So last night on the 20th of February 2018, I attended a dialogue which dealt with gender challenges. The Institute of Justice and Reconciliation hosted the talks which focused on women but, did not exclude the LGBTQIA community. I heard powerful comments from women who have experienced gender discrimination and are fighting to end gender inequality. It’s no secret that my beautiful homeland South Africa is marred by high levels of gender violence. Some political commentators have even called what’s happening a silent gender civil war.
Here’s the thing though although I’m not taking away from what is happening in my country, gender injustice is clearly a worldwide phenomenon. Last night the #Me too and #End Rape Culture online movements were discussed. The tweets and facebook posts have shown how global gender violence is. From Cape Town to Cologne it’s all over. In fact, Germany only recently changed its rape laws. Before the sexual assaults of 2015 on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany the law was simply unjust. It stated that the victim had to physically fight off his/her perpetrator during a sexual assault. Saying NO wasn’t seen as enough. I was in Germany in 2015. Luckily I didn’t spend New Year’s Eve in Cologne. I went to the Netherlands for Christmas break and stayed for New Year’s Eve. Reading the headlines sadden and angered me. It could have been me, even in a country which is developed the same problems albeit on a different level exists. And sadly the law in Germany is still lacking as it doesn’t cover people who have been drugged and sexually assaulted.
This gender violence ties in with travelling. Solo travel by women has been politicized. Media outlets report on violence against solo women travellers in a different way than when reporting incidents involving men solo travellers. Solo women travellers are often criticized by others. Friends and family tend to be worried and warn against travelling alone. Strangers are outright rude about it. I know this from experience. In February 2015 two Argentian backpackers went missing. Maria Coni and Marina Menegazzo were sexually assaulted and murdered whilst travelling in Ecuador. They had run out of money during their trip and contacted a friend who contacted another friend who offered them accommodation. After their bodies were found in black bags, the girls were blamed for travelling solo. In response to the victim blaming questions, Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta wrote a Facebook post from the perspective of Maria and Marina.
Part of it is listed below:
“And only when dead I realised that no, that for the rest of the world I was not like a man. That dying was my fault, and it will always be. While if the headline would have said ‘two young male travellers were killed’ people would be expressing their condolences and with their false and hypocritical double standard speech would demand higher penalty for murderers.
But being a woman, it is minimised. It becomes less severe because of course, I asked for it …
I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other woman ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voice. We will fight, I’ll be with you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut up us all.”
I read the articles, saw the comments and I saw tweets posted by solo women travellers in response to the victim blamers. Solo women travellers started posting photos of themselves travelling alone. Tweets with the twitter handle: #viajosolaspread it means I travel alone in Spanish. The hashtag existed before however, became spread like wildfire after the murders. Solo female travellers posted tweets on mass in solidarity with Maria and Marina. There’s a few below:
Women should be able to travel freely without fear. But, victim blaming is also a global phenomenon. Last week Amelia Blake a 22-year-old British tourist travelling through Australia was found dead. According to the Independent, a neighbour was quoted as saying: “I feel sorry for the girl. My first reaction was ‘she’s 22? A bit young to be on her own’.” The commentator might be unaware of it but, here’s another case of victim blaming. At 22 Amelia was an adult. She was living with her boyfriend and his body was also found in the flat they shared together.
The question remains though how do we stop this culture of victim blaming? In all of this their remains hope. The hashtag movements have opened the spaces for dialogue. Talks are being held by NGO’s such as IJR questioning what can be done to counter patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Women are using social media to let their voices be heard. It’s only the start though. For me, the way to change this is to involve young boys and men in workshops which discuss gender, consent and what toxic masculinity is on a global level. Moreover, women need to keep on travelling alone to end the idea that solo women travels are irresponsible. I continued to travel alone in 2015 and 2016. I travelled alone to Germany, Italy, Austria, Netherlands, Belguim and France. It was such a rich experience in so many ways. I personally can’t wait for the world to become safer before I travel. But, I can continue to travel and change people’s mindsets. I can also do my research and continue to take steps to be safe whilst travelling alone. I will continue to write articles about travelling alone to promote solo travel. I will continue to hold constructive debates with people who believe women can’t travel alone. And I will keep on writing about topics like this in my academic and social writing. Because I will hed the call from Guadalupe Acostas’, I will continue to raise my voice.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to contact me.
Happy travels through the journey of life!
xxx Nikki xxx