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But it wasn’t just related to me: I often saw men gawping at other women in the same way – even if the women themselves didn’t seem to register it.
In the Colombian coastal city of Santa Marta, I walked back to my hostel with a group of female friends through what can only be described as a gauntlet; men lounging on either side of a narrow street, hands in their pockets while staring, whistling, hissing, and making lewd comments in Spanish at every foreign girl who walked the last few metres to the hostel’s front door.
Despite meeting numerous men who’ve gone out of their way to treat me with kindness, I’ve also encountered stares and shouts, lusting eyes and flexed hands from car windows and unwelcome heavy steps echoing behind me.
Depending on the country, I’ve averted my eyes and refrained from ‘upsetting’ the perpetrator, or I’ve stared back sternly, raised my voice and made sure the surrounding people are aware of my discomfort.
How can she best minimise the impact of a potentially threatening situation?
Above all, she will learn to trust that feeling in her gut. This simply isn’t right.” Over the last seven years I’ve travelled through Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and both North and South America, predominantly by myself.
Not just annoying or uncomfortable – it was downright threatening.
During these incidences, I often wondered whether I was simply being too reactionary – too soft – and that other women might not find it a problem.
I learnt to grow casually wary of old men, young men, street-cleaners and shopkeepers; all of them strangers, all seemingly unable to let you pass them by without a comment muttered under their breath.
How on earth could a grandpa ever think it was socially acceptable to leer at a young woman like that?
As I spent more time in the continent, I quickly came to learn that this wasn’t an isolated incident. The machismo element of Latino culture seems to practically demand that men make these types of comment, and I received them so often that I almost stopped noticing.
Six months in India in 2012 prompted me to write a piece about travelling safely as a solo female – still the highest trafficked article I’ve ever published – which made me think a great deal about how many women are concerned for their safety when travelling alone.
So after eighteen months travelling through Latin America, I thought it was necessary to address the biggest issue I faced there.