There’s a common misconception out there about women in Qatar and that we are poorly treated. Many think we are not allowed leave the house or work here alone without a man, drive, socialise in bars with friends, in fact we are allowed to do all that, and aren’t we grateful for it, see that’s what living in the Middle East for six years does for a woman, it turns our inherent sense of entitlement into meek gratefulness.
My day to day life in Qatar is not vastly different from the lives of other expat stay-at-home moms, the school run, price of groceries, the general lack of appreciation and acknowledgement of the stress involved in raising kids that exists both in and outside of the home, all hot topics for mom’s in every part of the world from Barna to Bangladesh and from Dunmanway to Doha. So it stands to reason that from time to time we can forget we’re living in Qatar, a Muslim monarchy,that prides itself on being able to manufacture what it doesn’t have.
The radio is awash with news of restaurant openings, brunch specials and offers on shopping weekends to Dubai. The newspapers headline all that is politically positive in Qatar, articles on the progress of preparation for the World Cup and other anecdotal tid-bits that all lead to be believe that we’re living in an OK society.
But turn to page 9 or 10 (where the pages cease to be glossy, yes, the first few pages of the newspapers here are glossy) and there, tucked away in a corner beside the folds is a miniscule piece, insignificant in column inches but massive in its content, titled………
‘Qatar ministry publishes maps with no-go housing zones for workers’. The action was taken, in an attempt to keep blue-collar workers away from family housing areas, this in an effort to ‘protect the privacy and comfort of families, who felt threatened by the bachelor workers who are spreading like a deadly epidemic and eating through our social fabric’. Bad enough that this is the case but to issue a map and policy to fully implement the injustice, well. Suddenly my obscure expat bubble became clear and it dawned on me that the reason I felt somewhat at home here in Qatar was because they were locking away hundreds and thousands of blue collar workers in order to keep little ol’ me and the likes of me in the comfort to which we have become accustomed! Steady on I thought, that a little harsh, because let’s face it we were forced to live alongside single plumbers, electricians and blocklayers back in Cork and none of them seemed to ‘eat through the social fabric’, none that I’m aware of anyway. The only concession for the blue-collar workers in Qatar was that supermarket workers and barbers were exempt, these are evidently deemed to not be the threat to society that scaffolders or plasterers apparently are.
Qatar has no problem in labelling them all together, blue-collar workers, labour workers, Sri Lankan, Indonesian and Bangladeshi workers and most threatening of all, bachelor workers, despite the fact that a good proportion of the workers being married with children and that none of the others were in the past charged with savagery or being an epidemic in general. But owing to the distaste generated by these…….people (there’s a label they weren’t given yet) just by being visible, they are now forced, by law, to live in overcrowded labour camps miles and miles into the desert, according to ‘the map’ now issued and penalties for breaking the law start at about QR.50,0000 and go up to QR 100,000 for repeat offenders.
So beware of the single, male, carpenter, who works hard all week and might fancy an ice-cream at the Souq on a Friday, these apparently are the ones to look out for. Or rather should we be aware of the single, male, carpenter after he’s been locked away from society for four or five years, sharing a room with seven other men, a bathroom with 20 other men and no ice-cream at the weekend!
Qatari law is manufacturing a Doha that will be a haven for Arabs, the white collared expat and his well-manicured wife. But what is Qatar manufacturing for the single, male, blue-collar worker?