When I first accepted an offer to teach in Dubai, I had a million and one questions.
Is it safe? Will I have to dress modestly? How are women treated?
It’s no secret that media doesn’t portray the Middle East in the best light. That — combined with the fact that I grew up in a tiny, remote Virginia town — meant that I had very little support for this move.
My friends and family were worried, to say the absolute least. And sure, I was also a little worried about being so far from home, in a culture that was vastly different from my own. But the worry wasn’t enough to keep me from pursuing my dream.
Little did I know that in some ways, Dubai might be a woman’s paradise.
Not only was I able to wear whatever I wanted without the fear of being cat-called or slut-shamed, but I have never felt safer in my life.
Having studied abroad in Switzerland and traveled through most of Europe, I was used to typical traveling woes, like looking out for pickpockets or dealing with busy hostels. I was trained to be aware of my surroundings, and learned to be vigilant about my safety, especially in larger cities. It wasn’t all that different from how I was trained to act in larger US cities.
In Dubai, however, I became very lax in my personal safety efforts. I soon found myself leaving my purse hanging off a chair while I used the bathroom in a restaurant. I rarely, if ever, locked my front door. I just felt safe. And I was safe.
It was an incredible feeling, not only as a woman, but particularly being in a place that I had been taught was dangerous.
Women are, unfortunately, accustomed to being disrespected. And combating that disrespect is a double-edged sword, even in the United Arab Emirates.
I don’t think you need me to outline how prevalent misogyny is in Western culture.
In Dubai, I can honestly say that I was never treated without dignity purely because of my gender. On top of that, I was in some ways placed on a pedestal because of it.
But I would be remiss if I did not note that part of the respect I received was likely due to the privilege of my skin color. From what I could tell, local women are at the top of the racial hierarchy in UAE. Right under the locals is where the white Westerners rank. Darker-skinned women who are not locals tend to be of a lower social and economic class.
And in addition to that, I’m sure that some Muslim women feel suffocated by many of the things that I consider perks. Despite the fact that these customs have been implemented for women’s’ safety, I got the impression that — for example — not being allowed to be alone with a man who was not a relative frequently posed problems for locals.
That said, here are some of the perks I found in Dubai.
Have you ever wanted to go the beach or pool without all of those wandering eyes checking you out in your bikini? Well, now you can.
Several beaches in Dubai are restricted to women- and children-only. In fact, the entire Mamzar Beach is accessible to only women on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Additionally, Wild Wadi, the platinum-edition of water parks, is open only to women from 8pm to 12am during the summer months. Not only will you get to enjoy this fantastic park without having to worry about inappropriate harassment from men, but you won’t have to worry about sunscreen at night! Plus, no one will care when your bikini bottoms accidentally fly off on the slide (trust me, I’ve been there).
Photography is strictly prohibited on these nights, in an effort to protect the modesty of the Muslim women who normally cover themselves but feel comfortable enough in this environment to go without an abaya.
While I loved the ladies-only nights at the waterpark, I will say that there is one arguable perk: the children.
Many Muslim women take advantage of this ladies-only time (as they should), and they usually bring their children. The kids are everywhere! Boys under the age of eight are allowed in as well, so keep that in mind. An adult ladies-only evening would be much more my personal speed, but this is definitely second best.
Pink taxis and other transportation perks.
In general, taxis in Dubai are a very efficient mode of transportation. Admittedly, the drivers don’t always know how to get everywhere, but will more than likely be able to find all of the touristy destinations.
Something I wish I had taken advantage of more while there was the pink taxis. These taxis are very visible upon your arrival at Dubai airport, as they’re literally pink. You’ll likely see a line of them at the taxi queue upon arrival.
Pink taxis are driven by women and are allowed to be used only by women and families. This means that a lot of the time, you will be able to skip the taxi queue by requesting a pink taxi (they are required to give you one if you request it).
This also goes for booking a taxi in advance from your hotel.
Women-only cars on the metro are also an option, as they are in other parts of the world. Not only is the Dubai metro extremely clean and efficient, but it’s also a pretty cheap way to see many parts of the city.
And now we come to the infamous Dubai ladies’ night, a personal favorite pastime of many a Dubai woman.
If you’re low on funds but you still want to go out, make it a Tuesday. Several bars and restaurants host ladies’ night every Tuesday. Many of these include very cheap drink deals, and sometimes completely free drinks. Yes, you read that right.
I, of course, have a few favorites, as I’ve tried out way too many of these over the years (as if that’s even possible). A couple of my favorites:
God and Goddess Night at Oeno Wine Bar at The Westin Dubai Mina Siyahi: Three free drinks or unlimited wine for 50 AED ($14 USD). When I say unlimited wine, I mean it. The entire bar is lined with wine bottles chilling in buckets of ice. You can either serve yourself or wait for one of the many waiters to come around and fill up your glass. There’s also live music to enjoy while you sip.
Madame Butterfly Ladies’ Night at China Grill: Unlimited free drinks all night, plus 50% off all food for tables of butterflies. China Grill is a bit more upbeat and hosts more of a party crowd, if that’s what you fancy.
Over-the-counter birth control, and other medication.
Now this is one thing that I most definitely miss now that I’m back in the US.
Most of us know how annoying and disruptive accidentally forgetting your birth control at home can be. Well, just pop into any pharmacy in Dubai and you’ll be able to purchase a pack on the cheap. I bought birth control over the counter for four years without a problem. You can get as many packs as you need without any restrictions.
Most antibiotics that are prescription-only in the US are also accessible over-the-counter as well in UAE, so if you get sick on your trip, keep that in mind. You can always discuss your symptoms and allergy concerns with the pharmacist to get exactly what you need.
It’s worth noting that almost everyone in Dubai speaks fluent English. All signage is in both Arabic and English throughout the country.
As I said, I lived there for four years and learned maybe five Arabic words. I just didn’t need to make the effort. This is extremely helpful in situations like these when you are trying to buy medicine.
Cheap beauty products and procedures.
Botox, retinol cream, liposuction, and many other beauty products and procedures are extremely cheap in Dubai.
Retinol cream, for example, which is — in my humble opinion — the goddess of wrinkle creams, is about $10 USD per tube. In the US, it can be over $100.
As far as beauty procedures go, I had a round of Cool Sculpting while in Dubai. This is that procedure that literally freezes your fat cells in a targeted area. Your body then flushes them out over the next few weeks, never to return. One round of this treatment on one body area cost me $250 USD. I know someone who just had this done in the US and paid over $700 USD per area. The differences in price are literally that drastic.
For women travelers, safety is often a major concern on any trip to a new destination. And I never once felt worried about my safety while I lived in Dubai.