Safety is a concern for many people who travel abroad.
There is always a risk that something could happen to the traveler while they are abroad. Male volunteers have reason for concern as well while they are abroad, but female international volunteers are easier targets than their male counterparts. Being a female volunteer requires keeping special alert to your surroundings. There are many concerns for females while volunteering abroad but it shouldn’t deter you from leaving home.
Here are some female volunteer tips to help:
While you are abroad try and dress according to the standards of that culture. If you dress inappropriately it is seen as offensive. For example in Muslim and Arab nations, women should cover all parts of their bodies. The women are covered from head to toe. But there are many conservative cultures and the women don’t wear tight fitting clothes or show cleavage. Before going abroad find out how the local people dress. To be safe, try wearing loose fitting clothes, long pants and long dresses. Avoid also wearing expensive jewelry and clothing as these attract attention, and you may be robbed of them. Try dressing like the locals.
Put on a fake wedding ring that will detract many male suitors. As a female volunteer many men will make unwelcome advances. As they may assume that most western foreigners from Europe and the Americas are loose women with questionable morals. To avoid such advances put on wedding ring and if still approached tell them of your happy “marriage” it’s also advisable to carry with you photos of a man. The man could be your brother, friend or cousin to detract their advance.
On the occasions you are invited to a party, or you are in a bar or restaurant, avoid drinking too much. When you are drunk you will become more vulnerable and you will have less control of yourself and your situation. When in bars do not accept drinks that have been opened, ask the waiters or the bar tender to open the bottle in front of you. As a rule of thumb, don’t accept drinks from stranger that have already been opened. There have been cases where drugs are slipped onto the alcohol then you will black out not remembering what happened during the night. Go out in groups or with somebody with whom you trust who will take care of you if you over indulge. Also when you are having a good time know your alcohol limit and avoid taking drinks you are not used to.
Stay in Touch
While you are volunteering abroad always stay in touch with a friend or your family. Email, text, call your family to update them of your whereabouts. Always keep updating them on how you are doing, where you are going, what is happening, who you are going with etc. Also when you are leaving the volunteer program or volunteer home, always inform them when they should expect you back. This way, they will know your schedule and immediately know if it has been interrupted for some unforeseen reason.
As a foreigner you will be an easy target for thieves and pickpockets. When you are in large crowds try to be mindful of your things and your surroundings. Get to know the emergency numbers: learn the police, hospital and fire emergency numbers. Try and learn some of the local words just in case you might need some help. In the foreign country mind your body language so as not to send the wrong signals. For example in some cultures women don’t look directly in to the eyes of men. When you do so you may encourage the man to assault your or be rude to you. In such cases try to be mindful and when talking to older men try and looking at the floor and being formal.
"That Time" of the Month
Menstruation can be an issue while you are abroad, because sometimes you may not be able to access pads and tampons. Also with menstruation can come cramps and body aches making you uncomfortable. Remember that your typical solution may not be available where you are, so it's best to bring it with you from home. Your general practitioner may have some helpful suggestions or perscribe a contraception pill to avoid menstruation all together. But don't change your methods right before leaving for your volunteer program. You can never predict how your body (and emotions) will react to the hormonal change and you won't want to hassle with it while abroad with questionable/unfamiliar practices. If you do chose to change methods for convenience while abroad, do it months before you leave so you can see if it works with your body and ensure that you like it.
Written and Contributed by Zablon