Following up on yesterday’s post about the gender gap in employment here, newbie Nidhi Zakaria Eipe ruminates on some of the problems expat women especially face in Qatar’s job market. Please share your thoughts on the matter!
He: You have been shortlisted along with two others from among the 40 applicants I interviewed.
Me: Awesome, thank you!
He: I have passed your name along to the selection committee. You actually ranked first in the test that I gave you, and I thought you were the best candidate. I gave you the best recommendation among all three. But the other two shortlisted people are guys. You are the only lady, so the selection committee may not pick you.
You know, it would have been all right if it had been a one-off thing. I could have written it off as an absurdity. A group of people still stuck in the Middle Ages. I could have stomached it by dismissing it.
The thing is: I’ve been in Doha for four months now and this is the third time I have been told by potential employers, either outright that their sponsor does not hire ‘females’, or that I am at a significant disadvantage in terms of being hired – not because I am less competent, skilled or deserving of the position, oftentimes I have been told that I am more so.
Simply, bluntly, brutally – because I am a woman.
The first time I visited Qatar was in 2004. Back then, the country was little more than a desert.
But it was beautiful. Strange as it sounds, I felt an instant connection to it, a genuine feeling of belonging.
After years of a chronically nomadic existence – here was somewhere that I actually felt at home. More so than the country in which I’d been born. More so than the country whose passport I carry. More so than the country whose residency I claim by marriage. More so, even, than the Emirates in which I spent my childhood.
Back then, I had just started my undergraduate degree in the United States. The only times I lived in Qatar in the following years were during the summer months, on vacation from university, while my father – like so many other fathers here – worked to build this country’s industry and infrastructure.
The years went by, I finished my undergraduate program, a postgraduate diploma, then a Master’s program, interned, moved, got a job, moved, got married, but never forgot.
Never forgot the call of the muezzin at dusk, the vast expanses of welcoming space, the warmth of the sun captured beneath the sand, whole oceans embracing this fragile peninsula – as if to live here were to live in the womb of the world.
And so, at my urging, at the start of 2012, my family and I packed our 32 kg bags and headed from Australasia to Qatar.
I wasn’t looking for charity. I wasn’t expecting hand-outs. I’m a recent graduate, we’re in the midst of a global recession (not that we’d know it here), I know times are tough.
I’m not a picky person. But I’m also not a walkover.
I’ve lived in ten countries across five continents during the twenty-eight years of my life. I’m multi-faceted, versatile. I’ve worked in diverse occupations: training horses, reporting the news, facilitating leadership seminars, reforesting areas in Haiti, teaching sustainable agriculture to farmers in India, scoping out mining investments in Peru, conducting research on children in armed conflict, assisting with public outreach for a private philanthropist, teaching writing to undergraduate students, cleaning toilets in a monastery.
I’ve been around.
I didn’t think I would get a job as soon as I stepped off the plane. But I also didn’t anticipate being denied a job because of my gender.
I love living here.
I applaud, with true pride, the strong and sustained emphasis on empowering girls and women in Qatar. The incredible initiatives taken by the amazing women in positions of leadership here – HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned in the field of education, and her daughter HH Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to develop culture and the arts.
I’m one of the first people to stand up for this country, for the region: to show that the Middle East – a place where I grew up, a place that has my heart, a place that has been so achingly misunderstood for so long – can hold tradition in one hand and modernity in the other, and walk.
Graceful, elegant, courageous and strong into a future that is chosen, not imposed.
But does that image really present an accurate picture of where we’re at today? Or am I just a romantic Arabophile with my head in the clouds?
“It would have been different if you were Qatari,” my husband tells me.
The country is certainly pushing initiatives to increase the number of women in the workplace.
The Independent tells me that the best place in the world to attend university, as a woman, is Qatar.
“In Qatar, six women are enrolled in tertiary education for every man.” But then, quick to follow: “Questions remain as to whether their investment in education has led to the integration of women into the economy.”
Questions remain – for those like me: Is there still professional discrimination against women in the workplace? Is all that equal opportunity employment talk just a whole lot of hot air?
And most importantly: Is it because I’m brown, or a mother, or a woman—that you won’t give me a job?
Nidhi Zakaria Eipe grew up writing her way through the Middle East, India, North America and Western Europe. Currently living in Doha, she volunteers for international humanitarian organizations with a special focus on youth, education and the arts.