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Social misconceptions about women in Tunisia can mean that solo female travellers can be subject to harassment.

Tunisia isn‘t one of the worst in the region for harassment of foreign women, but that doesn‘t mean that it doesn‘t have serious problems with it. Partly due to the fact that Tunisian men don‘t associate all that much with women before they get married, and partly due to western pornography, a lot of Tunisian men have the idea that Western women will do just about anything if someone asks them. So they ask. Tunisian men are particularly prone to asking young foreign women to kiss them and seem honestly confused when they don‘t.

Harassment Hassles

Tunisian men are very polite, knowing how much they depend on tourism and how little the country is getting since the Bardo attack. However, dressing conservatively (cover shoulders to knees and everything in between; long shirt covering your butt, shirt not too tight) helps minimize comments in any Muslim country. If you feel you’re getting lots of attention, pop a scarf over your hair and you’ll be treated more like a local Muslim woman, ie ignored or respected.

It‘s much easier for women to travel by themselves here, with the levels of harrassment much less than other neraby countries. Still, they should take basic precautions such as sitting in the back of taxis, sitting next to other women on buses and avoiding the cheap and dodgy hotels.

What To Do

If you 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.

If you show that you’re familiar with Muslim culture and etiquette it can help tone down negative interactions. For example, if a shopkeeper touches your elbow to try to get you to shop in his store, feign deep offence that a man who is not a family member has touched you. Calling for the assistance of local women can also help in difficult situations.

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4 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.

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