We've all faced unwanted male attention at some point and much as it pains me to say this, sexual harassment shows no signs of disappearing.
Western women are often seen as 'exotic' in other countries, especially if their skin or hair color is dramatically different. Unfortunately 'exotic' may have unpleasant connotations or be linked to certain stereotypes about Western women.
This isn't about who's right and who's wrong, but about having a safe trip, as free from harassment as possible, and as enjoyable as it can be.
Different countries and regions have different views of gender and what is perfectly acceptable in North America or Europe may be highly offensive in the Middle East or North Africa. The opposite is also true.
Remember, American television is popular in all corners of the world. Men who have never left their home village may be glued to Baywatch or Desperate Housewives and think all foreign women are loose and sexually available. Breaking down stereotypes - however important - is difficult.
In some parts of the world, just traveling on your own is considered risqué or improper. That's why I often pretend my non-existent husband is waiting to pick me up at the end of the bus line or back at the hotel. Appearing 'attached' is one of the better safeguards against unwanted male attention - at least it has been for me. Women who make fun of the 'fake wedding band idea' probably haven't spent months trekking solo across rural Africa with a posse of young men trailing behind...
Solo travel is no less safe than any other kind of travel but if you're on your own, men may take more of an interest than you might expect. In some cases - for example if you want the attention - that's absolutely fine. It's when you don't want it that it becomes a problem.
These behaviors aren't acceptable by any standard but in some countries, they are customary and common. Some of these things will happen to you:
This unwanted male attention is not limited to Western women who travel - sadly it is something women face all over the world. Men who disrespect foreign women will also disrespect women in their own part of the world.
In South Africa some time ago and more recently in Kenya women took to the streets to "defend their mini-skirts" - a woman had been attacked by taxi drivers and hawkers for wearing a skirt that was too short. Here's what one of the men said: "If you are wearing a miniskirt, you give the impression you want to be raped." Case closed.
Nothing is foolproof but all these tips will help ward off undue male approaches, especially if you use several at a time. I wish there was no need for any of this and that as women we could travel the world without any fear of offence or backlash. Unfortunately that is not the case and until things change, here are some sensible suggestions to help keep unwelcome advances at bay.
If the going gets rough, apply the same rules you would at home: call someone you know, talk to a police officer, go into a shop, or run. Being safe is more important than looking silly, even if you have to apologize later.
In an ideal world, none of this would happen... The way women look or act should never be the basis for men's reactions but this is not an ideal world and for now, if we want to travel hassle-free, sticking to a few social rules will help.
And remember - it's about power, not sex.
If the constraints of being treated as an inferior or having to dress awkwardly become unacceptable - leave the country. Because you're not going to change it, at least not overnight.