For female travellers there are general issues to consider when visiting Bahrain that are applicable at any time. There is also the threat of the political situation across the Middle East to bear in mind
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 therefore visitors should refrain from wearing strapless and skimpy tops, revealing clothing 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. Clothing should also not be tight and it is helpful to have a scarf which can be used when visiting a mosque or other environment where heads are covered. Wearing sunglasses helps avoid eye contact.
In Bahrain there are a number of issues relating to women's rights that portray a view of a country in which campaigners have attempted to change the law. Women only gained voting rights in 2001 in Bahrain.
There are still no laws to protect women against domestic violence and there are problems with low paid migrant workers being lured into Bahrain on a promise of high wages to find they have unwittingly ended up working in the prostitution trade.
This is particularly relevant to jobs such as waitressing, bar work and entertainment.Women looking for work overseas should be mindful of offers of "free visas" and "visa waivers" which may not be all they seem. There are many apartments and bars being used for prostitution that are unregulated in Bahrain and are part of an underground industry.
Alcohol is frowned upon in Bahrain and it is not considered good practice to be seen to be drinking in public as a woman. In Bahrain the focus is on the family and women are expected to have husbands and children. Female travellers on their own could find themselves the subject of curiosity as travelling 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 find you have been groped or are receiving unwanted attention that is persistent make a fuss and show your disgust. It is particularly important to avoid drawing attention to yourself as this very often encourages the undesirable people.
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 to help control the situation and there are a number of 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.
Travelling is a great opportunity to meet other women and in Bahrain there are women's organisations, and opportunities to learn Arabic and perhaps some Middle Eastern cookery. By looking a little closer into the culture a whole new world of opportunity can open up.
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