30 July 2013
Many of us regularly travel overseas, sometimes to places we consider fairly similar to home, sometimes to places we are less familiar with. When I reflect on some of my travels I wonder what I was thinking – I went to Port Moresby, Johannesburg and Manaus, cities generally considered unsafe, without significant preparation or thought of how I would manage my own safety and security. Perhaps even more worrying was that none of my employers raised the need to prepare for travel to locations that are plagued by social injustice, high crime rates and rampant sexual violence, or that have different views of what women can and cannot do than what I was used to.
In more recent years I have been lucky enough to work in organisations that take their duty of care more seriously. Many organisations now have policies in place stating that anyone who travels to ‘unsafe’ locations need to attend at least basic travel safety awareness training. But there is still some way to go. The implementation of those policies often fall to individual line managers, and in reality a staff members opportunity to receive appropriate training often depends on if his or her manager has set aside the budget, or indeed on if they find it important enough for the staff member to take the time to attend a course.
Women face a particular set of challenges when travelling and those challenges are generally not sufficiently addressed in standard travel awareness and safety courses. In many cultures there are different rules to observe for women and the relationship between men and women is more regulated that in Western cultures. Women are of course also more likely to be subjected to sexual violence.
Being travel smart does not mean that every risk is eliminated. But it does mean that you make it your business to be aware of the cultural norms and social and political realities in the places you are travelling to. And it does mean that you understand how you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a crime or of sexual violence and how to make sure that you stay as safe as possible.
And a few words to those readers who are also employers. As an employer you have a responsibility for your staff – a duty of care – and you need to make sure that your staff is as well prepared as possible for the travel you expect them to undertake. If you do not take this responsibility seriously, you can be held liable if something goes wrong. Investing in travel safety awareness training for women is a small price to pay for ensuring that your female staff are aware, smart and confident travellers, able to focus on the purpose of their trip, and for you to have peace of mind in the knowledge that you are a responsible employer.