Safety Tips for Women Traveling to Bahrain

Bahrain is generally a safe destination for women travelers, however here are a few tips on how to dress, avoid conflict and meet local women.

The Grand Mosque Bahrain Photo © Getty Images/Abdulla Ahmed

There is always the threat of an uneasy political situation across the Middle East, so stay up to date with news and media while you are traveling. Be aware the media is tightly controlled in Bahrain, and the main TV, newspapers and radio networks follow pro-government rules.

How To Behave when Traveling in Bahrain

Bahrain is a very conservative society where most women are either hidden from view or, when in public, are expected to cover their heads and arms. This is indicative of the standards of dress expected in Bahrain and visitors should refrain from wearing tight or revealing clothes including strapless and skimpy tops, and shorts as they are not appreciated by the majority of people in Bahrain.

Women should cover up with long-sleeved clothing and trousers or a longer skirt. Carry a scarf which can be used when visiting a mosque or other places where a covered head is required. Wearing sunglasses helps avoid eye contact.

In Bahrain, there are a number of issues relating to women's rights and campaigners have attempted to change laws. Women only gained voting rights here in 2001.

There are still no laws to protect women against domestic violence and there are problems with low-paid migrant workers being lured to Bahrain on a promise of high wages only to find they have unwittingly ended up working in prostitution.

This is particularly relevant to jobs such as waitressing, bar work and entertainment. Women looking for work in Bahrain should be mindful of offers of "free visas" and "visa waivers" which may not be genuine. Many apartments and bars are used for prostitution. The sex industry is very much underground and unregulated in Bahrain.

Alcohol is frowned upon in Bahrain and women drinking in public is frowned upon. The focus here is on the family, and women are expected to have husbands and children. Women travelers on their own could find themselves the subject of curiosity as traveling alone is not culturally acceptable.

One way of avoiding questions and unwanted attention is to wear a cheap wedding band or carry a photo of your "husband" or "children" if you don't have any of your own. If you think you are being hassled, walk into a shop or restaurant and ask for help. If you are groped or are receiving unwanted attention that is persistent, make a fuss and show your disgust. 

Avoiding Trouble

Bahrain is undergoing a period of instability and most Foreign Offices around the world advise against travel to the country. This is a country where the majority population is Shia Muslim and the rulers are Sunni. For this reason, troops are being used from other Sunni dominated countries such as Saudi Arabia and there are reports of human rights atrocities.

For women visiting Bahrain during political unrest, it is important to avoid the large demonstrations and to be constantly aware of one's surroundings. Women should also be very wary of being alone amongst crowds of demonstrators, particularly men, as the situation can turn ugly very quickly either through the use of riot squads or, as reported in other Middle Eastern countries, against the woman by the demonstrators.

For women who are working in Bahrain, perhaps as a journalist, it is vital to risk assess work assignments that are to be carried out in an unstable environment. Be aware of religious festivals and events, particularly those in the Shia calendar as these are likely to be a catalyst for more demonstrations and riots. Fridays after midday prayers are also potentially high risk for demonstrations and disorder.

Meeting Local Women

Traveling is a great opportunity to meet local women, and in Bahrain there are women's organizations, and opportunities to learn Arabic and Middle Eastern cookery. By looking a little closer into the culture a whole new world of opportunity can open up.

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10 Comments

  • Fraupi said

    Thanks for the article and the useful information. What I honestly don't get is the final remark on cookery. Are women per se interested in cookery? Would you include this in a piece targeted to the general or male audience?

  • Amy said

    All I can say is you have obviously never been to Bahrain. As someone who has lived and worked there I can say women are perfectly safe and only need to wear long sleeves and cover their knees. No need to cover more and the level of tolerance of cultural difference is staggering. It's fine to drink, dance, or whatever. Honestly, Bahrain is safer for women than London.
    Travelers will be welcomed and locals are friendly. Be a little mindful that some men will approach you for romantic encounters, but be clear about your intentions and you will usually receive a pleasant chat or polite apology.
    I always felt safe at any time of day or night, and drove myself everywhere. Don't worry. Bahrain is a safe, hospitable, friendly nation, and a pleasure to visit, even alone.
    Also, the unrest is confined to certain areas and will not affect most visitor or workers. Checkpoints are sometimes set up but are simple and not scary. Even when I have driven through small riots, people do not want to involve outsiders. It is a simple altercation between locals and police and usually small scale. Do not be alarmed. Be polite. It will be fine. But even when living there long term I rarely encountered problems, even recently.

  • Aiden said

    Fraupi: You will understand once you visit Bahrain... Or any other Islamic State in that matter. In general females are expected to make babies and take care of the house and their husband. Men and women don't mingle if they are not married or part of same family. Thus, that is a great opportunity for females to learn about Arabic cooking, as you can mingle with other females.

  • Christina Milsom said

    I need help. I want to travel to Bahrain for two weeks. For the culture and to see my America boyfriend. I am British and live in England. Me and him have been together for 6months now and are very happy.. he wants to show me everything beautiful about Bahrain. I just need to know that asking for a visa at the Bahrain airport isnt as hard as everyone says as I’m a women??

  • maram said

    I have lived in Bahrain for all my life, and as a community, we are generally open-minded. I for one only wear what was described during winter. The youth of Bahrain and our parents along with us are allowing room for more diversity. I go out with boys and girls, and I go out alone. I don't plan on getting married until I'm old and I certainly don't plan on staying at home. While there is a majority of people that remain narrow-minded, there's a larger number of people who accept that people are allowed to be different from each other. Our generation is taking over, we are free and more accepting although there are still things we could work on. Nobody is going to hassle you for wearing a sleeveless shirt or a short skirt (although guys can be gross, every country has those, unfortunately), and only the most backward person could judge you for traveling alone. Come to Bahrain just avoid old people lol

  • Arleeda said

    I am taking a Vantage package tour of U.A.E., Qatar, and Oman and would like to tack on 2 days on my on for Bahrain. Does anyone have recommendations on what to see, hotels, etc. I am 81 years old so don't think I will appear sexy to anyone.

  • Maree said

    You have obviously never lived in Bahrain. As someone who was born and raised here, I have never been reprimanded when I wear sleeveless outfits or short dresses. You might get a few stares or cat calls but tell me a single country where men don't make women feel uncomfortable about their clothes. It's something women face around the world. You will never be prevented from wearing what you want in Bahrain
    It is not a problem
    It is a very progressive country and none of my Bahraini female friends are expected to get married and have babies. Their focus is to get good educations and build their careers!

  • Mohammed said

    I disagree with your statements. Bahrain is a very nice place to live in and it is safe to travel to.
    Women are being treated fairly in our country and they even occupy critical posotions in the government organizations and private sector.

    The photo was probably taken in a village

  • Marwa said

    This article is ridiculous... are you mixing up Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?! You can wear whatever you want here as a woman unless you enter a mosque where you have to cover.
    There are bars here and clubs and parties and lots of local and foreign people go there to have fun, and sure there are others who are more religious and don’t care about such things but they leave you alone.

  • Travel-a said

    Hi, Im planning on coming to Bahrain if God wills after Ramadan a week after. I will travelling solo. I am a female i just need to know is it safe to travel after Sunset?

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