As a continuation of my post on Tips for Travelling to Morocco, this is part two: Is Morocco Safe for Female Tourists? Generally speaking, yes it’s safe for female travelers but there can be more annoyances than other countries. It’s important to dress conservatively, be mentally prepared and take general precautions. Certain areas in Old City Marrakech, Fes and Tangier can get incredibly annoying. While areas in Essaouira and Chefchaouen, you won’t be bothered more than you would at home in the US. Overall, it is very safe to travel in morocco as a female tourist.
Is Morocco Safe for Female Tourists?
The misconception of the Arab world is that women are seen as second class citizens. And that they are all treated poorly. It is the case in some areas (some countries, families, cities) more than others. And this obviously differs from family to family. While this does happen as the western media are never shy to show, it is not always the case. Arab men tend to be more protective of their families and their wive(s). But it does not necessarily translate to all being controlling or harmful. I actually feel a lot safer traveling through the Middle-East because of this reason. As long as you are dressed conservatively and act respectfully. If you do that and are still mistreated, then that is beyond anyone’s control, as that happens here in the US as well.
I had heard mixed reviews over the years. Some very extreme opposites on whether or not it is safe to travel as a woman there. As years went on and my desire to see this country for myself could wait no more, I began to do more research in the past year. I began to read dozens of travel blogs written by women who had gone. Some stated that it was the most unbearable place they traveled to due to aggressive verbal harassment on the streets and touts bothering them to buy things.
On the other hand, I read just as many stories from men and women of all ages. Stating that Morocco became their favorite country and of how amazing the hospitality was of the people there. With enough research, I concluded that while the men may catcall in the bigger cities, they are for the most part harmless.
When in Doubt, Check Statistics over News
What I was most concerned about was the murder and rape statistics. Sexual harassment, whether verbal or physical, can happen anywhere. Just a few years ago, I was chased by a male near Union Square in San Francisco (who I don’t think was homeless). It wasn’t until I ran into the department store screaming that he stopped. I have not had that happen to me anywhere else in the world. As I did my research for Morocco, I learned that murder and rape among tourists were very low compared to many other countries in the world. Especially compared to the US. Many developing countries, like Thailand, Morocco, and Cuba thrive on tourism, so repercussions from the government for crimes against tourists are taken very seriously.
That was enough for me to confidently book my roundtrip flight to Morocco early this year. I bravely set out on my much-awaited journey, which felt like a pilgrimage I needed to do on my own. My one-way flight from LAX to LHR (London Heathrow Airport) cost only 20,000 miles on American Airlines. Then I booked a $60 flight on Ryans Air to Marrakech.
By chance, I had found out via social media that Katie, a friend I had met once a while back over Korean sashimi, was pet sitting in Essaouira for 3 months. This is a common way to stay somewhere for free in exchange for a little work. Katie had quit her corporate job in Recruitment to travel for 2 years. Petsitting or housesitting is a way to extend her travels. Thankfully, we were able to coordinate our schedules to meet. So we ended up renting a car from Essaouira to Chefchaouen, which was absolutely awesome!
Females Should Dress Conservative
Now that brings a more complicated discussion because, in an ideal world, a man should treat a woman equally and respectfully despite how she acts or dressed, right? Yes. But let’s also bring in another perspective. In America, if a woman walks into the office, job interview, or even to a party in an inappropriate outfit, they will likely be treated (or judged) differently than if one were respectfully dressed for the occasion. Now let’s put that into perspective in when you visit a more conservative culture. Like in the Middle-East and most of Asia where the belief of what is ‘appropriate’ differs. To them, wearing a spaghetti strap and shorts is dressing too risque. And quite frankly, you won’t find most Middle-Eastern men in tank top and shorts either.
I have heard females complaining about sexual harassment. There is never any excuse for men to do so, but keep in mind some of these places you’re visiting and their history. Societies need time to prosper, some go 5 steps forward while others go 10 steps back depending on who their ruler is. Being a female tourist in Morocco, one should always do their research.
I see their travel photos of their short shorts/skirts and understand why that happened. It is not right for men to do so, nor do they deserve it. But you aren’t there to start a revolution, you’re there as a guest, so follow the traditions. This is what preparation is for, in which case brings what we call ‘luck‘ when traveling and in life.
It is debatable if the Muslim’s Holy Book, The Quran, actually uses the word “Hijab” to a woman covering up her hair and whole body. It is rare to see Moroccan women in full Burkas as you may see in Saudi Arabia. The Quran does suggest that a woman does not show curves or dress revealing which could entice other men sexually, who are not their husbands. The Old and New Testament both have wordings like this. And in orthodox Jewish, Mormon and Christian communities, women are covered but in more subtle forms. Instead of a cloth head covering, orthodox Jewish women wear wigs to cover their real hair. The even more orthodox ones wear a turban as even a wig is too sexual.
You may not agree with these views, but you are a guest in Morocco, in their culture which is predominantly Muslim. When you talk to some of the Muslim women, they have chosen to do so with respect to their religion. It is not always their husbands and families that force them to do so. It is easily misconstrued that the men have mandated that all the time.
