Safety Tips for Women Traveling in Tunisia

Find out how safe Tunisia is for women traveling alone, from what to wear to local customs and etiquette, here's everything solo female travelers need to know.

A woman stands beneath the large columns at Dougga, Tunisia Photo © Getty Images/Mehdi Majoul / EyeEm

Tunisia is one of the African countries where women can travel solo in relative safety, however there are still reports of occasional harassment towards travelers. Here's what you can do to stay safe.

Women in Tunisia

Tunisia is a conservative country, and gender roles of men and women will likely be different to what you may be used to back at home. However, women in Tunisia do have more opportunities than other countries in the region, as they are able to study and work. In July 2017, gender equality took another massive leap forward in the form of the Tunisian government repealing Article 227 in its criminal code. The law previously had allowed a rapist to escape prosecution if they married their victim.

The new legislation criminalizes all violence and discrimination against women, including marital rape. Police are now also required by law to refer women who have been raped to a forensic doctor at a hospital for treatment. Previously, police would not take complaints from domestic violence or rape victims seriously; now it's a criminal offense for them not to take a report and refer the victim.

While there is still much more to do, this is an important step for womens safety in Tunisia, and considered by human rights experts to be one of the best examples of taking action to protect women in the region.

LGBTQI+ laws in Tunisia

Legal challenges face people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) in Tunisia.

Same-sex relationships between both men and women are illegal. Since the Tunisian revolution in 2011, a growing number of gay men have been being jailed.

Keep public displays of affection to a minimum in Tunisia, and avoid expressing your feelings or opinions on these laws, as your words may cause you more harm than any good while traveling here.

Harassment hassles

While most locals are friendly and welcoming, harassment of women travelers tends to occur due a few factors. Partly due to the fact that Tunisian men don‘t associate all that much with women before they get married, and the sexualisation of women in western media gives some Tunisian men the perception that foreign women will do just about anything if someone asks them. So, they ask.

Some Tunisian men are particularly prone to asking young foreign women to kiss them, and seem honestly confused when a woman says they aren't interested. The freedom of foreign women can also be mistaken as promiscuity.

Showing that you’re familiar with Muslim culture and etiquette can help tone down negative interactions with the locals.

Most of the time, the unwanted attention comes from local men staring at women travelers or trying to drum up a conversation. Seeing a woman traveling alone can be somewhat a novelty for local men.

A polite, firm non merci (no, thank you) or la shukran and continuing on your way tends to work.

If you happen to encounter unwanted attention, particularly of the physical kind, a good phrase to remember is "Harem alek". That‘s Arabic for "shame on you" and tends to work quite well with the shopkeepers who may touch your elbow to try to get you to shop in their store. Feign deep offence that a man who is not a family member has touched you. But usually a polite and firm non merci does the trick to avoid these unpleasant situations.

Dress conservatively in Tunisia

As Tunisia is an Islamic country, you will see the local women dressed conservatively, so when in Tunisia, do as the locals do: wear long sleeved clothing, making sure your shoulders and knees are covered. This can hopefully minimize those unwanted comments. If you feel you’re getting lots of attention, pop a scarf over your hair. It's handy to carry one even if you don't wear it if you plan to visit any important monuments or buildings such as mosques, where covering your head may be required. Sunnies are also handy, not just for blocking out the sun but to avoid unwanted eye contact.

A few handy safety tips

As you would in many other countries while traveling around, take basic precautions such as sitting in the back of taxis, sitting next to other women on public transport, avoid walking around alone at night and avoiding the dodgy hotels (these tend to be nearest souks or bars).

If you are traveling solo, another good way to feel safe and meet other people is by joining a local tour. Your accommodation will have suggestions on what to do and it can be a great way to socialize.

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5 Comments

  • Cat said

    I traveled to Tunisa, (Djerba in Sept 2018), on what I thought would be a nice beach break from long term hostel travel in Europe. I paid for a week in a non-beach side resort called Joya Paradise. I had never been to north Africa and was keen on soaking up the culture and taking lots of pictures while being a respectful visitor. (Dressing appropriately, being polite, while watching for scams, pick pockets, the usual...)

    I am a single, western female in my early 30's. I've traveled to over 30 countries, and yes, I have been harassed before, but never like this. As it turns out, my week turned out to be one of my most stressful travel experiences, and i've been chased by an elephant.

    I was directly harassed or asked to go out for 'drinks', (heavy emphasis on the sexual innuendos), by more then a dozen local men while walking around town, resort workers, (including the man who made up and had access to my room), and international men (Algerian, Russian, Arabic...) who were staying at my resort. (One resort guest who approached me while I was reading alone in the lobby... I moved to another seat to get away from him and later he even followed me back to my room).

    I was repeatedly harassed on the beach by the men who rented jet-skis or sold camel/horse rides, one man came up to me repeatedly, (in my resorts roped off section), to ask me out 4 times over a period of 4 hours). Finally when I left the beach for the day and didn't 'go with him', he screamed all manner of profanities at me.

