Tracy from Florida, writes in to ask:
I am moving to Dubai to work as a nurse in a couple of months. I have never been there but I know many people have great vacations there. My question is, will I be safe as a single female? My family have all put ideas into my head about the chauvinistic society and just being Middle East anyway, so I’m a little worried.
Dubai is safe for single females so long as you respect the local customs. While Dubai is known for it’s more relaxed attitude than other countries in the Middle East, it is still a Muslim country and this must be respected.
Dubai might be a world city but that does not mean it will have the same cosmopolitan attitudes as London or New York. It is important to remember Dubai is a non-western culture. This means wearing long shorts or more ideally, Capri or loose linen trousers and long skirts in public. Shirts and blouses should cover the shoulders.
The majority of the residents are not natives of Dubai. These people are guest-workers, foreign business people, and tourists. Many of the non-locals have never seen women dressed as casually as Western women will often dress and this can lead to misunderstandings. The local women will be dressed many different styles. This will depend on their beliefs.
Many Western women assume that as Dubai is in a Muslim country they will be harassed if on their own. However, if men are caught harassing women they are often arrested and may have their photos published in the local papers.
Dubai offers an excellent opportunity to see a Muslim culture up close and learn that many stereotypes we have of the Muslim world are false. For example, you can join a mosque tour aimed especially at educating Western visitors, with a view to clear up misconceptions about Islam, especially that the religion condones violence.
A great idea is for you to join a women’s organisation in Dubai, as they can give you first hand, up to date knowledge of what to expect, tips on the best places for food and entertainment, and provide an opportunity for meeting others and networking. Try the American Womens Club and International Womens Association for starters.
You can go to a restaurant by yourself but some women have reported that going to a bar or nightclub by themselves (i.e. to meet with a friend) they have been mistaken for prostitutes who also go to bars and nightclubs by themselves. There are many prostitutes in Dubai and are not confined to any one area (as with Amsterdam), partly because their existence is ignored, but this means that this behaviour may be confusing for some men non-Western men unused to the independence of Western women.
A word of caution, if you venture to Sharjah or Abu Dhabi, these cities are more strict than Dubai, so it is advisable to check with others about appropriate dress and behaviour.
Dubai Taxis own the Pink Taxis which are for women only, as well as for mothers with small children. The pink taxis really are pink and they have female drivers. The rates are the same as the regular taxi’s.
If you choose to use a regular taxi, sit in the back seat, be assertive with the driver, and do not engage in small talk as this may be misinterpreted as over-friendliness or even propositioning by some men. Do not accept free lifts from strangers, male or female.
If you remember that Dubai is not Western and that the native population (as well as many of the non-native residents) have different cultural expectations and you respect those expectations, then you will enjoy a safe, interesting time working in Dubai.