This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia
For women, even walking alone during the day can often entail running a gauntlet of misogyny and harassment. We've all had to deal with anything from casual comments about how we look or present ourselves, to random strangers thinking it's fine to walk up to us and physically demand our attention. That kind of abuse only gets worse when you're walking alone at night.
Last year, VICE offices across Europe spoke with women from 13 different countries around the continent about the shit they have to deal with when walking around alone at night. More recently, our new VICE Arabia office did the same, to hear about how street harassment across the Middle East influences women's lives, and what precautions they take to stay safe.
Ghada, 25, Marketing Manager
VICE: Hey Ghada. Do you feel safe when walking alone at night in Tunis?
Ghada: Generally, yes. I often go out in Tunis and, luckily, I’ve never felt threatened or in danger in those situations. But of course there are some neighbourhoods I would never walk around in by myself.
Do you take any specific precautions to stay safe?
I stay clear of the neighbourhoods around the city centre – the areas with a lot of cheap bars and cafes, where you won’t find any women after 11PM. But there are other places in Tunis that are perfectly safe for women to be until at least 2AM, because there is plenty of traffic and people about.
I always try to walk with someone else. But if I have to walk alone and feel someone is watching or following me, I’ll sometimes call my parents and just have a chat. I know it won’t save me if I'm in actual danger, but their voices help to reassure me a bit.
Have you ever been physically harassed?
Yes, about two years ago. I usually don’t use public transport, especially at peak hours, but this time I had to take the subway. It was about 8PM and the train was packed to the point you could hardly breathe. I noticed a man behind me and suddenly I felt his hand deliberately touch my back. I felt terrified and scared and tried to get away but there was no room to move. I felt so insulted and I wanted to hit him, but I just froze. I got off at the next stop and didn’t look back because I didn’t want to see his face.
Hala, 23, Translator
VICE: How would you describe the streets of Damascus at night?
Hala: At one point during the war, being out at night in Damascus was safer than going out in the morning because evenings were the only time the bombing stopped. In fact, we're still living by the rules of war, not the conventional social rules of a night out.
In general, being out late has never been a great idea for women in Damascus. But these days, things seem to have calmed down a bit and it’s more normal to see both men and women out late at night, especially in areas far from direct clashes.
Before the war, did you feel uncomfortable walking around alone?
Apart from the weird comments and strange looks you get from guys that can get you in a right state of panic if you overthink them, I’ve never really felt threatened walking around in the evenings.
Do you take any precautions?
I always try to avoid any dark or abandoned alleys, and opt to walk through crowded or wider streets. Sometimes, I find myself coming up with a whole escape plan in my head – I work out the nearest exit and my method of fighting back in case anyone were to harass me. Also, I tell my friends and family where I’m going, the time I’ve left and my route in case anything happens. Some times, I send messages updating them along the way, too. Most of the time, though, the best way is just to be with a friend when you're out late.
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Salma, 25, Journalist
VICE: Are there any areas in Rabat that you avoid at night?
Salma: I try to avoid going out anywhere alone. I feel scared and unsafe in a lot of Rabat neighbourhoods, regardless of whether they are posh or poorer areas. If I happen to be going home late, which I sometimes have to because of work, I make sure one of my male colleagues walks with me.
What sort of things are you worried about?
Personally, I have not had any bad experiences, but I often hear of girls who've had to deal with verbal and physical abuse. One of my relatives was mugged by three young people not far from the train station in the Agdal district.
What do you think is the safest way to get home?
Driving is by far the best solution. And taxis are also a fairly safe alternative.
Laila, 21, Student
VICE: Are there particular areas in Beirut, where you'd rather not be alone at night?
Laila: There are several places in the city where I don’t feel safe at night – generally just around empty streets that attract no traffic in the evenings.
Have you personally been bothered when walking alone at night?
I haven’t experienced anything directly, but we constantly hear stories of girls being harassed around the city. One of my close friends was on her way home when she was followed by a car full of young guys. They kept following her all the way to the entrance of her house, but thankfully nothing happened. It was only 8PM, which isn't even that late.
What precautions do you take?
We have to walk alone in the evening or at night in Beirut, that's unavoidable. So my friends and I carry pepper spray in our bags at all times, in case we have to defend ourselves. The best and safest way to get home at night is by taxi, but those are very expensive. It's also become pretty popular to ride-share.
Mai, 25, Reporter
VICE: What's it like for women traveling around Cairo at night?
Mai: When I started working nights – from 6PM to midnight – I thought I would suffer lots of harassment and abuse from strange men on my way home. So far, though, I’ve not had any problems on my commute from the city centre in Ramses Square to my office in Mohandeseen.
So you haven't experienced any physical abuse?
Personally, no – nobody has ever tried to steal from me or physically harass me. The only thing that happens is that sometimes I have to take a taxi home, and often the driver tries to cheat me because I am a woman. They refuse to run the meter, and instead ask for a higher fixed price, which is so frustrating.
How do you respond to any verbal harassment you receive?
Guys who comment on me being out alone at night never expect me to respond, but it always shocks them when I speak up to defend myself.
Dana, 36, Public Relations
VICE: Are there certain areas in Amman, where you don't like to be in at night?
Dana: I’d say it is a safe city, though at the same time it’s not easy to walk through. I generally use my car to get anywhere. And to be on the safe side, I'd always recommend that people travel in groups at night.
Do you ever change the way you dress when going to certain places by yourself?
It completely depends on where I’m going and how I'm getting there. But, yes, sometimes I'll make sure to put on a shirt with long sleeves.
Ranin, 26, Programme Coordinator
VICE: Do you feel safe at night in Jerusalem?
Ranin: Yeah, I feel fairly safe, especially in the Arab neighbourhoods. I don’t mind going out alone before midnight, but it's better to head out with a relative or a friend. The strange thing about Jerusalem is the intense Israeli military presence, specifically in the Old City. It often feels like Jerusalem is always on the brink of war.
Are there certain streets and areas in Jerusalem that you avoid walking or going to at night?
Yes. As a Palestinian, I often feel unsafe around Israeli settlements, and the Old City of Jerusalem, where there are a large number of soldiers.
Have you or one of your friends ever been attacked?
Most women experience lots of verbal harassment and strange looks, especially in places like Jerusalem and Ramallah. The best response, though, is to just ignore it.