Whether traveling for work or leisure, female travelers can face a particular set of risks while abroad. Unpredictable events or threats abroad can affect any traveler, but some situations are unique to women. Businesswomen can often mitigate many of these unique threats with advance preparation and specific tactics. The most serious threats faced by female travelers are sexual harassment, petty crime, especially robbery, scams, and cultural awareness concerns. Although these threats vary from one country to the next, basic planning, precautions, and cultural awareness can help keep female travelers safe.
Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault
Sexual harassment, ranging from catcalls to sexual assault, is the most common security concern for traveling businesswomen. In many cultures, social interaction with a man past the age of puberty may give a false indication of romantic availability or even a sexual invitation. In some places, women who, travel alone, allow friendly physical contact (e.g. hugging the opposite sex), or do not advertise their marital attachments may be perceived as being sexually available. Men may respond by giving you more attention than you anticipated or wanted. In some countries, like India, Egypt, Morocco, and Mexico, sexual harassment is nearly unavoidable. Some men may call women names, whistle, catcall, stare, and even physically harass women with pinches or groping. In most parts of the world, the threat of sexual harassment, or even assault, is higher at night. The threat is also heightened for women when they walk alone or in secluded areas. While there are no guarantees against becoming a victim of sexual harassment, the following precautions can help mitigate the threat.
• Arrange to meet colleagues or associates in public, non-secluded areas.
• Use pre-arranged transportation.
• Traveling with others, particularly men, will greatly reduce the likelihood of sexual harassment.
• Dress to avoid standing out.
• Use strong body language; project self-confidence.
• Avoid prolonged eye contact with male strangers, as this can be perceived as a sexual advance.
• Trust your instincts.
Petty crime, mainly theft and bag snatching, is a threat in almost every part of the world for any traveler. In many parts of the developing world, foreign female travelers may appear to be soft targets and stand out as noticeably wealthier than the local population, attracting the attention of opportunistic thieves or muggers. Fashionable clothes, jewelry, cell phones, and fancy bags can be conspicuous, and even items that you may not consider expensive could be worth a lot in a particular location. By keeping a low profile and traveling light, without obvious signs of affluence, you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
Bag snatching is a common form of theft and can potentially result in the victim’s injury if the thief is unable to secure the bag smoothly. A common method for female travelers to maintain control of a purse is to cross the strap over the body to the opposite shoulder. Worse injuries are caused when thieves drive past on motorcycles or in a car to conduct bag snatchings.
Female travelers are also more likely to become victims of scams. A local person may strike up a conversation with a lone female traveler. Their conversation may be intended to lower the traveler’s guard, distract her attention, and lay the groundwork for a crime, such petty theft, or sexual violence. Scammers often take advantage of a traveler’s unfamiliarity with her surroundings. They usually try to obtain money and may work individually or in teams, often posing as overly helpful locals or panhandlers who lead a victim away from public places.
• Travel in a group
• Avoid unknown, dark, or deserted areas
• Avoid disputes with locals
• Avoid obvious displays of wealth;
• Do not disclose travel details in public or to strangers
Cultural Awareness Concerns
Gendered behavior varies by location, and female travelers may find that their usual behavior, interactions with men, or dress is not socially or legally acceptable in certain countries. Researching a destination’s expectations of women will reduce the likelihood of female travelers finding themselves in awkward social encounters or at odds with local laws.
In some countries, it is taboo for women to shake the hand of a male counterpart or sustain eye contact while in other countries public displays of affection may be explicitly banned. Women may not be welcome at certain establishments or sites, and there may be no specific rules, regulations, or signs instructing women to keep out of such places. There may also be laws governing how a women may dress in public. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, women who do not adhere to the appropriate style of dress may be detained by religious police, known locally as the Mutawaa.
• Do not wear anything low-cut, revealing, or form-fitting. Long, loose dresses and skirts and shirts with sleeves extending past the elbow are the most acceptable clothing choices.
• Bring a variety of scarves to wear on your head or as shawls.
• In many Muslim countries, especially in Middle East/North Africa and South Asia (e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan), wear an abaya or long coat when outside.