#ViajoSola: Death of two female backpackers sparks debate about travel safety for women

By @Lozz96_ on
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Should women travel alone? Wikimedia Commons

The murder of two young women backpacking in Ecuador has sparked a social media-based debate regarding women’s rights when travelling alone, but one Australian woman says safety trumps the ‘feminist agenda’.

Maria Coni and Marina Menegazza from Argentina were sexually assaulted and murdered while staying with two men in Ecuador in February this year. The two girls, 22 and 21, were reportedly referred to the men as an ‘accommodation option’ by a friend after realising they were short on travel money.

Despite the horrific crimes committed on the two girls, Coni and Menegazza have been criticised after news broke of their murders. Many online commentators questioned why they were travelling without a male companion or why their parents had allowed them to board a plane independently.

Argentine psychiatrist Hugo Marietan took to Twitter to vocalise his concern about the travel situation the girls had been in. He said that the girls travelling in such a way was a “risk” and referred to them as ‘scapegoats’.

"There are parts of the world that are not ready for full freedom of the woman," he said on his Twitter.

While Marietan later clarified that his intention was to advise women to be cautious when travelling and directed blame towards the two men who inflicted the violence, social media continued to house the debate as many women defended their right to travel alone.

A Paraguay woman’s Facebook status, written from the perspective of the two victims, saw viral glory.

“Worse than death was the humiliation that followed,” Guadalupe Acosta wrote.

Guadelupe Acosta’s post’s message was continued with the hashtag #viajosola, Spanish for ‘I travel alone’, which was taken up by individuals who took to social media to share their personal experiences of independent travel. Their posts advocated for solo adventures and encouraged women not to be afraid to learn about the world alone.

However, Sydney-sider Kate Fitzsimons, the director of The Nicole Fitzsimons foundation, says that while no one should be stopped from solo travel, being aware of the dangers of doing so is paramount.

“I don't believe anyone should be stopped from traveling anywhere, but I also think people need to be mindful that some foreign countries are completely different to Australia and thinking you can walk down the street as a woman in the same way you do here and be safe is foolish,” Fitzsimons told International Business Times Australia.

“Whether you think that some countries cultures and rules are outrageous and sexist is irrelevant, as you'll be bound by them regardless once you're in that country,” she added. “I think women need to put their safety before sexism for once and realise if a particular place is renowned for rapes and kidnappings, stay clear of it.”

Fitzsimons, 23, is all too familiar with the need to stay safe while travelling overseas. Her sister Nicole died while holidaying in the tropical but sometimes dangerous Thailand.

In the wake of Nicole’s death, Kate and her family began a charity in Nicole’s honour, and vowed they would work to ensure Australian travellers don’t run into life changing crisis’ while travelling. The foundation sees Kate voluntarily travelling to schools in Australia to educate senior students about to embark on end of year schoolies trips that not all cultures are similar to Australia’s, especially when it comes to an individual’s safety standards, especially for females.

With over 1,000 Australians killed abroad every year, Kate explains that travelling to a dangerous destination such as Ecuador or Thailand needs to be done with a wealth of thorough knowledge. She also advises young students to research their destinations on the government’s Smart Traveller’s website, register travel plans with DFAT for emergency purposes, and  subscribe to the government’s free advice updates which provides safety details about the destination of travel.

“If a woman has their heart set on traveling to somewhere with warnings with extreme violence, the best thing she should do is prepare herself as much as she can with thorough research on the destination in regards to these dangers and how to best avoid them,” advised Kate.

And while a man isn’t a necessary travel item, Kate says preparedness is key.

“[Whether it is safe to travel alone] depends on the destination, how prepared the traveller is and the attitude with which they're going overseas - a reckless, carefree mentality or being cautious and mindful of their surroundings.”

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