Qatari women lament disregard for norms

July 01, 2011 - 10:32:25 pm

By Huda NV

DOHA: Dress code in any country is a very sensitive topic, for, while it protects the rights of many, it may hinder the rights of many others. When France issued ban on Hijab in public places, many Muslims who used the attire had to let it go. Same is the case in Saudi Arabia where all, including non-Muslims have to wear the abaya.

As of now, there is no strict ruling on dress code in Qatar except that it asks for modest dressing in public. The rules are with loose ends, according to some. With the on going development much have changed in dressing over the last 10 years.

Some Qatari women who spoke to The Peninsula said that due to the lack of awareness or mainly due to disregard for local norms, many people flout with the Qatari Penal Code that “prohibits wearing revealing indecent clothing”. Since no action is taken against the violators, rules or laws are being flouted with.

“The law asks one dress decent lyto protect oneself and the society as a whole. We are functioning in a society in various roles and at various levels. We go out, do what we need to do and go home, as other women do. But it pains to see many women bring with them negative influences into the community and dress in a way which is against the discipline of the community,” said Sheikha Al Naimi, a Qatari woman.

“We are not asking them to use hijab or abaya. We just want them to be modest, by which we mean covering the arms and shoulders, wearing skirts at least up to knee length, and wearing loose clothes. We are asking for respect not hindering their personal choices,” said Asma Abdullah.



So would not any law or dress code be against personal rights? Then, is not smoking or drinking a personal choice and a law banning these are against the so called rights, ask some.

“There are laws banning smoking and penalties for violating traffic rules, which are issued in public interest and these are strictly followed, for fear of heavy fines on violations. So a dress code is also needed for public security. We all have our own freedom, but in public we need to check the rights of public too. One’s freedom should not hinder other person’s rights and people should realise that rights come along with duties,” said Mariam Al Ali.

However some argued dressing in skimpy clothes is not freedom, but rather lack of self respect. “We would say the western idea of freedom and right is twisted and is not based on truth. For example, when it comes to dressing, the so called right is more or less like what men want to see,” said Tammy, a US expatriate.

“Our policy is you see what we want you to see rather than you decide what you need to see. We choose to whom we show our beauty. It is not for public attention,” one of the Qatari women said



One of the key problems, most of the Qatari women who spoke to The Peninsula, was on encroachment on their identity. “We are a minority in our own land; this does not mean we leave our identity. We are trying to pass it over to next generation and all these influences is a threat to our identity as Muslims, Arabs and Qataris,” Al Naimi said.

“All the expats come here for a reason, mainly financial, and hence they need to respect the culture here but now its more on destroying the society,” she laments. “Even in some schools and colleges, teachers dress badly. Even if it’s a girls-only school, it does not mean teachers show their body parts which we ourselves do not show to our children. Wearing translucent dress, shirts which are waist length and short skirts are in no way modest for a teacher,” said Al Ali



Some Qatari women revealed the measures they take to ensure their children are not influenced by the changes. “My children have gone to the malls or shopping centers only few times. I want them to know what the Qatari identity is. They are not usually taken for shopping here. For their amusement and entertainment, I built a house away from Doha with all the amenities.

“So the question would be how will they learn to live in the society if they are kept isolated? Its just that we do not want these influences at very young age. After they get to know their roots, children will go out and understand the world,” said Asma.

“Earlier, when I was young, we used to go out to the beaches and enjoy as a family. But now we cannot take our children to the beaches as people wear indecent clothing even in public beaches,” said Sara Yousuf.

“Even some of the Qatari media post almost nude pictures, especially when it comes to movies. So we do censoring at home so that our children at young age do not have to distinguish between the right and wrong,” Sara said. “I would love to take my children to hotels here and enjoy time with them in the pool. But how can we do it when many are indecently dressed,” said a Qatari woman.



Even when dress code is debated here, Qataris are much criticised for not abiding to the Qatari customs while abroad. “These are mainly people who are ashamed of their identity. Abaya or hijab is part of culture and our culture is based on Islam, which is same throughout the world. Hence, indecent dressing while abroad tarnishes the whole Qatari community. I have gone abroad, and even recently when I visited Thailand, I was wearing the exact costume – abaya -- which I wear here. They should respect laws of other countries when abroad but at the same time try to protect their identity,” said Sara.

“I was educated in the US. I did face few problems but I knew the influences were coming from all directions and made sure I held on to my traditions,” said Asma.



Majority of the Qatari women say that some of the Arab communities themselves are responsible for violating the dress code. “We feel that majority of the westerners and Asians know and understand us and respect the culture. People from sub-continent culturally they have their own modesty which is almost similar to ours. If these people are dressing badly it is because they think ‘if Arabs can do, why not we’,” says Al Ali.

“The sad part is that there are some Arab communities who mock themselves and us wearing skimpy dresses. Also some are so talented that they know how to dress exactly as Qataris and impersonate -- they actually tarnish our image. They also talk indecently when faults are pointed out,” said Hessa Al Kuwari.

“Worse is when many dress indecent inside the abaya and pose as Qataris. The very purpose of abaya is to cover, but now it is turning into something that is used for showcasing the body,” Sara said.



1. Set up a new committee to establish and implement specific regulation with regard to dress code

2. Define exactly what modest dressing means

3. Malls should have individuals to warn people as they have people to keep out bachelors on family days.

4. While issuing visas, embassies should inform people about the dressing. They should also make strict rulings.

5. The existing laws on dresses should be activated by the authorities.



Few of the women say there is an urgent need for a law or enforcement of existent regulations, as the situation is getting worse. “Over last three to four years, we are seeing women wearing very-short shorts in public places. I would ask what next? Will we have to see ladies in bikinis in malls in the next few years? It can happen if there is no enforcement,” said Sara.

“The identity change that we talked is not going to happen today or tomorrow. We will see the effect in some 10 to 20 years -- majority of our people will not know what being an Arab or Qatari means. The values what we have will be lost,” Asma said. “We need development, but it should be framed in our identity. It’s not fair to cut our roots and establish on top of us,” she said.

The Peninsula