Walking without Shame
I’ve never identified myself as a female solo-traveler. Actually, I’ve never thought about my gender at all when I traveled.
Recently, during my travel to Kenya, I was walking in the streets of Nairobi, and a lady stopped me and warned me not to walk because it’s not safe for a woman to walk after sunset. Well, I was walking in a nice neighborhood and it was slightly past 7 pm. And then I thought: “hey, it’s not happening to me for the first time” (will explain later), and then another thought:”But why? Why being a female implies that I have to be extra careful and feel insecure? Who should I be scared of? Men?” Isn’t it unfair, that my gender puts an extra pressure on my traveling? Isn’t it an offense on my existence?
I’ve been living in Pakistan for the past 6 months, and what I’ve noticed here is that females do not walk much on the streets. I was told that it’s not considered right and safe for females to walk without being accompanied by a man. As I am used to decide myself when I want to (well, sounds weird) walk, I still do walk here.
Though I completely understand that I should be respectful of local culture, so I do wear my kurta and dupatta when I am in public. But, recently I’ve realized that each time I walk I have these weird conversations going on in my head: “Is my kurta long enough? Am I dressed appropriate enough?” Why? Because men stare at me all the time, and by staring I mean staring: I feel like I am in the movie Inception, where people stare at you when you enter someone’s subconscious mind. I try to keep my eyes down, and I feel ashamed, shame occupies my thoughts every time I walk.
You might say, well, this is just your imagination. But it is actually not. Women in Pakistan feel the same all the time, they usually do not walk in the streets by themselves. And it is not only in Pakistan. I remember when I was a teenager, I was afraid to pass one area on my way back home in Kazakhstan, because men working on a construction sight were always whistling and shouting something. I had to wear long skirts and walk fast to avoid this shameful interaction. At that time, I thought I was doing something wrong. I thought there was something wrong with me. But I was just a girl walking home from school.
As a woman, I have to be extra cautious and careful all the time. Given that I travel solo a lot, I had to develop a certain sense of intuition to protect myself. Stop, but why? Is it because I am a woman? But, don’t we all share the same air, the same planet? Why I have to be cautious and feel ashamed when I… walk?
Walking is the same as breathing…and as a human-being I claim my right to walk! To walk without fear and being ashamed of my femalehood!