#Viajosola - I Travel Alone

#Viajosola – I Travel Alone

Last month, two Argentinian girls were backpacking through Ecuador when they ran out of money, as travellers like us are wont to do. María José Coni and Marina Menegazzo, 22 and 21; they could have been you and me. A friend arranged a place for them to stay, and put them in touch with two men – just a regular friend-of-a-friend, couch-surfing exchange. But those men had other ideas. When drunk, they came onto the girls, and when the girls refused, the men brutally murdered them and dumped their bodies in plastic bags.

And so began the victim blaming. Prominent Argentinian psychiatrist Hugo Marietan took to Twitter and said the girls “took a risk”. “There are parts of the world that are not ready for full freedom of the woman,” he wrote. “Women, you are also responsible for your preservation. Do [you] serve your feminist theories in that final moment?”

Members of the public followed suit. “Why were the girls travelling solo?” they asked. “Why didn’t they have a man with them? Why did their parents let them go backpacking alone?”

Infuriated at the suggestion María and Marina had somehow brought about their own deaths, Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta wrote a Facebook post from the girls’ perspectives. It has since been shared more than 700 000 times, and parts of it have been translated below.

“Yesterday I was killed … But worse than death was the humiliation that followed. From the time they had my dead body, nobody asked where the man that ended my dreams, my hopes and my life was. No – instead, they started asking me useless questions. To me, can you imagine? A dead girl, who cannot speak, who cannot defend herself.

What clothes did you wear?
Why were you alone?
Why would a woman travel alone?
You got into a dangerous neighbourhood, what did you expect?

They questioned my parents for giving me wings, letting me be independent, like any human being. They told them we were on drugs, so surely, we asked for it. They told them they should have looked after us. And only when dead I realised no – for the rest of the world, I was not like a man. That dying was my fault, and will always be. If the headline had said “Two young male travellers were killed”, people would demand a higher penalty for the murders. But being a woman, it is minimised. It becomes less severe, because of course I asked for it … ”.

Guadalupe’s moving, unapologetic condemnation of the public’s perception of María and Marina’s cruel demise has triggered a world-wide social media response from other girls who backpack solo with the hashtag #viajosola – Spanish for I travel alone.

Girls – friends of girls, parents of girls, lovers of girls: what happened to María and Marina is a complete and utter tragedy, but it should not be read as a warning of what will happen to us if we travel solo. If we let it, fear will become a blunt force that keeps us at home, saving travel photos on Pinterest rather than getting out and seeing the world for ourselves. Yes, like all travellers, girls on the road need to keep their wits about them, but we need to rise above this fear-mongering and realise that preventing crimes against women is not the responsibility of the victim. If we don’t, it is the criminals who win.

As Guadalupe so eloquently concluded her post, “I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other woman ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voice. We will fight – I’ll be with you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut us all up.”

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Ridin’ Solo: Why You Should Travel Alone

Gemma Clarke is the editor-in-chief of Global Hobo. She spends her time contracting tinea in foreign countries, taking afternoon naps and drinking red wine through a straw.