Studying abroad as a female student: Barcelona gender norms and safety tips

Programs for this blog post

Business + Culture

Authored By:

Savannah S.

Studying abroad as a female student was a bit daunting at first! I was worried about my safety as a female foreigner, and I was unsure how I would fit into the social and gender norms in Barcelona. Soon after I arrived, I began to notice the local gender norms and roles, and to be honest, what I was exposed to didn’t differ too much from what I am used to in the United States. Overall, on a positive note, Spain has been making great strides in improving gender equality in many different areas over the last few years. In politics, for example, the President’s cabinet consisted of 65% female ministers in 2018. They are working towards closing the pay, employment and education gender gaps. One thing that Spain beat the United States to was shared parental leave after a couple has a baby, so both parents, regardless of their gender, are able to have time to help out and bond with the baby. One particular norm that I noticed when I spent 5 days with family friends, was the sharing of domestic roles in the home. When I visited on a Thursday, the mother was at work, and the father was the one who picked me up from the train station and took me sightseeing before we all met up for dinner. That weekend, when they had family over for lunch, I watched both of them make all of the food - she made the tortilla while he made paella, for example.

Although Spain is making strides towards more equal and positive gender norms, there was one that differed from the United States that caught me by surprise. Soon after arriving, I felt that the men were very forward towards women, whether it be out at night, walking on the street, shopping, eating, riding on the metro, literally whatever, they more often reach out to touch or catcall. However, I soon realized that this is not just a gender norm, but more of a different social norm, in that all people in Spain are more open about and comfortable with touching and speaking to strangers. This was something that took a few weeks for me to adjust to, and to learn how to appropriately and respectfully set my own boundaries with the locals when they did try to interact in this way.

After studying abroad in Barcelona, I have learned some essential safety tips for women (and others) who are travelling anywhere! 

  1. Stay in groups as often as you can.
  2. Do not walk alone or take the metro home alone at night.
  3. Do not take cabs alone.
  4. If you are drinking, make sure to stay alert, and have a sober friend!
  5. Try to avoid isolated areas, and stay in public ones instead.
  6. Keep your valuables, like your passport, phone, and wallet out of reach, in a zippered pocket or purse that is close to your body or under a jacket.
  7. Act confident! It is easy for locals to tell if you are a tourist, and the more that you look like you know where you are going/what you are doing, the less likely you are to be pickpocketed/scammed.
  8. Always have access to your phone - buy a new SIM card when you get there or pay for an international plan.
  9. Carry a safety object, like a Birdie self-alarm system, or pepper spray (check to see what is allowed in the country).
  10. Spend the extra money for the safer option! Whether it is for cars, flights, airbnbs, hotels, or anything else, when you are travelling abroad, it is worth the extra cost to stay safe!

However, the best tip I can give any student of any gender that is studying abroad is to do some research on the country’s norms and safety concerns/tips before arriving, especially if there are any in particular that you are curious or worried about!