Middle east travel as a single female
From the start of this year I will be blogging about the two key areas of my work.
Some of you will know about my writing, storyteller and content work, others will not. Linked with my writing passion is my passion for the Middle East and promoting greater connections between Australia and the Middle East with a focus on women. Even if you're not interested in this I hope you find my fortnightly blogs on my experiences in the Middle East of interest.
I've given these blogs a title so you can easily see what writing hat I am wearing.
So, here's the first in the series Being a blonde in the Middle East. Stories from a businesswoman. I hope you enjoy it, let me know.
I am often asked, ‘How can ‘you’ do business in the Middle East?’
I understand the question but mostly give the rather deadpan reply:
‘It’s easy, I book a flight to Dubai, connect with my network and get on with it.’
Suffice to say it’s not the response the person asking the question is expecting, and nor is this that helpful. The real question they are asking is: ‘How do you do business with Muslims/Arabs . . . aren’t all women shut away and when they are ‘allowed out’ don’t they wear head coverings or they’re covered in black dress? You’re a blonde, blue-eyed Westerner.” That’s what they really want to ask. The term Middle East is shorthand for this.
So, I’ll be more helpful here.
Firstly, the very term Middle East is simply too broad and underscores the first, most simple fact. The Middle East is even broader than ‘the Commonwealth’. It would be more accurate to talk about the MENA region, the Middle East and North Africa, IF you mean those countries that make up the region, extending from Morocco to Iran including all Middle Eastern and Maghreb countries. Even then, it means different things to different countries.
Secondly, depending on which country in the MENA region you are interested in, my response to the question will be completely different. Just as it would be if I was asked how to ‘do business in Germany, France, China, Malaysia or England’ – all countries I have worked in.
Some countries in the Middle East, like the UAE, are very Westernised in their business dealings. Others, like Saudi Arabia, are ‘less accessible’ for women in business. That said, you can still conduct business there.
Thirdly, Arab culture, and I say Arab NOT Muslim, is very different from Western culture. MOST businesses are family businesses even though some of them are multi-billion dollar businesses. The family is all-important and, odd as it may seem, women are highly regarded and respected within the family business structure.
Primarily, this ‘family’ culture means that business across the Arab world is conducted between people who have a relationship. You simply will not conduct business across any MENA country unless you start, create and build a genuine relationship. This might take months/years . . .but it’s the ONLY way to create a build a business in the MENA region.