The BBC recently reported on ‘sexism that female expats are still having to endure’. Western women talked about anything from Japanese men openly reading pornographic comic books to male chauvinism in Latin America.

Cultural problems

A Canadian woman living and working in Switzerland says in the article that the reports she prepared at work had to be presented by male colleagues ‘just so that the client would listen’. She also highlights that during job interviews in her host country, it is not uncommon for women to be asked about any plans to start a family. Meanwhile, a British woman says that in Brazil she often felt that ‘in terms of women’s equality she had gone back in time to the 1950s’.

Beyond your control

What can you do when the gender roles and expectations in your host country are not compatible with your own values? “It’s important to understand that there are some things you can control, and some things you can’t,” expat coach Becky Thomas tells the BBC. “If you’re in a country where women are treated differently, that’s something that’s wired into their culture. What you can control is finding a way to deal with any frustration in a way that doesn’t make you feel drained.” She also recommends maintaining relationships with fellow expats who share your value system, so as to avoid feelings of isolation.

Need for cultural awareness

“Valid, but somewhat short in scope,” says cultural coach and trainer Richard Forrest in response to Thomas’ remarks. The expert, who has worked with many Global Connection members, believes that coping techniques to deal with frustration brought on by cultural differences and tension are just a quick fix. “Seeking out other expats to vent frustrations can lead to some highly enjoyable, ‘compare to complain’ time, but it is nonetheless a short-term solution,” he says. “Expats living in one place for several years will have to take real steps to develop greater intercultural awareness and competencies. Otherwise there is a real risk of being frustrated for most of your time abroad.”

Part of a series: coping with sexism abroad

This item is part of a series on the sensitive topic of coping with sexism abroad and the importance of intercultural awareness and intercultural skills in this context.

Karen Glerum
Global Connection

Expat Partner Support

Source: Global Connection’s media for spouses (B2B subscription) and HR.