“Sexual Harassment Of Women Cannot Be Prevented By Telling Them To Cover Up”

Women in the United Kingdom travel alone frequently. There are numerous videos on YouTube showing solo women travelling around the world. There is a strong emphasis in British society on encouraging women to be independent and to live as they wish.

Travel was something that always inspired me, but I was a little apprehensive about travelling alone.

I decided to quit my master’s degree at Kings College London after applying for hundreds of jobs in the UK. This was because I could no longer afford to continue my education.

It was suggested that I travel abroad to Muslim countries to seek employment. That is exactly what I did.

The beginning of my journey was in Turkey, where I spent about ten days. There was no problem, but I had to deal with a high level of scrutiny. I am a visibly Muslim woman who wears a niqab hijab and an abaya.

Next, I travelled to Saudi Arabia, where I was not harassed or subjected to a high level of scrutiny. I felt safe in Saudi Arabia, I did not feel threatened. Unfortunately, I was hospitalized in Saudi Arabia and the police were called. I was treated fairly by the hospital staff and the police. Both were polite and respectful, as were the locals.

As a solo female traveller I felt the safest in Saudi Arabia.

As a result of spending some time in Saudi Arabia, I travelled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai a I was told it is easier to find work in the UAE. Sadly I experienced harassment daily from men. Having to deal with sexualization, verbal harassment, and abuse daily was exhausting. Mostly, it was by migrant men living in the UAE. Throughout my stay, the Emirati people were courteous and respectful.

In one instance, an Indian man followed me and harassed me. He was grabbed by two men who called the police. He shouted, “don’t call the police, I won’t do it again.” The man who grabbed him asked me not to contact the police. After apologising repeatedly, he fled the scene.

Having been sexually harassed in the UAE, I decided to leave and return to Istanbul, Turkey. Even though Turkish men did not sexually harass me, I was subjected to a distinct type of harassment by the police and authorities daily. One that involved seeing me as a terrorist or a dangerous threat. I was harassed almost daily in Turkey sometimes several times a day by the police and the authorities.

I was physically assaulted by a female security guard at a train station in Istanbul because I could not carry five pieces of luggage with two hands. As a result of the station manager’s refusal to assist me, a scene was created at the station. Despite everyone watching they did not offer any assistance. There was a woman who walked past me and said that I was a refugee from Syria.

It was very difficult for me to board the train. When I got off at the train station, two taxi drivers refused to take me because they claimed that I was a Syrian refugee.

When walking around, I was often referred to as a Syrian refugee. There was a suggestion that it was a terrible thing to be a Syrian refugee

I was asked to get off a bus while exploring the beauty of the country by the police, then surrounded by at least six police officers. As I was instructed to empty my bag on a desk, my underwear was displayed in front of many male police officers, while a female officer laughed.

Although the hotel I booked looked beautiful, it reminded me of the Norman Bates hotel and I was ripped off by two taxi drivers to and from the hotel. Several other incidents occurred, which I will discuss in a subsequent article.

The hotel was located in the middle of nowhere. I did not feel comfortable and I was concerned about my safety. Around 10pm, I decided to leave. When I requested a taxi, the hotel manager created an entire scene. A large number of men gathered outside the hotel, including hotel guests. In response, the hotel manager began character-assassinating and vilifying me. I had to defend myself and explain that I was a British photojournalist trying to get away from the hotel for my safety.

Instead of calling a taxi, the manager contacted the police. I was asked by the police where I was heading, what my plans were, and with whom I was staying. The Turkish authorities and police have constantly inquired about where I am staying and travelling during my stay here in Turkey. The situation was exhausting, and leaving the country seemed to be the only solution.

Women are sexually harassed all over the world, and violence against women is a global issue, not a British issue. It is imperative that the police and authorities in every country address the issue of women’s safety.

Visibly Muslim women travelling alone not only face sexual harassment but are also subjected to heightened scrutiny and surveillance as if they were terrorists or dangerous threats. That ruins the experience of a woman travelling alone.

Regardless of whether a woman is wearing a skirt or a niqab, it does not matter what she wears. If a man decides to harass her, he will do so.

Women spend their money on travel and do not wish to be harassed by men, regardless of whether they work for the authorities. They want to experience new things and create lasting memories during their travels.

As a matter of urgency, violence against women must be taken seriously once and for all.

****Update****

Shortly after writing this article I was harassed by the Turkish police.

In the space of two hours, I was harassed by the police twice while waiting for a bus at the same bus station. The police demanded to know where I was going and to see my passport.

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