Women’s lib even sounds old fashioned now. Thankfully in Ireland liberation for women has happened and while there may be a few clear up items to be dealt with like equal pay etc., largely women are well regarded as being, well, just as worthy as men. In some cases even worthier if you consider areas of parental leave, custody rights etc.
Women in countries like Qatar are bang smack in the middle of this climb. While it’s reported that equality for women in Qatar and in the region is on the up, there are ingrained beliefs in Qatar and Muslim society that will make the climb more difficult for women here. Qatar are playing the game, hosting awareness evenings, highlighting importance of women in the workplace etc, but It takes more than a slick PR team with a range of stunts up their sleeve and a glossy set of well edited marketing materials to change societal concept of women’s liberation. It requires the society to have the belief that women are equal, not just some women, or the belief that a CEO can be a man or a woman, it goes deeper than that, it requires the belief that all men and women are people first regardless of gender. That, in Qatar is a bit away.
In a country where families make their daughters wear the Abaya from when they get their first period, where arranged marriages are commonplace, where men are allowed up to four wives and women have a very clearly defined role in the immediate and wider family, it’s going to a take a while for change to happen. Real change, before say, Aisha who grows up in Al Khor, announces at 18 that she’s bi-sexual and wants to go to make a life for herself and her lover, a Filipino maid, in Dubai, where she will work as a tattooist and her lover, a professional online gamer. That conversation will take a while to be accepted not to mind well received in Qatar.
So take your regular Irish woman, born and bred in Ireland moved to Qatar nearly ten years ago. See how it works when she, considering herself a modern day woman is living in a society and an environment where women are regarded differently.
Initially she struggles with feeling forced economically to leave Ireland and feeling that the only available option is to set up home in a strict Muslim community. Having fought the fight for quite a while in Ireland being catapulted back to Mummy at Home/Trailing Wife and officially referred to as dependant spouse and ‘wife’. Of course, women are allowed work over here, but circumstances often result in the responsibility of childcare falling on the woman’s side of the fence, (the man’s job being the reason you came in the first place). Women can get a job, be mindful though that the childcare cost will be on the woman’s side of the balance sheet. So too will dropping/collecting/mid-term/ attending concerts and recitals and sitting on the side-line at swimming galas and football matches being not quite sure which child is yours, the one with the purple goggles of did he wear his blue ones.
You role with the punches, say goodbye to potentially high flying PR career and start to work qualifying in education to be with the kids and have coinciding timetables. And three years later, your qualified with a fully-fledged job in the school, equal to the man, a fully paid up member of the working population of Qatar albeit not an arena you would have initially chosen however a happy compromise.
Ten years later and all seems fair, you’ve made all the compromises and he’s accepted them. Until one morning a child wakes up with a headcold, the heavy kind, streaming eyes the works. Both working now, the man and the equal woman look at each other and she says, what will be do, ‘you’ll have to take the day off’ he says. Woman takes the day off and wonders if her friend in Ireland would do the same? Have expat couples been gone too long and missed the boat on Equality? Is liberated with limits our definition of equality?