We’re all Marte Deborah Dalelv

In the second Sex and the City movie the character Samantha gets into a dicey predicament when she’s accused by Abu Dhabi officials of having sex on the beach which outside of marriage is illegal. Although the dream-like trip “the girls” were enjoying in the Emirate state came to a crashing halt after this event, all was still well for Samantha with her landing on her feet per usual. Samantha was able to leave Abu Dhabi with neither a record nor time spent in a Middle Eastern jail, so not really a nightmare. But  a Norwegian woman in neighborinhg Dubai was living the nightmare. It was no Hollywood script.

Marte Deborah Dalelv was on a work trip to Duabi when she reported to police that she had been raped by a colleague at the hotel where she was staying. Instead of the authorities looking into the report, Dalelv was detained and then charged with having unlawful sex (remember, sex outside of marriage is illegal in the United Arab Emirates), making a false statement, and illegal consumption of alcohol (alcoholic drinks are banned in Islam but that doesn’t mean they’re not flowing throughout the region). She was subsequently sentenced to 16 months in prison, prompting outrage in Norway and eventually around the world. Coming under fire and condemnation from the global community, the ruler of Dubai (who is also vice president of the Emirates) pardoned Dalelv and she was allowed to leave Dubai with her passport and return home (some had feared she would be deported). It also means that the man Dalelv accused of raping her (a married father), who was also charged with public intoxication and having relations outside of marriage, also goes free (Dalelv had also dropped her case against him).

As a smart and savvy female traveler, I have always done my best to never be put into compromising situations. When I traveled alone previously, I usually did my touring during the day and relaxed in my room in the evenings. While some may say, “you’re missing out by not being social, not going bar hopping with other like minded travelers,” being intoxicated when technically alone in a foreign country is just asking for trouble in my opinion. I would rather be alone and worry free than have a nightmare situation come bearing down at me (someone slipped something into my drink, I was assaulted, etc).

While many men in Latin America (a region I know quite well) need to get with the times where respect for women is concerned (i.e. the catcalls, the verbal harassment), it’s still nothing like in the United Arab Emirates, where it seems a woman’s rights are nill. Although I think visiting the Emirates would be a fascinating experience between the desert landscape, the culture, and even the incredible architecture, I have no desire to visit an area of the world that likes to showcase all of its Western influences (the shopping malls complete with Bloomingdale’s and even a Magnolia Bakery location) but then completely disregards the rights of a woman, the voice of a woman. That respect should be automatically granted to all individuals, not just the male gender.

The expats and the individuals who live and travel there seem to live in a bubble, one complete with fast food restaurants and Western luxuries, even though for the women, they too could end up like Dalelv in a blink of an eye, even when being extremely “safe and cautious.” To know that harm could potentially come to you and you could be the one in trouble is just mind numbing. Yes, perhaps Dalelv drank too much that night she was raped, but she didn’t deserve to be accused of anything after what had happened to her. Ignorance is indeed bliss but it’s sad that Dalelv’s story won’t change more people’s minds about traveling to the Emirates. They’ll continue to go until months in the future we’ll hear about the next Dalelv. It’s a cycle that will continue when a nation showing modernity on the outside, but still clings to ancient and outdated laws and norms on the inside.

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  • Reply
    Jo Ann M.
    August 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    What a great post! Unfortunately, the Emirates is not the only backward thinking Muslim/Arab country. They have an archaic mindset masked by a western visage which sadly fools a lot of visitors into having a false sense of security.

    The worst part is that it’s not that they are ignorant of what they are doing, they freely choose to do it! That is frightening!

    Visiting these barbaric countries people think they have entered a modern world when they have actually stepped back into a primitive past.

    The biggest problem is that our government and some on the left refuse to admit that these are dangerous misogynistic countries because they don’t want to be seen as Islamophobic.

    If these countries treated blacks like second class citizens they would be shunned by the world, but because it is only women they discriminate against they get a pass.

    You mentioned that you would like to see the art and architecture of these countries. I can understand that, but personally I don’t care for Islamic art. Their art, like their music, seems chaotic and agitated.

    People do need to know the laws and cultures of the places they visit before they go there. There is no excuse not to know, everything is on the Internet these days.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    August 7, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    I definitely agree that research on a destination is imperative before visiting anywhere. Especially since many people don’t grasp that you are subject to that country’s laws and regulations. In those cases your home country matters naught.

    I’ve actually grown to really admire and like Islamic architecture, mainly due to my travels in the Iberian Peninsula where it is so prevalent.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a great opinion!

  • Reply
    August 12, 2013 at 2:09 am

    This is a really interesting comment on female travel. I am similar to you. I would much rather stay in at night on my travels than take the risk. We definitely have to be mindful of where we are and just how our rights can change.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2013 at 9:37 am

    What an eye-opener! I have also traveled solo and plan to do so in future as well. Thanks for sharing such an important aspect of traveling alone. Things are not rosy in this world, but we can still survive with little wisdom and caution.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    August 26, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Hi Renuka-Thanks for commenting! You are absolutely right that a little wisdom and caution goes a long way when traveling, especially for a solo female. It’s a tale that is just astounding that happened and yet sadly I’m sure it will happen again in the future.

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