If you’re planning a trip to India, don’t bother packing skirts or dresses. In a recent meeting with media, India’s tourism minister, Mahesh Sharma, warned that women visiting the country should not wear dresses or skirts, or walk alone at night, “for their own safety,” according to the Independent.
India provides foreign travelers with a kit that “includes the safety guidelines for women.” The tourism minister states that in said kit, they are “given dos and don’ts.”
The welcome kit, intended for female travelers, was introduced last year, and is one of several measures introduced to address the declining rates of women visiting India after many high-profile gang rapes and attacks in India on women – both locals and tourists – in recent years. A 52-year-old Danish tourist was raped in New Delhi by five men in 2014, a Japanese woman was held prisoner by five men (one a tour guide) and raped, and, most notorious, a Delhi medical school student was raped and murdered in 2012.
The kit says: “Some parts of India, particularly the smaller towns and villages, still have traditional styles of dressing. Do find out about local customs and traditions or concerned authorities before visiting such places.”
While it is always important to be mindful of other cultures’ values and standards when traveling, such statements continue to place the responsibility on women, rather than men. Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Center for Social Research, said the remarks reflect “the syndrome of blaming women” for what they wear and where they go.
India is not the only country recommending dress codes for female visitors. For years, such countries as the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have advised foreigners to consider the prevailing conventions before throwing on a crop top. For Oman, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends leaving halter and tube tops at home. “Be sensitive to Islamic culture and do not wear sleeveless shirts, halter-tops, or shorts,” the website warns. Hitting the gym on vacation? Pack a change of clothes. “Only wear athletic clothing in public when engaged in sports activities,” the website says. The malls even have signs asking visitors to dress modestly to ensure the comfort of all shoppers.
If you’re going to the UAE, prepare to dress much more conservatively than you would at home, “especially in the Emirate of Sharjah, where rules of decency and public conduct are strictly enforced,” says the Bureau of Consular Affairs. According to Emirati website UAEInteract, bikinis, swimsuits, shorts, and revealing tops should be confined to beach resorts. Men may not be bare-chested away from the beach. The site advises women not to wear short skirts and to keep their shoulders covered.
Iran is even stricter. The Bureau of Consular Affairs says women tourists there should expect to wear a headscarf and a long jacket that covers the arms and upper legs while in public. At religious sites, they are expected to cover the whole body.
In preparation for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar’s Islamic Culture Centre launched a campaign in 2014 urging tourists to dress “modestly” in public and respect the Islamic country’s values. It began to hand out leaflets, complete with diagrams, asking tourists to cover up from their shoulders to knees and to avoid leggings.