Tips for Women Travelers in South Africa

Find everything that women travelers in South Africa need to know about healthromancewomen’s rights and safety.

All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad.  Add your voice!


Health

Feminine Hygienic Products

Mollie says: Moon cups are becoming increasingly popular as a part of the recent menstrual activism. Pads and tampons are very expensive and tampons do not come with applicators. The drugstore, Clicks, or Checkers all have items.

Colleen says: Everything is available from most supermarkets.  Tampons and sanitary pads of various sizes can be found many places in Durban, and if there are really problems, you can find adult nappies. ‘Clicks’ is a shop which is kind of like a drug store with toiletries, make up, hair products and a pharmacy.  I am not aware of anything in this category being illegal.

Birth Control

Mollie says: I lived on my university’s campus, so I would visit the sanitarium (doctor’s office) and under student health insurance that was required through my study abroad office, it was free. For other females, I know they could pay for birth control pills for $15 USD. Free condoms were ubiquitous around my campus, but could be easily purchased at drugstores or grocery stores.

Colleen says: Birth control is free from government clinics, but these vary in cleanliness and ‘customer service’. I would recommend using the nurses’ offices sometimes available in large pharmacies.  You will have to pay but it’s significantly cheaper than paying for a doctors consultation.

Gynecologists

Mollie says: I did not see anyone while I was there but friends told me it was not very different from the States.

Colleen says: Gynecologists are available at most hospitals. Consultations are very expensive unless you are on a private health care package. I personally would not visit a government hospital. In the UK, where I am based when not travelling, your annual pap smear can be done with the nurse. That does not happen here.


Romance

Dating Locals

Mollie says: Inter-racial dating is still not very prevalent. Be cautious of very forward guys–they move a lot faster than in the States. I would meet guys who would ask me to be their girlfriend after one date.

Colleen says: Dating here in Durban is the same as dating in the UK and the US. Some men are more traditional, however.

Types of Men

Mollie says: There were many rugby guys, as well as guys who were hard partiers, very studious, or just fun to chill with. It was very easy to discern the types of guys.

Colleen says: The locals here are either white English speaking, white Afrikaans speaking or black African speaking.  The White English and afrikaans speaking are easy going, love the outdoors, generally are beer drinkers, enjoying barbecuing outside, mostly polite and well mannered with traditional values. South Africans are mostly family oriented.  The Afrikaans speaking are sometimes a little more traditional or old-fashioned. The black African speaking guys are part of a new generation of South Africans.  Some still live far away on a small farm with animals and travel miles and miles to get to work. Some have higher education, live in the city or suburbs who have a higher economic level.

Gay-friendly?

Mollie says: Yes, very open in Grahamstown.

Colleen says: The Afrikaans-speaking population, being more traditional, are a lot less accepting of gays than English-speaking South Africans. Most men in South Africa are strong characters with matching egos and might not be accepting of anything that isn’t deemed ‘normal’.


Women's Rights

Women’s Rights

Mollie says: Women’s Day is becoming a very celebrated holiday in South Africa. It is a national holiday, so school and lots of places were closed. The country is moving towards being a nation of equality.

Colleen says: There are many women ministers in parliament and some on the presidential board.  Jobs are open to both men and women but salaries for women will be slightly lower.

Local Women

Mollie says: Gender-normativity is hard to break in South Africa. This is clear from the expressions you might get when wearing pants around town on the weekend when all the local women are dressed in skirts.

Colleen says: White women are typically like women in the US or UK. Black women are also part of the new generation of South Africans. The younger women speak beautifully, dress beautifully and often have elaborate hair styles. The older generation of women are larger (big chest and bum are a sign of beauty in the Zulu culture) and their English is not always great. There’s no difference in clothing unless you are visiting rural villages. You do often see Muslim women in full burkas.

Perception of American Women

Mollie says: Local men really liked American accents, and men would not express any interest in me until I spoke. Just be cautious because it does get you a lot of attention–wanted or not.

Colleen says: Since I was born in South Africa but live mostly in the UK, the only question I get asked is, ‘If you were born here, why on earth would you move to England?’

Women-Specific Environments

Colleen says: In Durban, there is a high number of Indians who are mostly Muslim. Obviously women are not allowed inside the main area of mosques.  Other than that, I have not come across anything that segregates the sexes.


Safety

Transportation

Mollie says: Do not take the bus. Public transportation is not really available, so travel with others using taxi cars or vans. Hitch-hiking is very prevalent.

Colleen says: Never use public transport here- especially the African taxis. The source of their driving licences is always in dispute and there are often accidents which discover almost 20 people in a 10 seated minibus. You hardly see buses here and it is generally accepted that they are for the poorer African population as most White people have their own car. Car hire is relatively cheap.

Trains are generally unsafe. I just heard a story recently from my cousin who traveled from Johannesburg down to Durban on the train and he said the conditions were awful. Even though he had reserved a seat, people just stampeded the train the second it opened. Everyone was drunk most of the night and he sat on his bag for fear of it being stolen. For a 7 hour car journey, the train took over 18 hours. Stick to the budget airlines Mango Airlines and Kalula Airlines if you want to travel to major cities in South Africa.

Shady Areas for Women

Mollie says: Some clubs–be cautious of areas that men want to take you.

Colleen says: As with any city, don’t head down any small alleys, stick to the main streets, don’t wear lots of flashy jewelry, don’t carry big cameras, hang onto your handbag and keep it zipped up as stuff WILL go missing if you dont.

Clothing

Mollie says: Nothing is really off limits and you can find anything you’d find in the US in South Africa. Just be careful with cultural appropriation if you are wearing something that is representative of someone else’s culture. Be informed.

Colleen says: Clothing is very relaxed here in Durban.  Being a seaside city, you’ll see girls in bikinis on the beachfront and in shopping centers. Topless bathing is not accepted here.  Skirts, t-shirts and dresses are often seen.

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