First and foremost, let’s address the elephant in the room, the most frequent question – Is Iraq Safe for women? Granted, it is a good question; I even posed it myself as a 26-year-old woman. Unfortunately, my entire life, what I was consuming didn’t push Iraq to the top of my bucket list. Then again, good news never makes papers sell, and what I was consuming made me petrified. Thankfully I decided not to let fear be a player in my decision and ventured down the path less travelled. I am here now to report the good news – Iraq is an incredible place for women to visit. In my perhaps biased opinion, the experience of seeing as a woman is extra special, unique and eye-opening.
Now that the tricky question is out, here are some valuable tips for visiting Iraq as a woman.
Tip 1) Have with you a headscarf, always.
While it is not essential in major cities like Baghdad to wear a headscarf, if you travel around Iraq, you will likely go through a checkpoint or two or eight. During checkpoints, it is essential to wear your headscarf, so always have one handy, and if you decide to take a snooze as a women and wish to be undisturbed, keep it on. Simple!
Tip 2) Makeup in Mosques, no.
I get it; it seems silly, but if you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb and remove one more obstacle, don’t bother. Instead, learn from my mistakes, please. Trust me; it is not the most incredible feeling being ushered to a floor marking, where a mirror and baby wipe is directly ahead once you arrive. That day I only wore my favourite Nivea berry lip balm so it could have been much more embarrassing by my usual standards.
Tip 3) Socks, always have socks.
There is no denying it gets hot in Iraq, and to regulate foot odour, we often opt for open shoes (thongs, Birkin’s etc.). While they might be a fashion crime (different blog), they are also a big no for visiting many sites in Iraq, especially places of worship. Women must have socks; ideally, keep a pair of long black ones to blend in more with the scene and reduce stains.
Tip 4) Embrace wearing a Niqab; life is all about experiences.
Another question often asked is, “do you have to wear the full scarf thing” please keep in mind the correct term is called a niqāb. The answer is yes; at some places like Karbala, when you visit the Imam Husayn Shrine and The Al-Abbas Shrine or in Najaf, you do. Not only should you follow and respect the rule of laws of the places you visit, but as a woman, you have an opportunity to immerse yourself in a unique experience and get a deeper understanding of something that may seem very unfamiliar. So embrace it and have an open mind; culture shock is an excellent teacher. Note on our tours; we provide one for you!
Tip 5) You will be asked for a selfie, inevitably.
Yes, the act of the selfie is well and truly thriving in Iraq like the rest of the world; surprise, we are all the same, and technology keeps up everywhere. Unfortunately, what might start as a yes to one may quickly begin into a selfie storm. If you are happy to take a selfie and make a person’s day, go ahead but of course, have boundaries. If you are not, politely say no; it is not rude, and despite what you may have heard, Iraqis are some of the kindest people and will respect your boundaries.
My final tip, I know I said it would only be five, but if you are thinking about visiting Iraq but are hesitant as a woman because of what you have read or seen, please reconsider. The news often leaves out good news stories, the generosity and hospitality of Iraqis, and their joy after so many years in turmoil to see westerners grace their streets is unmatched. Like anyone, they are proud of their country, culture, food and identity and take it as an honour to share with you.
Iraqis are full of unparalleled warmth, compassion, and generosity. My suitcase that entered Baghdad at 12kgs left Erbil at 19kgs to put into perspective.
Come and join me on my next tour to Iraq!