Browsing 'women' News

Qatar University/Facebook

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Hundreds of Qatar University students and community members have been debating gender segregation in school and society this week.

The discussion was sparked by a woman who was recently elected to the student union of QU’s College of Sharia and Islamic Studies, but then objected about the meetings being mixed.

Last month, Mariam Al-Dosari began complaining that the union was not accommodating her request to attend the meetings via video conference, so that she wouldn’t have to meet with male students face-to-face.

Translation: It is really strange that the student council meetings are gender-mixed as it contradicts Qatar University’s segregation policy in classes.

A few weeks later, in early March, Al-Dosari began complaining that her requests were not being met.

Hashtag debate

This led to the creation of a now-viral hashtag on Twitter, كلنا_مريم_الدوسري# (We are all Mariam Al-Dosari).

Many people who engaged in the debate said they sympathized with Al-Dosari’s plight, saying her request should have been honored.

Others saw the issue as an attempt to westernize Qatar in a way that goes against the country’s traditions and values.

Translation: I pity those who reduce this issue to make it only about Mariam. It simply isn’t. It’s a matter of principle; an issue pertaining to the chaste women of Qatar and the values virtue and modesty they were brought up with. Sooner or later the truth will prevail.

Translation: She lives in her home country and has a right to an education that suits her traditions and values.

Translation: Instead of teaching students freedom of expression and democracy a student is being punished by being expelled from the student council and then to add insult to injury, she gets yelled at as if expulsion isn’t enough.


But many others said it was unreasonable to always expect things to be segregated by gender.

Some critics pointed out that Al-Dosari knew the format of the meetings before she became a representative.

And a few said students are capable of meeting each other in mixed company without anything untoward happening.

Translation: What kind of empowerment and enablement are you searching for and wishing to achieve in the future when you already refuse to attend official public meetings?

Translation: The seatings at the meetings are divided, the front rows are for female students and the back ones for males or the other way around. They don’t even sit next to each other.

Qatar University has not officially weighed in on the discussion, nor has the student union.

On Twitter, some have suggested that Al-Dosari is no longer on the student council, but she has not confirmed this.

A better future

For some, the debate raises a larger question about men and women’s interaction in society.

In an opinion piece this week, QU alum Shabeb Al Rumaihi pointed out that many of his university’s annual events, conferences and movie screenings were not segregated affairs.

Qatar University

Qatar University

“You can not bring a head of state or an international actor to give two separate lectures,” he said.

He added that he didn’t feel mixed events threatened Qatar’s cultural values, and that this helps facilitate female leadership.

“I see it as an opportunity to innovate a new cultural platform that believes in developing a society that needs men and women working together to develop a better future for Qatar.”

He concluded by pointing that during his undergraduate years, there were three female college deans at QU. Now, there’s only one.


Kelly Hunter/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Pregnant women and new mothers with anxiety, depression or other problems now have a new resource to turn to in Qatar.

This week, the Sidra Medical and Research Center opened the nation’s first Women’s Perinatal Mental Healthcare Clinic.

There, professionals will offer guidance and counseling for mothers with attachment and bonding issues, as well as those dealing with previous trauma and loss, Sidra announced.


Sidra Womens Perinatal Mental Healthcare Clinic team

Women with more serious problems, such as OCD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can also receive support at the clinic.

Currently, the center will only see patients who are referred by Sidra’s Obstetrics Clinic, Hamad Medical Corp. hospitals and Primary Health Care Corp. centers.

However, plans are afoot to expand the services offered.


Emotional health

In a statement, Dr. Felice Watt, division chief for Women’s Mental Health, said taking care of emotional health is just as important for new mothers as looking after their physical health.

She added:

“Mental health issues are common during this period and the right support and treatment can have a lasting positive impact on the mother, infant, and the entire family.

Our women’s mental healthcare team will provide culturally sensitive, woman and family centered support and treatment during this important time.”

Demand for better mental healthcare services in Qatar has been on the rise for some time.

Troy Benson/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The call grew louder earlier this month following the suicide of an American expat, with many community members saying they wouldn’t know where to turn for help with their issues.

