I have traveled through Africa, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, and North, Central, and South America. As a young and small woman traveling by myself, I was faced with challenges and dangers that many can’t begin to grasp. Thankfully, I am well versed in the art of situational awareness and am able to predict and identify danger.
From my experience and research, I will shine a light on how women are seen in different places and cultures, and how different their reality is from that of women in America.
My first few days in Africa were spent in awe attempting to understand such a complex setting. What opened my eyes to the realities of that continent was simply being stuck in traffic. I couldn’t believe the way people rode their motorcycles, as if they had no care for their lives or the lives of others. Then I noticed that, in dangerous and poverty-ridden places such as Africa, that’s the exact reality of those who live there.
They can’t afford to put a price on their lives because it’s so easy to lose it. The diseases, the conflicts, the preying on the people by multiple agenda-driven organizations and powerful men… But if life in and of itself isn’t worth much, then where does that put women and children who are the weakest section of society, from a physical strength point of view? What about crimes such as rape and domestic violence? Are they even taken seriously or able to be properly reported?
Many African governments simply don’t have the resources to address rape and domestic violence.
For example, South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. But many South African local governments simply don’t have the resources to address rape and domestic violence — they can barely provide clean water and sanitation programs for their communities. Additionally, women and girls who are victims of violence tend to report it to a family member or cultural leaders — not the police — if they tell anyone at all.
In Nigeria, the 2015 federal law “Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act” goes largely unenforced. Only 13 of Nigeria’s 36 states have signed the law, and the other 23 states don’t have any state laws that protect women and girls from violence.
And if direct crimes against women weren’t enough, what’s to say about crimes against children? Witch doctors mutilate children. Young children labor in hazardous work conditions. Teens are trafficked for prostitution and forced labor. Girls are put through female genital mutilation and forced into child marriage.
In Africa, the barely existing concept of feminism is one that’s lightyears away from that which we have in the West.
The Middle East
The Middle East is composed of several different countries with different levels of local customs and religious requirements for women. In some countries, women can have higher levels of freedom, especially those in the upper class. They control the level to which they desire to use head and face coverings according to common sense and the situation that they’re in. They’re able to make jokes, speak publicly, and share control of the family activities.
It feels, however, that such power isn’t theirs by default. It’s a power given to them by the men in their lives and it could be easily stripped away. Additionally, in situations when faced with a strange man, extra caution must be taken as they may not be willing to tolerate so easily the opinion of a woman. Women must exercise a high level of situational awareness when outside, especially without the presence of a male family member, and that’s not a concern many of us in the West can even relate to. We simply speak our minds. If only they could too.
The freedoms granted to women are given to them by the men in their lives and can be easily stripped away.
Now, it’s true that things are changing. Women in certain countries are even given the ability to drive. But, what if an accident happens? Would it automatically be the woman’s fault? Would religious and cultural bias play into the situation? Are insurance rates higher for women? Could they be subjected to harassment for exercising this new right?
As for other countries in the Middle East, there’s not much to say. Women are seen as objects. They have few rights and little voice. They do as they’re told and their sole purpose is to work as a reproduction tool for their spouse. They may share the house with several other wives of their husband and any protections of the law, if existent at all, will, in practice, most likely never apply to them.
Eastern and Western Europe
Perhaps there’s not much that needs saying about Western European women. Women in that part of the world are granted possibly the highest levels of freedom one can have nowadays, and we’re quite familiar with their lifestyle as ours in the U.S. is very similar to theirs.
In Eastern Europe, there’s a battle between modernization and Orthodox Christianity.
In Eastern Europe, however, there’s a battle between modernization and the roots of Orthodox Christianity. Women no longer wear the traditional headscarves (batiks) for the most part, but they tend to be reserved and keep to themselves. The “WAP” culture we have here in the U.S. would not fare well in that part of the world, and women who act in unconventional ways according to their society, such as carrying a bottle of beer in the streets, may be seen as “inviting” sexual attention from men and may suffer harassment or face potentially unpleasant encounters.
North, Central, and South America
Beginning with South America where I’m originally from: Although some may believe that there’s not much difference between the Latin American countries, the reality is that even within South America those differences can be staggering. Religion, climate, political conflicts, and even the colonization and the heritage of the people can play a big part in how women are seen and treated by society.
Where it conflates between South and Central America is that rampant crime, government mismanagement, and sex trafficking brought on by tourism are a real danger to women. Latina women have a reputation of being good looking and kind, and often times that becomes a doorway to push them into sex work without ever giving them a chance of accomplishing more in their lives.
In South and Central America, crime, government mismanagement, and sex trafficking are real dangers to women.
In North America, Mexico is similar to Central and South America, but it has an aggravating factor which is its border with the U.S. As usual, women are the overwhelming target of criminals, but with rampant criminal activity at the border and women attempting to cross the desert with the help of “coyotes,” many of them end up raped, sodomized, or trafficked to other parts of the world.
In the U.S. and in Canada, there’s still crime against women, but the big difference is that women have the right to protect themselves by owning firearms. The law enforcement system is not largely bribed by drug lords and convictions happen often. There are laws protecting women and their wellbeing, and women are allowed to participate in all fields of society, including all military careers.
From a personal point of view, I have seen much violence committed against women and have been on the receiving end of such violence at times. I have lived in the U.S. for the past five years, and I haven’t experienced levels of violence anywhere close to those I experienced in South America.
I am also a free-spirited person, and I like to be in control of my destiny — be who I want to be, say what I want to say, wear what I want to wear. America may have issues, but it’s one of the few places on Earth where women can truly be free to express themselves, and I’m grateful this country has welcomed me with open arms.
I remain hopeful that America can be a shining beacon of light for societies elsewhere and show that women should be treated with respect, kindness, and as the nurturing, worthy, and brave citizens they are.