Navigating Pakistan as a Western Woman

Pakistan may not always be the first port of call for travellers. The ongoing military conflict, threat of terrorism, political instability and discriminative laws put many people off visiting. We were a little apprehensive at first because of the danger that seems to surround the country, but we bit the bullet and decided we cannot miss out on the rich history and lavish culture the country offers.

As western women travelling to Pakistan, it was overwhelming at first because of the discriminatory practices we faced. While it was not expected that we cover ourselves while out, we did it to minimise the attention we got and reduce the risk of being singled out. However, it is imperative to cover yourself if you are visiting a mosque or are in the vicinity.

Although it is highly unusual for women to travel alone to the Middle East, it can be done. But saying that, the local police were made aware of our presence and on occasion we were given an armed guard. This was for our own safety and although we never ran into trouble, there is always a risk in a country with such political instability. Here are some tips for keeping safe:

Clothing

Other than the traditional clothing expected of women in Pakistan, it’s a good idea to bring some other key pieces of clothing to ensure your safety. The risk of terrorism is high, so in areas of high conflict, a bulletproof vest may come in useful. Kidnapping is also common, so there may be instances where you need to take cover for your own safety. A military poncho will help to hide you, and it’s lightweight enough to stash in a day bag for use in emergencies.

Men

Avoid eye contact with men – we were told it gives the “wrong impression” of our intentions, and we were advised by both the tourist board and the police that the safest places to stay and visit were areas where other groups of women were. On public transportation, women should sit at the window if sitting next to a man, but often men will move to allow women to sit next to each other. In taxis, women have to sit in the back.

Food and Eating

The food was incredible and we were lucky enough to be invited to a dinner party with some young socialites. While the etiquette among this generation of Pakistanis was more relaxed, there were customs that were still to be adhered to. Pork is generally not served due to religious restrictions and it is polite to leave a portion of food on your plate – indicating that the host has fed you enough.

Alcohol

Alcohol is served in most hotels, but not in restaurants. Women are also prohibited from asking for alcohol, but it’s fine to accept it if you are offered it (but be aware that drinks may be spiked). During your time in Pakistan, it may be safer not to drink alcohol at all. Do not feel offended if you are travelling with a man who is offered alcohol whilst you are not – our male guide escorted us around the city regularly and we witnessed this a lot.

Navigating Pakistan, regardless of your gender, is a tricky challenge. There are many restrictions on where you can visit, and where is safe to do so, and getting in touch with the local tourist board and police force is a must for your own safety. Travelling to Pakistan is not an easy-going holiday and not for the faint-hearted, but the rewards are plentiful, with a wealth of historical beauty, customs steeped in culture and breathtaking buildings and monuments.

Krissy Georgiadis

Written by Krissy Georgiadis

Law graduate and wanderlust sufferer. I like rum and beaches.