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20 Dec

Not just annoying or uncomfortable – it was downright threatening.

I often feel people’s eyes on me – or rather, I continually notice where the people around me are looking – and I knew that I was often being stared at.

So I would pull awkwardly at the edges of my shorts, rearrange my vest, and start walking more quickly.

Walking through the narrow streets of Cuba’s capital of Havana one day, I found myself behind a Cuban woman and slowed my pace.

We were both dressed for the July humidity; denim shorts, a thin, loose, sleeveless top, hair tied back, sunglasses over our eyes, umbrella on an arm. I wanted to see what treatment she received from the occasional groups of boys and men that punctuated each corner. As we approached a group, I saw their eyes switch to her body.

Walking along the street and noticing a group of teenage boys ahead, a cluster of old men, even a single male figure leaning against a wall while smoking a cigarette; all would prompt a stiffening of my body, a lengthening of my neck, a slight curl of the fists, and a quickened pace.

The cat calls and ‘complimentary’ phrases in Spanish of “” were actually preferable to the more silent advances; the lick of the lips and teeth, the sneer and accompanying grin which left no doubt, in my mind at least, of what they were thinking. The times where I turned around to glare seemed only to prompt further shouts.

As soon as two women meet each other they resentfully check each other out, starting with the shoes of course.

They ask each other questions to which they don’t care what the answer is and put up with each other when they have to. Rules of the game presented to you by a person who has only been here a week!

Depending on the country, I’ve averted my eyes and refrained from ‘upsetting’ the perpetrator, or I’ve stared back sternly, raised my voice and made sure the surrounding people are aware of my discomfort.

Six months in India in 2012 prompted me to write a piece about travelling safely as a solo female – still the highest trafficked article I’ve ever published – which made me think a great deal about how many women are concerned for their safety when travelling alone.