There are 3 major questions that every expat woman should ask before making an expat move. Whether you are being employed in the country, accompanying a spouse, retiring, or moving for pleasure these questions are likely to affect your expat experience.
Question # 1: How “woman-friendly” is the city or country you’re considering?
What are the overt and covert assumptions about women in this city/country? One way to gage this is to look at employment statistics for the area and to see how many women are employed in senior level positions.
Another way to get at this is to research the religious/cultural attitudes toward women in the country. If there is a strong patriarchal/hierarchical structure in place, this may be telling as to how much freedom is given to women.
The overall attitude of the host country toward women cannot be overstated. Even if you (or your spouse) are employed by a multi-national company, embassy or NGO with a strong history of supporting women
Question # 2: How safe are women in this city/country?
This might seem like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at how few women actually explore this before moving. Again, researching statistics regarding rape and violence towards women is helpful.
In many developing countries this can change rapidly. I lived in New Delhi, India for 9 years and at the beginning of my stay safety for women was not an issue. This changed over a period of 5 years when many women started to come forward and report incidents of rape and violence against women. And there was also an increase in the number of incidents reported of violence against foreign women.
One could argue that nothing really changed, it was just being reported more often, but if you’re a victim of violence against women, the causes don’t really matter, the facts do.
Question # 3: Ask women who live there if they go out alone at night.
In fact, ask women who live there many questions. This may seem like an extension of # 2, but here the emphasis is placed on actually talking with women, both expats and nationals, about their experiences in the city or country you’re considering.
If you or your spouse is being employed overseas, the employer should be able to provide you with names of other women living in the country who would be willing to talk with you.
If this is not the case, you can Google organizations for expat women, and women’s rights organizations where you’re considering moving. Or see if there’s a Facebook group for expats in that city or country.
I Am A Triangle is a wonderful online support network for expat women worldwide, and there’s likely to be at least one woman from the country you’re considering on that platform. You an also join their FB group.
The main point is to be forewarned is forearmed.
Gather as much information as possible before your move and make your decisions based on facts about how you’re likely to be treated as a woman in that city or country. Addressing the above questions beforehand can save you a lot of energy and distress down the road.