Women are traveling solo more than ever. According to the Travel Industry Association, approximately 32 million American women travel alone every year. But the sobering reality is that this can be a risky endeavor. In March, The New York Times published an article titled, “Adventurous, Alone, Attacked,” detailing attacks on women travelers like Carla Stefaniak, who was killed while on vacation in Costa Rica.
And despite the low statistical chance of being killed while on vacation, a number of other highly publicized recent incidents—including the murder of a 26-year-old German backpacker in Thailand in April, the brutal assault on a woman at a Dominican Republic hotel in January and the beheading of two Scandinavian hikers in Morocco in December—have underscored the risks for women travelers. The president of WorldAware, a global risk management provider for companies, even told the Los Angeles Times that it’s “100% easier to be a man” traveling than a woman.
In an attempt to help determine the worst places for solo female travelers, journalists Asher and Lyric Fergusson—whose blog is focused on travel safety—have created a new Women’s Danger Index, which ranks the world’s most dangerous countries for women traveling alone. “While traveling as a couple we’ve experienced some uncomfortable situations and we’ve heard horror stories from many solo female travelers,” says Lyric Fergusson. “Rather than relying on hearsay and anecdotes, we thought it would be good to know which countries are the worst and safest based on hard facts.”
The husband-wife duo ranked 50 countries with the most international tourists using the following eight factors: street safety for women, intentional homicide of women, non-partner sexual violence, intimate partner violence, legal discrimination, global gender gap, gender inequality index and violence against women attitudes. The data was compiled using sources ranging from the 2018 Gallup World Poll to Equal Measures 2030’s Gender Advocates Data Hub.
Topping the Women’s Danger Index is South Africa , which is considered the worst country for violence against women by non-partners, homicides and how safe women feel walking alone at night. Spain is the safest country. Also on the list on the list of the 20 most dangerous countries in the world: the United States, which ranked number 19. Compare the results of the Women’s Danger Index to Thomson Reuters Foundation’s 2018 ranking of the most dangerous countries for women, where India topped the list and the United States made it into the top 10—the only Western country to be included. A 2017 report that I covered in this column listed Egypt as the most dangerous country for women travelers and included places like Morocco and India.
Fergusson says she was most surprised by the United States’s ranking. “The USA is the most dangerous Western country in the world, which was very unexpected,” says Fergusson. “Scoring badly on street safety, non-partner sexual violence and a host of gender inequality issues makes the United States particularly bad for female travelers. For women aged between 20 and 24, homicide is the 3rd most likely way to die, which accounts for a staggering 7.5% of all deaths in this age group.”
Here, I list the 20 most dangerous places for solo female travelers in the Women’s Danger Index and get Lyric Fergusson, the coauthor of the study, to share her thoughts on each country. Following this list, I’ve got the five safest places on the Women’s Danger Index. You can see the entire ranking of the 50 countries here.
The 20 Most Dangerous Places for Women Travelers
1. South Africa:
Home of some of the best and attractive wildlife for tourism. “With this nation scoring poorly on street safety and many other factors, women in South Africa have been historically treated cruelly, but thankfully situations have been slowly improving,” says Fergusson. “Often, traveling women to South Africa are warned not to hike, drive, walk or move about alone and to generally behave conservatively.”
“Trailing next (quite a way behind South Africa) was Brazil, which scored badly with both street safety and intentional homicide against women,” says Fergusson. “This sun drenched country also performed poorly in the Global Gender Gap category. The United States government warns tourists not to walk alone at night or to physically resist any robbery attempts.”
“Scoring below par on both the intentional homicide against women and non-partner sexual violence, Russia comes in at number three on our list,” says Fergusson. “This beautiful vodka-loving country also performed poorly in a host of categories including being the ninth worst with legal discrimination against women. Thankfully the #metoo movement has been making headlines in Russia showing signs that things are slowly improving for the better.”
“Since Mexico is by far the most visited country out of the top five worst, it really caught our eye,” says Fergusson. “The three areas that Mexico ranked abysmally for were street safety, intentional homicide and non-partner sexual violence. In fact, Mexico ranked in the top four worst in all three of these categories. Many news reports have sited that unfortunately Mexico is becoming more and more unsafe and it’s best to only stay within your resort to minimize negative incidents.”
“Of the top 50 most-visited countries, Iran scores the worst in the Global Gender Gap study,” says Fergusson. “It also scored quite terribly with inequality and discrimination categories placing this country fifth worst in our index. One area that Iran did perform well in was the fact that they had very low levels of intentional homicide against women.”
“The Dominican Republic is an extremely popular destination for American tourists and has recently been making headlines after a string of mysterious deaths,” says Fergusson. “In our index, this beautiful Caribbean Island ranked sixth worst, scoring particularly woefully with street safety. Whether the recent media hype is real or not, our study certainly found this country isn’t safe for women traveling alone. This surprised us because before the recent string of events we’d never heard of problems for tourists going to the Dominican Republic.”
