The countries of the Middle East and North Africa region have been mired in bad press regarding women’s rights. And though some of it is warranted, there’s no reason not to go for fear of simply being a woman. Whether you’re travelling solo or in company if you take certain precautions and are understanding of cultural differences, you’ll be going back for more, for sure.
People have been travelling through and to the vast region for centuries (the Middle East is the birthplace of ‘modern civilisation’). Though the cultures stretching from Morocco to the Persian Gulf, Levant and beyond are vastly different, here are some general but helpful tips on what to wear and how to act.
What to wear
Wherever you go as a woman, you will have to adhere to codes of modesty. Now, modesty to European-based cultures varies considerably, same goes for Middle Eastern based cultures. There’s also no: ‘If you show leg, you cover up top’ or visa-versa. It’s best to just cover everything, for your peace of mind and toshow respect to the countries you’re visiting. It’s easy and you don’t have to buy an abaya for it either (though you might want to, because they’re pretty cool garments).
1. Loose bottoms
These can be in the form of light trousers or long skirts. Many women wear those long, stretchy cotton skirt. Sometimes you can get away with tighter pants, but, ensure you wear a long top or tunic over them.
2. Loose tops with sleeves
Depending in which country you’re travelling in, you may want to cover past your elbows, but, again, it depends when and where you are. As long as you’re relatively covered up top, including shoulders, you can step out of your hotel without receiving too much attention. However, if I wore something like this, I would bring a loose -and longish- blouse or cardigan to wear over the top.
Tunics are great, they are loose, light and cover your bum outline. If you feel like wearing tighter pants one day, you can pop a tunic over the top and not have to worry.
4. Light & loose cardigan/blouse
Great garment to chuck-on over the top of your outfit. Loose and light is best.
5. If travelling in the summer take clothes that a made from light materials, natural ones are better
Most countries from the MENA region have quite hot, dry and sunny summers, so there’s no guess as to why traditional outfits for men as well as women are:
a) covered (to avoid sun damage and water loss)
b) loose, natural based fabrics (for air-flow)
c) and comprise of head coverings (if in the desert wearing something on your head for water-retention purposes)
6. Always bring a shawl or scarf, you never know when you’ll need or want to wear it
You might see a mosque that may be open for non-Muslims or you may wander into non-touristy areas and don’t want to draw too much attention to yourself.
What to avoid wearing
Even though you may see some tourists wearing these items, it’s disrespectful and you’re better off avoiding them completely.
Big no-no. Opt for a skirt, if you really have to show some leg, try not to wear anything higher than mid-calf.
2. Tight clothing
Just avoid if you don’t want to be stared at or hassled.
3. Low-cut tops
Same thing, avoid, avoid, avoid.
– Remember not to stress too much about it, people are understanding and will know you’re a tourist, just try to show respect. If you’re still unsure follow some modest fashion bloggers on Instagram, Ascia AKFis a great start.