    I was harassed while walking along an ocean marsh to take photos of flamingos by a guy who grabbed my hand and insisted I would be his new wife!

    I was harassed by the man I hired to drive me around to various landmarks in Djerba. He wouldn't take no for an answer and kept asking "how I would like to date him." (he finally took no for an answer and while dropping me back at my hotel continued to ask, 'come out baby!'

    I was walking down the street when a motor bike with two local boys cut me off by riding up on the sidewalk insisting that I come with the for some 'fun'. Apparently, "No, No, No... followed by a generous F-Off" doesn't work. I kept walking but they tried to cut me off another two times.

    And, the worst part of the week was being "romanced" by a resort worker who brokered day trips... We started talking about various things I could book, camel rides, market visits, and after a couple days of talking we became friends.

    After the 5th day he asked me if I would like to come over to meet his mom over dinner. My initial reaction was no, but after some talk I said ok. - I'm usually up for good experiences but then I got a weird vibe from him. The next day pulled him aside and told him that I'm not interested in dating him and I wanted to be very clear on that. He said "he understood", and that, "he didn't want me to feel uncomfortable".

    I declined his dinner offer, to keep things simple. Within 5 minutes of talking his demeanor changed. He asked me "when would I come back to Tunisia?" I told him, "it's not likely, as there are many other countries I'd like to see." He responded with, "well, you'd better start making me a priority if we're going to be together." He then asked, if I had a house back in Canada and that he would like to see it.

    I thought to myself, "whaaaat!" After that, I made a point of avoiding him, which made my resort freedom very small.

    Overall, my week in Tunisia had me feeling constantly on edge. By the end of the week I was glad to be leaving. I'm glad I got to see the colourful doorways and the spice markets, eat the food and grab a couple of hours by the pool. I typically travel solo, so I'm no stranger so watching my 6 while trying to be an open and friendly person, but as my short 7 days in Tunisia progressed, I found myself being more and more on guard, like my back was against the wall.

    I probably won't go back, but I hate the idea that I would avoid a region because the men are overly aggressive. I think that you should be able to travel solo without pretense of a absent fiance.

  • Gemma said

    Thank you Cat for your detailed comments. They are very helpful. Now I am seriously considering abandoning my plan to go - there are other places to see in the world. Or maybe, as I am older, saying in Arabic 'Be ashamed. I could be your mother' would help in some cases? :) Would not protect against the Russians though :)

  • Lena said

    most men in tunisia are very respectful i find that it’s mostly the algerian men that are always catcalling and harassing women. i visit tunisia all the time as my family are from here and me recent visit was last summer and it was great. however, my mum had argued with many algerians which were harassing me on the street even in my hotel my mum had left me alone on the beach and 2 young algerian men sat next to me and were bugging me for my number and i politely refused and they left me alone but i told my mum because i only know english and i was quite intimidated and the hotel immediately kicked them out. my cousins have told me that some of the algerian men think that they’re better than everyone in tunisia and think they can get any girl they want. i also had another awful experience when i was in a cafe. there was this car playing music very loud driving round near where we were and one of the lads came down and asked if they could all join (about 5 of them and only 2 of us) my mum said no and on the way to get a taxi they came again in their car telling us to get in and they’ll take us back to the hotel. we refused again and quickly got into a taxi and told them. my mum said they were algerians yet again as they had a yellow plate of their car and tunisian cars have a white plate. anyways we ended up getting the police involved because they were following us in our taxi and kept stopping infront and our taxi guy didn’t want them following us all the way back to the hotel. despite all the harassment i still would go again as tunisia has so much to offer and many of the local men will help u out if there’s an algerian harassing you. there can also be some tunisian men that will harass you too it’s not just algerian but i’ve found that it was mostly just algerian men. i’ve decided to visit again to see family and bring along my friend as i want to show her around my family’s home town and this will be the first time going without my mum. i would still recommend going to tunisia despite this issue as some people i know haven’t experienced this when they went. i hope this helps

  • Karen said

    Omg how frightening, to be harassed in this way just because you’re a females is harrowing . We’ve just booked a trip in August of this year and I’m glad my husband will be with me “ given what I’ve read, I don’t think I’d be interested in soloing a trip” . However I’ll be using a head scarf as a deterrent and maybe saying “ Harlem Alek” a few times. Hopefully my age and husband will be deterrent enough.

    Thank you for the information on staying safe.

  • Angelic Hamdi said

    I'm married ti a Tunisian for almost 14 years just moved to monastir Tunisia January of 2018 I've had a few taxi drivers try to get friendly and one guy at souq in monastir ask if I knew a women for getting papers to USA but in general I've had a good experience once you know how to defend yourself from the them I go out all the time alone as hubby works in USA and comes every few months I live with his family and I'm Muslim and wear the hijab maybe that why only a few have tried to hit on me

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