“Egypt ranked especially badly in both the global gender gap (fourth worst) and gender inequality (sixth worst),” says Fergusson. “This country was also the tenth worst for street safety. It also has particular poor marriage and divorce laws and fairly poor government representation. But attempts to lower the gender gap are being made by granting over 600 scholarships to women studying in fields of business, science and engineering.”
“Morocco ranked the worst in our list for intimate partner violence,” says Fergusson. “It also scored poorly with gender inequality and the global gender gap. The street safety score was not much better, either.”
“India scored the worst out of our 50 countries in the gender inequality category,” says Fergusson. “It also had poor rankings in intimate partner violence and the gender gap. Sadly, almost 90% of women who are raped in India knew the perpetrator.”
“Thailand had the worst score in our list regarding violence against women attitudes,” says Fergusson. “This country also had poor rankings in intimate partner violence and gender inequality.”
“Very poor ratings with intimate partner violence, and gender inequality issues brought Malaysia to the number eleven spot on our list,” says Fergusson. “This makes Malaysia one of the worst Asian countries for solo female travelers, just behind India and Thailand. The thing that surprised us is how big of a gap there is between Singapore (safest Asian country) and Malaysia since they are separated only by a short bridge. A look at the history of Singapore sheds some light on the surprise.”
12. Saudi Arabia:
Saudi Arabia ranked the worst in our index for legal discrimination,” says Fergusson. “This country also scored the second worst in our list for the global gender gap and scored poorly with street safety. Many women flee the country to find their own freedom and to escape abuse.”
“Turkey had the fourth worst rating for intimate partner violence and the fifth worst in the global gender gap and the eighth worst with street safety,” says Fergusson, who shared the sobering fact that “89.2% of women in Turkey have been subject to violence from their spouses.”
“Argentina scored the third worst with street safety and the tenth worst with intentional homicide of women,” says Fergusson. “Robberies are quite common in Buenos Aires (even while sitting in a car at a red light). And according to a recent report, people in Iraq feel safer walking at night than in Argentina.”
“Chile ranked the seventh worst with street safety and eighth worst with intimate partner violence,” says Fergusson. “Street harassment has affected three out of four people, and 85% of those people are women. Plus, 40% of women are harassed on a daily basis, and 90% have experienced some sort of harassment at some point in their lives.”
“Cambodia ranked the third worst for violence against women’s attitudes and gender inequality. It also scored poorly with the global gender gap and street safety,” says Fergusson. “Over half of men believe that women provoke men into being violent toward them.”
“Bahrain ranked the fourth worst with legal discrimination and the sixth worst in the global gender gap and also performed poorly with street safety,” says Fergusson, who also mentions that shockingly, “rapists are protected from being prosecuted if they are married to their victims or if they move forward to marry them.”
“Tunisia ranked the ninth worst with the global gender gap. It also performed poorly with street safety, legal discrimination and gender inequality,” says Fergusson. “Tunisia leads the northern Africa region in women’s rights and government representation, but at least 47 percent of the country’s women are affected by domestic violence.
“Ranking 19th on our list was the USA,” says Fergusson. “This makes it the most dangerous Western country in the world which was very unexpected. Scoring badly on street safety, non-partner sexual violence and a host of gender inequality issues makes the United States particularly bad for female travelers. For women aged between 20 and 24, homicide is the third most likely way to die, which accounts for a staggering 7.5% of all deaths in this age group. And for black females in the same age group, homicide is responsible for a whopping 15.7% of deaths.”
“Ukraine ranked the sixth worst with street safety and scored subpar on global gender gap and gender inequality,” says Fergusson. “Ukrainians do not consider gender-based discrimination in the workplace a serious issue.”
The 5 Safest Places for Women Travelers
1. Spain: “Spain is the safest country on Earth for women traveling alone and it’s the 2nd most visited destination (just behind France),” says Fergusson. “This sun-blessed mediterranean jewel performed very well with street safety, low legal discrimination and low violence against women attitudes.”
2. Singapore. “Singapore is by far the safest Asian country on the planet. Excellent ratings in more than half of the areas including 92% of women feeling safe when walking alone at night makes this island nation really stand out,” says Fergusson. “Interestingly, Singapore’s next door neighbor, Malaysia, was the eleventh worst country in our Index and is separated only by a short bridge (they speak the same language too).”
3. Ireland: “The small island nation of Ireland had particularly low levels of legal discrimination, gender inequality and violence against women’s attitudes. Ireland also had relatively low levels of non-partner sexual violence,” says Fergusson.
4. Austria: “Austria had some of the lowest levels of sexual violence and gender inequality out of all the destinations we reviewed,” says Fergusson.
5. Switzerland: “Some would say that Switzerland is the most beautiful country in Europe with its countless breathtaking mountains and fairytale landscapes,” says Fergusson. “Switzerland performed very well with street safety, and low levels of intentional homicide against women. Although, quite shockingly, Switzerland didn’t allow women the right to vote until 1971!”