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How to ensure the safety of women business travellers in sub-Saharan Africa

International SOS recently released its ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: Travel Security Risks for Women’ report for its clients, with a series of tips shared for women intending to travel to sub-Saharan Africa – and what companies can do to support them.

Travel statistics reveal that last year, women made up some 64% of all travellers globally. However, females face unique and heightened challenges compared to other traveller groups, including sexual harassment, criminality, and social, cultural and religious norms.

Across Africa in particular, women often face greater exposure to certain risks and are also perceived as easier targets. According to Salome Odhiambo, Lead Security Analyst, East & Southern Africa at International SOS, given that women are disproportionately affected when travelling, especially in sub-Saharan countries, if a company is sending them on work-related events, they should be assessing all threats posed to their workforce. “Not only should your employees who travel be made aware of the relevant risks, but they should also know what tools are available to help them manage these risks.”

“Many businesses still do not consider whether their workforce has the correct support during travel, from vetting transportation and accommodation options as well as ensuring there are reliable communications. Additionally, ensuring travellers know who to contact in the event of an emergency is vital, and this means clearly communicating roles and responsibilities to relevant stakeholders in your organisation as well.”

Odhiambo adds that such measures are even more required when a company is sending transgender women and other members of the LGBTQ+ community on business travel. “For example, we know that some local police on the continent may ignore crimes committed against transgender women and in other cases, reporting an incident may result in prosecution, extortion, or deportation of the transgender woman – so is your business prepared for this and have the proper procedures been put in pace for your employees that may be affected?”

“As business travel opportunities become more prevalent within a company, do not merely examine this from a time or work perspective, but consider what this means for the company’s policies, approach and protection boundaries available for all employees, and especially female ones.”

Key recommendations arising from the International SOS report, include:

  • Assess the risks posed to workforce based on the location specific risks, and the travellers’ profile and itinerary.
  • Travellers should be made aware of the relevant risks and the tools to help them manage these risks, such as International SOS’ e-learnings and location guides.
  • Businesses should reconfirm the comfort levels of travellers prior to travel and reassess travel requirements, where issues arise. 
  • Confirm that workforces have adequate support during travel to enable them to conduct business safely and successfully.
  • Ensure travellers know who to contact in the event of an emergency – in-country and at the company they are representing.
  • Ensure incident management protocols are in place for a variety of scenarios, including incidents of sexual assault and harassment. This should include early engagement of legal representation and of the police and plans for management of the welfare of the assaulted person.
  • Clearly communicate requirements for travel for your female employees, for example, local dress codes or local crime hotspots to avoid or whether they can take advantage of things like women-only or women-driven taxis.
  • Familiarise all your staff with your organisation’s incident report protocols in the event of a security incident or an emergency when travelling.

“As a woman, if you are planning to travel, it’s important to do your research and take added precautions. From a business perspective, having an advisory partner that can clearly help you understand how women’s profiles can impact their risk exposure can better ensure their safety and organisations better execute their duty of care,” concludes Odhiambo.

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