Pregnant women and new mothers have also been seeking better support services.

In a series on giving birth in Qatar last year, many moms said they struggled with depression and questions about how to take care of their babies, and their husbands “had no idea how to support them.”

Women who suffer miscarriages in Qatar also say they have trouble coping without help.

Sidra progress

After several hurdles, Sidra partially opened last May with the launch of some pediatric outpatient clinics. And it started doing day surgeries in November.

This year, all 40 of its outpatient services are expected to become fully operational.

But so far, there is no opening date for the entire hospital, which has been delayed for years.


All photos by Carmen Inkpen

Doha resident Carmen Inkpen wants moms to know that it’s OK to breastfeed their babies in public in Qatar.

In the past, the Canadian expat said she has resorted to feeding her daughter Grace in toilet cubicles or in her car.

But she wants to stop other moms from feeling that they have to hide in this way.


Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Speaking to Doha News, she said no one has ever given her a hard time for breastfeeding in public in Qatar. But she added she would often worry about offending someone.

“There are campaigns here about dressing modestly, so having to get my boob out discreetly without anybody seeing, that was the hardest,” she said.

Photo sessions

Inkpen said that her experiences have inspired her to use her profession – photography – to help change attitudes and challenge beliefs.

In this vein, she has launched a new project on Facebook, sharing candid photos of moms nursing their children while out and about in Qatar.

The aim, she said, is to show other women that it is acceptable to breastfeed their babies in public.


Carmen Inkpen and her daughter Grace

As part of the campaign, Inkpen put a call out to women on Facebook. Some 40 women responded, and she photographed them in two sessions at the Intercontinental Doha hotel and the Pearl-Qatar.

During each, moms fed their babies openly in a cafe setting “with no cover, and that was their own choice,” Inkpen said. She added:

“Nobody said anything, the waiters said nothing. In my time (in Qatar), I’ve never seen a woman openly feed like that.”

Cultural concerns

Inkpen said she is aware that some Qatar residents might be offended by photos showing partially uncovered breasts, so she has decided to feature photos where there is no skin on display.

“It still gets the point across – you can’t see any skin but you know the baby’s feeding,” she said.

A fear of offending people had also been a major concern of most moms she had spoken to, Inkpen said.

Carmen Inkpen / With a little Grace

Inkpen hopes her images will help to change preconceptions

One of the moms who took part in the photo shoots was Qatar expat Clare Flores.

She used to hesitate about feeding her son in public, but told Doha News that a chance encounter soon changed her mind.

During a visit to the Cuban Hospital for a check-up, she found no designated breastfeeding room, so took her baby to the women’s waiting room to feed.


Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A few minutes into the feed, a lady sitting next to her began speaking to her in Arabic.

“I only speak English and at first I thought she was telling me not to breastfeed so I took my son off my breast,” Flores recalled, continuing:

“Then one of the younger ladies translated to me that the Arabic speaking lady was telling me that I should hold my baby in another more comfortable position!

Soon all ladies in the waiting room were chatting to me and offering me advice. It was a warming experience,” she said.

Poor breastfeeding rates

A 2012 government survey found that only 29 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed in Qatar during the first six months of a baby’s life. Globally, the average is 37 percent.

To help improve this, a new law to help promote breastfeeding in currently being discussed.

It would ban advertising of formula milk in Qatar, and also forbid doctors from participating in conferences sponsored by infant milk companies.

Sander van der Wel/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, the reasons for low breastfeeding rates in Qatar are many and complex, and include short maternity leave, an absence of workplace nurseries and a lack of post-natal support.

Inkpen believes that worries about offending people, coupled with a lack of breastfeeding rooms in public spaces in Qatar, could also be putting women off.

“We (in Qatar) want people to breastfeed, but we don’t provide breastfeeding facilities. One of the moms (at the photo shoots) recently went to the Mall of Qatar, a newly-opened mall, and there were no breastfeeding rooms there.”

Have you felt embarrassed or concerned about breastfeeding in public in Qatar? Thoughts?