn’t seem trustworthy to you or going somewhere doesn’t sound like a good plan don’t try to convince yourself that it’s all right. When a situation doesn’t feel safe withdraw from it right away and change your plans. Maybe it’s nothing but maybe you just spared yourself some unpleasant experience.

4. Speak up

Wherever you are, on a street, in a bus, in a hotel or a restaurant, if something bad is happening to you- don’t be afraid to be loud and let everyone know that you are getting hurt, people will hopefully react and help you.

5. Don’t try to be polite to everyone

A NO is a NO in every country. Don’t try to be nice all the time. If somebody in a taxi or in a bus is harassing you, it is very important to send them a clear message. If somebody wants to share a room with you in the hostel or a bed while couchsurfing and it makes you feel uncomfortable- speak up and firmly say NO. There is nothing bad about taking care of yourself.

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‘How many camels?!’ was a question I’ve heard many times from people who wanted to pay for me

6. Find yourself a male travel buddy

Wherever I travel together with Ben, there is no way I’m being harassed when he is next to me. Nevertheless, as soon as he disappears, I’m approached by one creep or another. It is surely and sadly much easier and less stressful to travel with a man (you might minimize the risk with a female travel buddy as well)

 

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Sudan: Przemek (in the picture) traveled with me and my female friend, Beata, through Sudan. One of us pretended to be his sister and the other one- the wife.
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The best travel buddy. 🙂

7. Ignore catcalls

I know it’s hard. Especially when you understand the language. While staying in Egypt I was offended many times on the street not only by men but also by women, calling me names you wouldn’t think of. The key is to be calm and mind your own business. I wouldn’t get anywhere if I was to argue with every person harassing me. Let the karma get them.

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Cairo: There is no way you can avoid catcalls here.
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