In 2008, my wife and I decided to get out of the United Kingdom and pursue a year of teaching abroad, where a job offer in Cairo, Egypt came calling. Following this, we spent two years in Qatar. While I never experienced issues other than the occasional stare or hostile negotiation with a cab driver, my wife felt unsafe on the streets in some areas.
A post recently discussed how safe traveling to the Middle East is for a solo female traveler. The insights gained were valuable for any woman hoping to visit the Middle East.
1. Never Take Risks
Immediately, ladies from the region jumped into the debate, stating that no woman should ever “compromise her own safety” because you don’t want to offend. This is sound advice, and one must remember the culture views you differently from how your own culture might.
2. Stay in a Group
The consensus was that people of this region in general looked after their women but there are bad apples to avoid everywhere. Reports of female tourist harassment are rife in bigger cities; however, beach resorts and cruises are okay for younger tourists, especially if holidaying in a group.
3. The Gulf States Are Safest
In the Middle East, there is a huge economic divide between the haves and the have-nots. The oil and gas-rich Gulf States like Qatar, the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait appear to be safer places for solo travelers, whereas countries such as Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan are less so.
4. Older Women Are More Respected
As sad as it sounds, women in their middle age get more respect than young, single women in the Middle East. We must remember that the culture differs from the West; being young and alone may be seen as a sign of promiscuity. Acting loud, proud, and free is ill-advised.
5. Don’t Believe All The Fearmongering
Saudi Arabia gets lots of bad press for its historical treatment of women, specifically concerning their education, public activities, and dating choices (they had neither for many years). However, this is changing somewhat, and many women shared how working for a good company or international school is a safe way to be in the country.
6. Dress for the Occasion
Walking down a souq or street market wearing nothing but a tank top and shorts will not only attract unwanted attention from unsavory males, but the locals in Arab countries also disapprove of too much skin on show. It is not an issue in beach resorts or cosmopolitan cities like Beirut, Damascus, or Dubai.
7. Wear a Burkha
Believe it or not, most women wear their burkha by choice — in the Gulf states especially. There are two schools of thought on this: certain Muslim ladies favor covering up to show their purity to God, whereas others do so to deflect male advances.
8. Be Careful With Whom You Associate
It is haram for a man to touch another woman in more conservative countries. So, this goes both ways, and any woman traveling in the Middle East should not get into any situation where they are left alone with an unknown male.
9. Stay Within Sight
Just like any country, there are parts of the Middle East where you just don’t go if you are a solo female tourist. Avoiding run-down areas of major cities at night is advised, though that doesn’t mean evenings are off-limits.
10. Pretend You Are Married
A common theme for expatriate couples living in the Middle East is pretending to be married to secure working visas. Wearing a fake ring and claiming false marital status may help avoid unwanted male attention.
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