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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.
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.
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.
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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