Now that the World Cup season is going on, after sunset, the area called ‘Doha Bay’ in Qatar has become one of the favorite places for meeting different cultures.
Families, football fans and curious individuals can be seen strolling along Al Corniche Avenue, the coastal road in Doha, the capital of Qatar, as the temperature drops to 30 degrees Celsius in the evening hours.
This is where the contrast between Western tourists and local Qatari families can be seen most clearly. Qatari families look at foreign tourists with surprise.
The number of Qatari residents in this Muslim state of 3 million inhabitants, i.e. Qatar, is only around 350,000.
There is a whole spectrum of interpretations of Islamic principles. But there are also conservatives, traditional families and progressive liberals.
On one side of Corniche Avenue you see women fully covered in black burqas. At the same time, women will also be seen covering their head and neck with a scarf.
But the issues that affect them go far beyond their clothes.
Qatar has a system known as ‘male guardianship’ for women, which opponents describe as ‘living like minors all their lives’.
The BBC spoke to UK-based Zainab, who, although a Qatari national, does not want to reveal her real name despite living outside her country.
Zainab says that certain conservative religious elements within Qatari law affected her mental health to such an extent that she even contemplated suicide.
Says Zainab: “For every major life decision you need the express written permission of a male guardian. If you don’t get this permission, you can’t make any decisions, whether it’s enrolling in college, studying abroad, traveling, getting married, or getting divorced.”
Also read: How does the system of ‘male guardianship’ of women work in Qatar? Tweet BaBa
However, not all families follow this complex system of male patriarchy.
Shaima Sharif is the co-founder of Embrace Doha, a cultural organization that helps the expatriate community living in Qatar and the growing number of tourists to better understand the country’s culture.
The Sheriff told the BBC that the application of guardianship is not a substitute for a law in itself, but rather a family rule that depends on how conservative the family is. Sharif represents the other side of the coin, namely the liberal Qatari environment where women are empowered.
As a Muslim country, Qatar’s constitution is based on Islamic Sharia, Eleni Polimenopoulo, professor of law and human rights at Doha’s Bin Khalifa University.
This system is a challenge for those who are victims because there is no explanation or information about the scope of these discriminatory laws and administrative requirements.
A male guardian can be a father, brother, uncle, or husband.
The Qatari government described the Human Rights Watch report as “false” and said that the testimonies described were not in accordance with its laws. The Qatari government also vowed to investigate the cases and take legal action against violators.
“Many women in liberal families are allowed to do many things, but then there are families where women need a guardian’s permission to go out,” says Polimenopoulou, a law professor in Qatar. It really depends on the family.
“Many of my students are always arguing about changing the law,” Polimanopoulou says. They question why it works the way it does, why they are restricted and how these laws can be reformed. But some students are more conservative and they do not agree with this opinion.
The BBC requested to interview some of Polimeno Polo’s students, but could not be contacted.
Interviewing local Qataris is a major challenge for journalists covering the World Cup
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