Living in the Middle East as A Single Woman

Being a woman in an Arab country is not easy. Ask anyone (woman) who has been to the Middle East.

Before departing for Egypt, I did my fair share of research about being a solo female in the country. I can’t say it was presented in a positive way. I remember reading an article about a Canadian woman who met and married an Egyptian man. A few years after they were married, he left her because he got his Canadian citizenship. There were many comments for this article. Some commenters had similar experiences. (I’d provide a link to this article, but I can no longer find it)

 Siwa Oasis

Apart from such articles, we cannot ignore the fact that muslims can have 4 wives (more about this on another post soon). It didn’t take a lot of digging to find out that Egypt is a conservative country and men are sexually repressed because many couldn’t afford to marry until their late 30s.

Oh this was going so well. It seemed I was going to have a “lovely” time in Egypt, probably faint in between the hot weather and the need to wear long sleeves and jackets. Upon arrival, it is what I expected. Men would stare at me while I walked on the street, or waiting for the bus, despite the fact I was dressing conservatively. Cars passing by would honk at me. To this day, I still don’t know if they just want to catch my attention, or is this another type of flirting?

Egyptians are very curious people. They would stare at me just for being a foreigner. Not just any foreigner — an asian, they don’t see my kind very often. I was very envy of those foreigners from certain European countries, if they put on a headscarf, they can pass as Egyptians, and hence, less unwanted attention.

I have heard stories of unwanted touch in taxis or in the mall. Personally it did not happen to me, but I cannot speak for everyone. If I ignore the staring, the amount of verbal harassment is less than what I received back home in Canada (Save those stories for another time).

 Siwa

Fun fact: Walking down a street solo in downtown San Francisco recently, the homeless guys on the street said to me “Hey, thank you for being so beautiful. We appreciate it.” as I passed by. It reminds me of the days in Egypt. Harassment? It is not just a problem in the East.

Safety Tips:
  • Dress conservatively: wear something with short sleeves at least and something to cover up to your knees
  • Don’t smile at strangers: having a mean look on your face does help keeping them away
  • Avoid crowded places when possible (ex: take the next elevator up)
  • When taking taxi by yourself or walking in the dark, talk to a friend on the phone (if something happens to you, your friend can call for help)
  • Have male friends accompany you when possible
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