The incident that took place at Hamad International Airport was a violation of women’s rights and it is time for Qatar to take this seriously, writes Dr. Amal Al-Malki.
The Government Communication Office announced yesterday, October 30, that what a group of women, including 13 Australian nationals, were subjected to after a premature baby was found dumped in a bin at Hamad International Airport, is indeed illegal and a violation of standard procedures.
An official apology was issued to all women affected by this unfortunate incident, and a task force has been formed to review the procedures and protocols to explain why such a violation took place.
The move to force them to undergo invasive internal examinations is a form of violence against women, and it is a serious matter that must be investigated with full transparency and accountability. How such an act can occur in a country like Qatar is beyond comprehension and one can only presume that the responsible airport authorities, overcome with panic amid a chaotic incident, overreacted, resorting to a procedure that is clearly excessive and unjustified to the extreme.
To put it bluntly: these women’s rights were violated, their bodies violated, their privacy violated, and their freedom violated – and this unfortunately is not new. State governments across the world have violated women’s rights before, particularly during states of emergency and other periods of elevated security.
In Egypt, virginity tests were conducted on women in Tahrir Square during the so-called Arab Spring. Over in the United States, Amnesty International revealed authorities had performed hysterectomies on detained immigrant women without their consent.
The truth is, the disturbing event at HIA occurred because our society allows such incidents to take place. By not protecting women’s rights in our legal system, we are legitimising discrimination against them.
Unfortunately, it is only when such incidents take place that we realise women have no defence or support. For now, this an opportunity for our government to, once and for all, protect women’s rights by using this moment to pass new laws and close loopholes that are so frequently used against women.
Without a doubt, Qatar’s progress has been evident and unquestionable on various levels. In the last few decades, it has emerged as one of the most prosperous and safest places for both men and women. The state has ensured that this socio-economic progress is reflected in a modern and robust legal system that would foster rather than inhibit human progress.
Laws have been updated and amended, and social norms have evolved to embrace the new realities of both men and women in a forward-looking society. However, laws pertaining to women seem to remain stagnant, with women’s rights usually addressed in a piecemeal and selective manner.
Change is necessary
Women in Qatar are educated, strong, and capable. Their safety, in all facets of life, should be a top priority for all, and laws protecting and supporting them should be at the pinnacle of the list of legal reforms urgently needed in Qatar.
Women’s rights should be institutionalised and mainstreamed across all institutions in the country.
We need laws to criminalise all forms of violence against women and should have a clear strategy to create a just legal system for all members of society. However, this won’t happen until women participate in drafting laws that affect them and until they are engaged in the decision-making process.
Though necessary on this occasion, a hastily formed committee to deal with one incident will not provide the clear change needed for women in Qatar – more needs to be done.
Women’s organisations and grass roots women’s groups must be involved to ensure we address all issues faced in our society. Safe spaces and platforms to amplify the voices of women must be created across the board, without fears or limits.
And let me dare to dream and say we need a Ministry for Women’s Affairs, just like other modern and civilised countries that take these issues seriously and at heart.
The first step, is to acknowledge that it is only when we start to take women’s rights seriously that such incidents would not happen again, inside or outside Hamad International Airport.
Dr. Amal Almalki is Qatari scholar and author.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Doha News, its editorial board or staff.