Although Tunisian women enjoy freedoms that their counterparts in other regional societies don’t, both gender roles and sexual mores are still conservative. Foreign women, especially those travelling alone or without male companions, are seen as existing outside the protective family structure. This freedom is sometimes equated with promiscuity.
Unwanted attention, from constant stares to actual sexual harassment, is not uncommon for women travelling without male companions, and especially for those travelling solo.
- Physical assault is rare, but does happen. If you are assaulted, try to contact your embassy or consulate first before going to the police: although they will probably be courteous and helpful, the experience could be intimidating.
- Wearing dark glasses is good for avoiding eye contact, but don’t spend your entire Tunisian journey hiding behind them.
- A simple non merci or la shukran (‘no thank you’) is much more effective than reacting with aggression (which could be returned in kind).
- The key concept is ‘respect’, something that most Tunisians hold dear. Hashouma! (‘shame!’) can also be used to embarass would-be harassers.
- A wedding ring may help you avoid unwanted attention. The fact that you’re travelling without a partner will arouse suspicion, but you could counter this by saying you’ll be meeting them at your next destination.
- Ignore cat-calls, sexist remarks and insults. Dressing modestly – covering at least your shoulders, upper arms and legs – makes a difference, especially in rural areas. What local women are wearing is a reasonable guide to prevailing attitudes.
- The beach gigolo scene (known as bezness) exists in coastal resorts. Although plenty of foreign women do have genuine relationships with Tunisian men, the goals of many of the men attempting to charm their way into resort bedrooms may be cash or a visa as well as sex.
- It can be advisable to sit next to other women on buses and louages (though this is not always possible), or in the back seat of taxis, and to avoid staying in cheap hotels, especially those in medinas. Bars and nightclubs are best avoided by solo women. You’ll soon be able to spot which cafes and restaurants are female-friendly.
- Tampons are usually found in supermarkets and pharmacies.