No country for women?

Travelling solo is an empowering experience and it can give you a taste of true freedom. But sometimes, especially for women travellers, it can leave a bad taste in the mouth. In a report published recently, it was said that India is the ninth most unsafe country for women to travel solo in. Apparently, travel bloggers Asher and Lyric Fergusson developed the Women’s Danger Index (WDI) to determine the 50 best to worst countries for women travellers and India didn’t fare well.

Despite its rich culture and history, research shows that India is gaining a bad reputation internationally for its poor treatment of women, especially solo travellers.

While determining the WDI, eight factors are kept in mind - global gender gap, gender inequality, whether the place is safe for woman to wander around at night, intentional homicide for women, rate of sexual violence by strangers and partners, legal discrimination, and attitude to violence against women. India scored a 0.524 at the WDI with the worst gender inequality index score of all the 50 countries.

Our country is a land of diverse culture and natural beauty. But what looks appealing on the surface might be quite different on the inside. Some of the places across the country that are considered to be unsafe for women are states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi-NCR. Shalini Gupta, a backpacker who does solo treks, says, “I do agree that there are instances where a solo woman traveller feels unsafe. During one of my solo trips to Udaipur, I had eyes pinned on me all the time, and I heard some people commenting about my clothes in their local language as well. I was wearing a dress that was knee length and sleeveless. These things still make a difference… what you wear, how you look, and the way you present yourself.”

Divya Pai, founder of a travel website that organises backpacking trips, road trips and treks, says, “Honestly, in my travel experience, you may get freaked out by men looking at you in a certain way but, in general, more sexual harassment happens in the metropolitan cities and not in other parts of the country. But yes, the attitude many Indian men have towards women is bad. They look at us like we’re weak. There are parts of the country that are extremely unsafe, like Bihar, UP, MP but these are the places where women are aware of the danger and they take extra precautions.” On the other hand, places like Maharashtra, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and the North-Eastern states are considered to be the safest for women. Relatively.

Talking about the fears women face even while commuting alone in the big cities even in these states, Richa Oberoi, a local business owner, says, “When I take the public transport to work, there’s a queue where everyone is shoving each other. Often, I feel like someone is taking advantage of the mess and touching me. The worst is at night. I feel unsafe to travel alone after dark, especially because I live around the Delhi-NCR belt. I would feel much safer to move around the city with a man around. Then I don’t have to be extra cautious and tense.”

Nidhi Bodi, who is the cabin crew member of an airline, agrees, “I have had experiences that make me question my safety all the time. From inside the cabin to the street I live in. If I walk around in my uniform, there are men commenting on my body, my legs, my face and pretty much everything else. The scariest is when I have late-night flights because that’s when there is nobody around me but my driver, and sometimes, that is scary too.”

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