Gender Considerations - Risks Faced by Female Travelers

Content Warning: This article contains content focusing on crimes against women that some readers may find unsettling. Reader discretion is advised.

In our last installment, we discussed the significance of “cultural consciousness” when it comes to traveling. As you may have guessed, this is not the only risk facing travelers. Risks can vary for travelers depending on their demographic, where they are traveling to, and a whole collection of other criteria. Some countries are considered more dangerous for certain travelers than others, and then some are considered dangerous for all. This is always dependent on the local security environment.

Now, I would like to discuss the risks faced by one specific demographic of travelers: women. The unfortunate reality is that there are certain security environments that present a series of risks for female travelers. The first step to safe travel is understanding what the risks are, why these risks exist, and where they are present. So first, what are the risks specifically facing female travelers? Well, there is the misconception. There are no female-specific risks when traveling, the risks come from the fact that women are generally considered to be more vulnerable, “easier targets,” for many criminals. It may be that women are more commonly the victims of certain crimes than men, but this does not make these crimes female specific. But no matter how we break it down, there are certain threats that create dangerous environments for women. So, what exactly are the risks that women face? And what real-world examples and statistics exist to prove these points? Well, I’m glad you asked – here at Riley we spend dedicated amounts of time answering these questions, so that we can advise the safest possible course of action for female travelers. Let’s break it down question by question, so that you can better understand the Riley thought process:

We can start with the obvious, sexual assault is a serious risk faced by women – whether traveling or at home. This assault is broken down into two categories, acts committed by a non-partner, and those committed by an intimate partner. These two categories exist due to the laws that differ by offender. Unfortunately, it is widely accepted that of the percentages of these crimes that are available are lower than the actual statistic, as many cases go unreported due to the fear of the repercussions. Based on the statistics that are available (gathered by organizations like the UN and the WHO – leading to trustworthy data), South Africa is ranked the most dangerous country for non-partner sexual assault, with 23%. In terms of partner-committed assault, Morocco stands at 45%. The second statistic does not particularly pertain to travelers, but it does factor into the security environment of a certain location. At Riley we look at security holistically, so while partner violence may not directly impact our clients, we still factor it into the overall security assessment.

Aside from this risk, there are other physical risks present against female travelers that need to be paid attention to. Another statistic to pay attention to is the rate of female victims of “intentional homicide.” South Africa, the most dangerous country for solo female travelers, scored a 7 for this risk, on a scale from 0 – 100 (0 being the worst score, 100 being the best score). As the study has been updated, the most dangerous countries have changed, and while South Africa is still considered holistically as the most dangerous country for women, in the same study El Salvador scored a 0. There are more countries than I would like floating at the bottom of the list, indicating that they have extremely high rates of homicide targeting women. This study is proof that physical risk against women is present worldwide – and must be accounted for.

Unfortunately, physical risk is not the only type of risk faced by female travelers. Our society has a solid understanding of the physical risks against women, and we at Riley do not ignore these, but I would like to switch gears and talk about something other than physical risks: legal risks. The idea for this article actually came to me one day when I was reading the news and saw that prominent women’s rights activist, Loujain Alhathloul, had been released from prison after over 1,000 days of confinement. Alhathloul was imprisoned in 2018, after being a key figure in the movement to promote the legalization of driving for women. Although she has been released, she is not permitted to contact the media, leave the country, and her charges still stand against her; despite the fact that the law was finally passed just weeks after she was imprisoned. Saudi Arabia is under a male guardianship system, which does present different rules for residents versus travelers, but the basic ideas remain the same: women typically need to be accompanied by a male partner (whether it be a familial, business, or romantic partner) at all times. Based on this description, a legal risk is exactly what it sounds like: a risk to travelers that is presented by the legal system rather than a malicious actor. While travelers may not suffer the same ill fate as Loujain, her case is a prime example of the legal risks that exist against women in various societies. This can be quite the culture shock for some, but the truth is that legal risks present against women overseas, and the first step of safe travel is to be aware of this presence. The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security compiled data about various countries and how women exist in their legal systems (this, of course, is an oversimplification of their data, and if you are interested in learning more about it, I would highly recommend looking here). Discriminatory laws can create difficulties for women to exist in a certain society; they can make it harder to own a home, a bank account, a business, or even to enter preexisting businesses that are dominated by men. The Georgetown data showed that the mean, or average score, of laws present in a society that would fit this description. The global average is 21.9, the lowest scoring country (meaning the country with the lowest number of discriminatory laws) was Bosnia and Herzegovina at 5, the highest scoring country was Saudi Arabia at 54. The difference between all of these numbers is staggering (and makes you consider taking a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina!).

My point here today is that there are more than just physical risks present when it comes to traveling as a female. This is not to discredit physical risks; I think everyone can understand the severity of physical risks against women. However, when it comes to legal risks, I think rather than overlooking them, people don’t even realize that they exist. My job is not to sit here and quote statistics in order to instill fear, it’s to show you what the thought process is here at Riley. All of the risks that we watch for are not based on simple anecdotes, or things you may read from a travel blog. Instead, we take firsthand knowledge of a location, and combine this with real time data, in order to make an informed decision. I thought it would be fitting to end Women’s History Month with something eye-opening, yet at the same time reassuring. Travel can be imposing as a woman, whether your alone or not, but a trained team of security professionals can make boarding that plane a little easier.