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Safety of women travellers in spotlight


Taj Mahal, women travelling, India, LondonIncidents ‘abroad’ raise concerns for the safety of solo female travellers.

A spate of high-profile attacks on female travellers have raised questions over whether women should travel alone.


According to media reports, a series of attacks on women – travelling in India in particular – have highlighted the dangers faced by female travellers; sexually aggressive advances and at worst rape or even murder.

The appalling gang rape and murder of an Indian woman in Delhi raised awareness of the ongoing problems of sexual harassment and rape in that country, but when two western women became the victims of sex attacks, the country was officially branded risky for women.

The latest advice from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) says: ‘Women should use caution when travelling in India.

‘Reported cases of sexual assault against women and young girls are increasing; recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are also at risk.’

Jessica Davies, a 31 year-old British women injured both legs when she jumped from a second floor hotel balcony in Agra to escape a potential sexual assault by two men.

And according to the FCO, British women have been the victims of sexual assault in Goa, Delhi, Bangalore and Rajasthan.

But it’s not just women travelling alone who are attacked, as the Delhi gang rape and last month’s gang-rape of a Swiss woman travelling with her husband in the Indian state of Madyha Pradesh show.

Earlier this year Sarai Sierra, a 33-year old American woman, was murdered in Istanbul after she rejected the advances of a man in the Turkish capital.

Public comments on the NBC website echo questions raised by many; why would a woman travel alone in such a big, bad world?

“A single woman travelling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish”; “A woman has no business travelling alone”; “No way I would even let my beautiful wife out the door to travel to any country alone.”

Not only do these comments reek of xenophobia – one states that there is no place safe for a single American to be travelling east of Italy – but they also perpetuate the belief that women incapable of doing anything without a man.

In reality, safety is an issue that faces women on a daily basis, whether they are at home or abroad.

The most recent government figures show that approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, and over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year.

It’s a sad reality that no matter how emancipated western women may seem, they are still not a free as men, either as citizens or as travellers.

If we believed the hype however, we’d all be heading to Cornwall with Caroline Quentin.

There is a big, not necessarily bad, world out there to explore, and women shouldn’t be put off because of their gender.

Sex attacks are not a new phenomenon in India; according to a report in the Guardian a woman is raped every 20 minutes, and many crimes go unreported: India has some of the lowest rape conviction rates of anywhere in the world – although the UK can hardly claim to be a shining example.

Despite this, tourism to India has flourished and until recently UK arrivals were growing at nine per cent a year.

The UK is India’s second largest market with 800,000 Brits making the journey every year, and the majority of visits pass without incident.

The recent high-profile media coverage however has taken its toll on arrivals; recent reports suggest that international visitor numbers are down 25 per cent, and that female arrivals are down by as much as 35 per cent.

The majority of cancellations have been made by British, American, Canadian and Australian travellers.

The media coverage of these despicable crimes against women has been a spur for change; last month Indian authorities passed new anti-rape laws, and the number of sexual offences being reported to police in India has rocketed.

Since 1 January reports of molestation cases are up 590.4 per cent and of rape cases up 147.6 per cent.

Travelling is a rewarding and enriching experience and India is a wonderful country which certainly captured my heart.

Do your research, plan meticulously and always be aware of local sensitivities.

Sure, I experienced some unwanted attention, but I did in Morocco, in Cyprus even, and I still do in London.

As a woman you always have to have your wits about you when you go out, and this is no different when you travel abroad.

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