Plenty of women each year have travelled through Jordan alone (this writer included) and have enjoyed the experience thoroughly. That said, there are bound to be times when you will have male company in Jordan that you would rather do without. This may involve nothing more than irritating banter, proposals of marriage and declarations of love. On rarer occasions it will involve leering and physical contact – a grope in a bus, for example. Where possible, it’s best to ignore such behaviour or pass it off as part of the experience, or a few sad individuals will spoil your whole trip. Needless to say, many women, such as the celebrated author Marguerite van Geldermalsen, have enjoyed male encounters enough to stay a lifetime, but it is important to gauge the sincerity of an admirer before being drawn into a relationship.
Attitude Towards Women
Being highly gregarious as a nation, Jordanians will be surprised that you want to travel alone. Men, who have little or no contact with women, let alone sex, before marriage, may misinterpret this as an invitation to provide company. Stereotypes of foreign women based on Western films and TV convince some that all foreign women are promiscuous and will jump into bed at the drop of a hat.
Nothing gives more offence in Jordan – a country with largely conservative and Islamic sensibilities – than baring too much flesh. To minimise harassment and to be respectful of local customs, it’s imperative to dress appropriately, especially in small towns and rural areas.
In the trendy districts of Amman, such as Abdoun and Shmeisani, in large hotels and resorts, or even in the middle of Petra (where tour group parties generally wear whatever they feel like) you can dress as you would at home. Outside those areas, aim for knee-length dresses or loose trousers, and cover your shoulders and upper arms.
On public beaches at the Dead Sea and in Aqaba, wear a swimsuit (and preferably a T-shirt and shorts) when swimming and save the bikinis for top-end resorts and dive centres. Never go topless – especially in the wadis where skinny dipping in freshwater pools is seldom as unseen as you might imagine.
Some foreign women go to the extent of covering their head, but this is inappropriate for non-Muslims in Jordan and can be misconstrued – particularly by the women of Jordan’s Christian communities who do not wear headscarves.
Advice from Fellow Women Travellers
- Sit next to a woman if possible on public transport.
- Be cautious when venturing alone to remote parts of Petra, Jerash and Wadi Rum.
- Check for peepholes in rooms and bathrooms (particularly cigarette holes in curtains).
- Place a chair against your locked hotel room door in case of ‘accidental’ intrusions.
- Pay for a better hotel, generally associated with less hassle.
- Be suspicious of lovelorn guides, especially the handsome ones!
- Prepare a cover story – Jordanians will be mystified that you have no family or friends to travel with.
- Chat to men in the company of women – not all men are one-track minded.
- Wear a wedding ring – this will add to your respectability in Arab eyes. A photo of husband and kids will clinch it.
- Bring tampons and contraceptives – they’re hard to find and embarrassing to purchase outside Amman.
- Don’t go to a local bar unaccompanied.
- Don’t make eye contact with strangers – dark glasses can help.
- Don’t sit in the front seat of a chartered private or service taxi.
- Don’t go outside with wet hair – this apparently implies you’ve had sex recently!
It’s not easy finding where to eat and drink, or even just sit, in public without becoming the centre of attention. Here are some guidelines.
Coffeehouses & Local Bars Often seen as a male domain; in some places the stares will evict you even if the landlord won’t.
Midrange Bars & Cafes Almost always welcoming of women in Amman and Aqaba; less ‘comprehending’ (of your solo status) in smaller towns.
Public Beaches Magnet for unwanted attention; best to stick to resorts.
Restaurants Most have a ‘family section’ where women can eat alone and in peace.
Toilets Usually only one in small restaurants and bars; avoid where possible!
Tourist Sites Counter-intuitively, the best places to be ‘alone’ as a woman – though be on your guard for charmers with ulterior motives in Petra.
Responding to Persistent Harassment
Some behaviour may warrant a public scene: bystanders will quickly support you if someone has overstepped the mark. Say out loud imshi (clear off): this should deter most unwanted advances. Be firm but stay calm. Swearing or losing your temper will lose you public sympathy.
What to Do in an Emergency
Assault and rape are rare in Jordan, but if you do suffer a serious problem, follow this advice:
- Go to a police station or tourist police booth; the latter can be found at most tourist sites.
- Be clear about the facts: the tourist police in Jordan take reports seriously.
- Call 911, the nationwide emergency number; this central coordination point has English-speaking staff.