I take groups of Australian women to Arab countries to meet the locals, experience their lifestyle, and hear the ideas that matter to them.
Privileges available to groups of women include ordinary association with the locals in Arab countries along with extraordinary access to women-only environments.
Available also is the powerful, often transformational, dynamic created in the company of women who have a wealth of experience, insights, and interests to share.
This dynamic inspires the locals to respond in wonderfully positive ways.
The women’s visits I lead are premised variously on cultural tourism, professional development, or business, but each shares a common aim – up close experience of Arab worldviews.
Arab governments often accord my groups special privileges because amidst the predominance of misinformation about Arabs (and Muslims), I am able to offer an uncommon quality of experience of their countries, showcasing how they see the world and not just how we see them.
So many people wonder out loud if women are welcome in the Arab region.
Countless women tell me that colleagues, friends, and family caution them about going to an Arab country because they will be forced into ‘awful’ costumes, not permitted to move around in public, and treated rudely by men.
I have even heard some women told not to meet with Arab women because it may be seen as inciting dissidence among them!
Consequences for a foreign woman behaving ‘normally’ in an Arab country are only ever hinted at, but the tone is always powerfully negative. Women do have particular needs when they travel, whether for business, professional development, or recreation and there are global businesses focused on servicing those needs.
The best of them will assist clients to reflect on their own cultural norms when engaging, at whatever level, across cultures.
I also ensure women feel personally secure, have sartorial confidence, comprehend social contexts, and appreciate key cultural motivators of behaviour, including their own. Then they are open to allexperiences in their travels, not just the familiar ones.
My experience shows women are quick to feel high levels of comfort in Arab countries when reassured with appropriate, relevant, and correct information about what to expect to experience – particularly in terms of gender politics.
The result is that they connect quickly and relatively deeply with the local people and with their ideas on the world.
Engaging with Arab worldviews is not the same as concurring with them. But appreciating the integrity of those worldviews breaks the barrier to positive engagement.