Perhaps many of you, like me, never think deeply why the word 'travelling' has gendered interpretation. Especially in Bangladesh, woman travelling is a millennial phenomenon. Before 2000, women could hardly think of taking travelling as a passion. But the scenario has changed in the last two decades. The availability of mobile phones and social media both have contributed to giving women new paths to discover.
For me, travelling was quite a new idea until 2010. I was born and brought up in a very typical middle-class family. So, I had to abide by the 'sunset law', That is, I had to come back home before sunset wherever I might go. Breaking the sunset law means bringing chaos into life. So, an undergraduate 'female' student of a public university had to wait for a long time to have permission from her family to see the real sunset on the beach.
As Chattagram is my hometown, the adventure of seeing the sunset on the beach cost me a long persuasion. Even after 2000, a girl like me had to go through so much agony to get permission to stay outside after sunset. Ironically enough, I had to break the sunset law to watch the real sunset.
You might argue that our parents are always worried about our security. Yes, I am very much aware that Bangladesh is not a very secure country for women. But the point of view of mass people regarding women having trips or going for trekking or travelling is not reasonable.
It's not always about security; it's about breaking the so-called rules which discourage women from travelling. I myself feel that our parents are very much supportive regarding our education and pursuing a career. But our passions or dreams always remain underrated. Even after having a successful career, women are still not allowed to take their decisions, like where to go, who to go with.
I can remember my first trip here. In 2017, I had made up my mind to go on a trekking trip with a travel group. It was indeed a big step for me. First, I had to think about how I will manage my parents. In fact, I had to lie. I had to tell my family that I was going with my colleagues. In reality, one of my colleagues was the admin of the group. So, I felt a bit relieved regarding the security issue. But the mobile network was hardly available in the area we were going to, so I told one of my friends regarding the adventurous trip I was going to pursue. Honestly, I was scared as well as thrilled at the age of 33 to have a trip like that. When I came back from the trip, I could feel why women travelling is such a big issue here.
Apart from being thrilled and exhausted over long trekking, I realised that a woman travelling is much more different than a man travelling. A woman has to overcome the longest way constituting socio-political and religious hurdles before she can make a move towards real trekking.
So, every time I meet a woman on the trip, I want to know her story. How she manages her journey so far. Every story has its different dimension. Some issues are very common for every woman. Some are very unique. But one thing is very true that society is still very much judgmental about women being travellers.
There are some travelling groups that are solely for women. Because parents, family members, society altogether feel that women are safe with women. I feel that it is not a question about safety. It is the judgmental mind of conventional society that always sees only one kind of relationship between man and woman. Where the friendship between man and woman is still a big issue, the relationship between man and woman as co-travellers is tagged as inappropriate, sometimes anti-social.
So, women travellers often face a lot of irritating questions like- "how many girls were there?" "were you the only girl on the trip?' "did your husband accompany you?" "how your parents allow you to go there?" and so on. After every trip, you have to prove that you were with some other women.
Despite all the hurdles, we have our own struggles. The struggle we are carrying inside us is nothing but a dilemma that is ' to go or not to go' or 'to do or not to do'. This is quite eternal for most of the women travellers. The inner struggle of a woman traveller is definitely a matter about which we should raise concern.
As co-travellers, I have known some women. Most of them were singles. Because most of the women (who have husbands or boyfriends) are not allowed to take a trip without family members. So, travelling can be defined as one of the benefits of being single! One of my female co-travellers was telling me that she doesn't want to get married because she thinks the relationship might not allow her to be a traveller anymore.
Recently, I have been to Saint Martin. The admin of our tour group was a woman who had been travelling for a decade. She had her perspectives on women travelling. She believed that a woman on a trekking trip was different from many others as she chose to deny the social norms or family barrier at the beginning of the trip.
What she meant was that a woman traveller refrained herself from social taboos at the inception of the trip. My point here is that the orientation to travelling requires a man to have an adventurous mind whereas a woman needs to get baptised to travelling and wash off all social taboos before being a traveller.
From my first trip to my last trip so far, I have discovered a new world; a world that adds new perspectives to my life. I have explored new places along with some beautiful minds and reshaped my thoughts on women travelling.
Tanni Saha completed her Masters from the Department of English, University of Chittagong. Currently, she works at a private bank.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.