Cooking Class in Essaouira
I recommend taking a Cooking Class with Khadija in her own home in Essouira! She and her husband Hussain are absolutely wonderful hosts and people to really learn from. Khadija’s menus range depending on the season and are accommodating to food restrictions. Ingredients are all local.
Learn now only how to cook traditional Moroccan food, but also enjoy your time in a lovely residential neighborhood. Have real conversations about being a woman living in Morocco.
Book your Cooking Class here:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/khadijaskuzina
- Read Reviews on Tripadvisor
- Email: Khadijaskuzina@gmail.com
Suspend your Judgement and your Prior Beliefs
Traveling far to another country to learn about their culture is what makes it so rewarding. But “ethnocentrism” is still so common, even without realizing it, I know I can be guilty of it at times. At times we go to poor countries, and we think “oh how blessed are we not to live that way”, but many of them are much happier than we are, so who is to say which way is the right way?
We as humans are used to what we know. In the place that we grew up in, in the religion/culture we were brought up. So we begin to think that that is the ultimate truth. While many go abroad to travel, I find that many still act and speak in ways that make them seem superior. They bring their own beliefs about what is ‘right’ to another culture. It is difficult to suspend your own belief system. For that is all you know. This is the case often of Westerners visiting the Middle-East. There is inevitably the ‘white privilege‘ and ‘feminist approach‘ thought process of, “Oh look at these poor Muslim women, covered up like that. If only they could be free like us.”
Without actually engaging in conversations with these women one-on-one, it is unfair to judge that they are all unhappy because of a few stories one has heard. Many of them are in fact happy. Because their priority isn’t on freedom of expression. Many of them prioritize family first. They are grateful for their health and the wellbeing of their family and kids. They are devout to their God and religion. From my point of view, Moroccan society does need improvement in what I think is human and women’s rights, but it does not mean that women are more or less happy than western women. Keep in mind that women’s rights in America did not even begin advancing until 60 years ago.
I challenge you to let go of your beliefs and try to talk to as many women as possible without judging. This can happen on the plane, in restaurants, in spas, in the guesthouse you stay at.. anywhere!
Try to Blend In, to be Left Alone
What I have learned in my travels is that men find blonde women most exotic as it’s different from them. So I am left alone more as an Asian female tourist in Morocco. If you are a blonde female, I recommend covering your hair and wearing sunglasses just to avoid the attention. That is the advice I give for anywhere you travel. The more you blend in, the less you stand out.
Dress conservative, I can’t emphasize this enough. While you may not agree with their religion or their customs, by dressing what is considered revealing to them, is disrespect in their culture, and also makes you “a different kind of female” to them. This is not ‘right’ by any standards but that is the reality of their thinking so it is better to follow if you want to avoid attention. The best example I can give is if you were visiting a friend’s family home who tends to be more conservative, naturally, you are going to dress nicer. You should go more covered up so that you are showing respect for their family and their home. In turn, their family will respect you more.
But how often have we seen that scantily clad female at the wedding who’s dress is a little too short? Now translate this into visiting someone’s country. While I would identify myself as a feminist in that I believe in equal rights for women, when I am in someone else’s country, I respect their customs.
“Whenever you go on a trip to visit foreign lands or distant places,
remember that they are all someone’s home and backyard.”
―Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Even if it is hot in temperature, it will not be that much of a difference to cover your shoulder with a light scarf or a t-shirt. What I noticed too was that you would never see the men hollering at their own women, the local women were left alone. I also noticed men bending over, stopping to chat respectfully with beggar women, bringing them food and giving money. The Quran like most religions suggests giving back to charity and help those in need.
Dealing with Moroccan Men as a Female Tourist
Middle-Eastern men have the stereotype of being chauvinistic. Many of them are also chivalrous and the two notions can easily be crossed into slippery slopes. When I had asked the brothers at my Riad to walk with me at night or direct me someplace, there was never any hesitation, not only as their guest but also to make me feel safe. The same goes for any other time I needed directions in any part of Morocco. Both men and women were equally helpful. Instead of acting like a superior tourist, position yourself as a new friend, a relative, as an equal, for more respect. Of course, you cannot control their minds. But dressing scantily clad or showing up to the streets intoxicated is not going to gain you that respect.
Moroccan Men May Come off Aggressive at First
By day two, I realized that once you stop and talk to them, whether to visit their stores or to ask for directions, they would switch their aggressive tone. 99% of the time, the men became less intimidating and extremely helpful. In talking to other people that lived in Morocco, we seem to come into agreement that these men are not taught how to talk to tourists. And think that the best way to get their attention is from shouting since there is so much competition around. That put things into some perspective because shopkeepers were shouting at men as well to come into their stores.
Most of the local men and women were genuinely curious where travelers were visiting from. Because for many of them, they cannot afford to travel outside of Morocco because of their financial situation. They also felt flattered that so many visitors want to visit their country that they love and are so proud of.
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