If you are a woman, chances are that you have encountered instances of eve-teasing or sexual harassment at least once in your life. As a girl living in New Delhi, I've had to nervously look over my shoulder while walking in the street at night. I have covered every inch of my body during scorching summer afternoons just to not attract unwanted attention. Despite this, I have been cat-called, stalked and stared at. Clearly, the responsibility of being safe doesn't lie alone with me, but with the men around. Most girls will nod in agreement as they read this.
For all men who tend to get confused about how to behave with women respectfully, here is a definitive guide that will go a long way to help you. This will make our lives easier, and you, a decent man. It is a win-win situation!
1. A common misconception among travellers is that if a woman is travelling solo, she is in search of a man. While this could be true in some instances, there are higher chances that the woman is in search of herself, or simply wants to explore. Solo women who travel are not "up for grabs". Don't always view us as potential romantic interests, we are much more than that. We are individuals who want to have new experiences, visit places and meet interesting people. Treat us like you would any male traveller and you may be surprised to find a great travel companion.
2. Most men have an instinct of helping women. While this is a great character trait that we appreciate, there is a fine line between being helpful and intrusive. Please don't always see us as damsels in distress who are waiting to be rescued by their knights in shining armours. If you are helping us, tread carefully so that you don't come off as pushy and invasive. For the few of you who think that you deserve "rewards" for helping us, it's time you think about how ridiculous that expectation is.
3. Travelling independently is a prerogative that we women often need to fight for. It's just as much of a fight with our own selves as it is with our parents. For most women, going on a trip comes with a lot of apprehensions that many men probably cannot understand. It is also likely that many women on solo trips are out on their own for the first time. Please don't follow them around or harass them. They are entitled to the same kind of freedom that you enjoy.
4. There are a few things that some men don't question about their behaviour. For instance, you may feel that sitting with your legs wide open in a bus, flight or train is normal. However, it often feels disrespectful and infringes upon our personal space. The next time you find yourself seated next to a woman, go the extra mile to ensure that you remain within your own space and not make the journey uncomfortable for us.
5. When you see women travellers, don't judge or question them. We have a right to be here just as much as you.
6. Most importantly, don't be a silent spectator when you see a woman being harassed, followed or ill-treated. Stand up to the perpetrators and take action if you see something wrong happening.
Travelling is one of the most liberating experiences that everyone has a right to experience in their lives. If all of us can be mindful of our behaviour towards other travellers, travelling will become a safe and inclusive activity that all of us can benefit from.