Saturday, September 27, 2008

On Display At BIAP

An old man ambles along the platform at the Baghdad railway station

Standing around the arrivals terminal at BIAP yesterday one thing stood out among everything else; a blond girl, twenty-something, wearing Lara Croft-like khaki shorts, a sheer white linen shirt and not much else. She was standing there talking to her PSD as if nothing were out of the ordinary. The entire terminal, all 60+ guys stood there eying her, some out of lechery of course, but most out of amazement at her complete lack of knowledge and understanding of where she was.

I looked at her PSD and thought, "You guys have screwed up already, and you haven't even left the airport yet". I'm sorry but I viewed this as a security failure. Maybe the PSD didn't get chance to brief her as to what was acceptable attire in Baghdad, but once she showed up she should have been whisked away and changed into something a little less "provocative". Instead she remained on display for the entire terminal, drawing much unwanted attention to herself and her detail.

Women arrive in Baghdad airport all of the time albeit most of them are muslim. I'm not advocating that western women wear hijabs, but I do think that some degree of cultural sensitivity is called for. At least have the wherewithal to cover your legs and arms. The less attention you draw the better for everyone.

1 comment:

NellaLou said...

Great article. Here in Northern India I see this kind of thing all the time with the tourists and the ladies don't have protection details with them! It strikes me that if one is traveling then perhaps a little research into the customs of the place would be in order. In these societies with very pronounced gender divisions and strongly prescribed gender roles women have to be a lot more careful than when they are at home. They might not like it but they are in someone else's context and not their own and some degree of conformity is expected. When it is not forthcoming all sorts of stereotypes are invoked and the local people rely on that kind of pseudo-information in order to determine how someone new in an area is to be treated. In most Asian, Middle Eastern and even some Southern European countries women are expected to maintain a highly pronounced degree of modesty and a highly restrained manner of behavior. My advice as a Western woman living in an area of India where very few foreigners travel is:
-research the customs
-learn the most respectful forms of the language even if it is just the greetings
-keep your eyes open and see to what extent local women are covered up. This doesn't mean wearing a burqua but check if arms and legs are covered and follow suit with your western clothes.
-maintain a large social distance when doing business with the opposite gender.
-treat any man you have contact with as you would a brother or uncle-in fact use those terms of address in the local language if that is an appropriate custom-and further don't flirt and spout remarks with sexual innuendos unless you are looking to get raped.

There is a lot more that could be said about behavior and I will do that elsewhere but thanks Eric for bringing up this topic. As more women are traveling to more unusual destinations there are special considerations in terms of their security that have to be taken.