A CAMPAIGN has been launched in Qatar to encourage foreign women to dress more conservatively after a rise in the number of those dressing the same way they would at home.
Mariam Saleh is one of a number of women in the country who avoids malls and outdoor markets at the weekend because low-cut tops, sheer dresses and mini-skirts foreign women wear reveal more than she would like her impressionable young children to see.
Ms Saleh is part of a campaign in Qatar spurred by locals fed up with the way many visitors dress, especially as temperatures soar in the Gulf Arab nation. The campaigners say Qatar is, after all, their country, and they should not be the ones feeling uncomfortable because visitors want to show some skin or dress as they would back home.
Moderate locals fear that a steady influx of foreigners is threatening to uproot their customs and traditions, which are intertwined with 1,400 years of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula.
Most Qatari women cover their hair and wear long, loose black robes. Many also cover their faces as is common in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where morality police enforce the region’s strictest dress code on natives and foreigners alike.
The campaigners began handing out flyers this week. They will set up booths on 20 June throughout the capital, Doha, and plan to pass out more than 200,000 flyers to raise awareness about local sensitivities with slogans such as: “Leggings are not pants” and “If you are in Qatar, you are one of us.”
Children will wear the slogans on T-shirts, and men and women will pass out traditional coffee, chocolates and roses along with the brochures.
The government, which allows alcohol in hotels to accommodate foreigners, is not involved in the campaign, which is being funded by volunteers, along with a women’s business club in Qatar.
Campaigners say it is a grassroots effort aimed at spreading information to foreigners rather than pressing for new laws or reforms.
Efforts to curb Westernisation are under way in other Gulf countries. In Kuwait, a politician is calling for a ban on public “nudity” – a reference to bikinis on the beach and at hotel poolsides. In Bahrain, lawmakers frequently call for alcohol bans in hotels, and in the United Arab Emirates, locals launched a similar dress code campaign in 2012.
Qatar’s pro-Western government, which benefits from tourism and foreign investment, is not expected to pass laws dictating how women dress.
“We’re not telling you not to dress up. Get dressed up, but with respect, with modesty,” businesswoman Suhaila al-Harab said. “I’m coming to a conservative country. I have to respect the culture of this society. This is a sensitive society and one has to be considerate.”
Speaking from her home in Doha, Ms al-Harab says her boys are inundated with Western movies, music and fashion trends. She says Qatar is used to foreigners and is ready to welcome people from around the world for the World Cup in 2022, but she is urging visitors to be open to new ideas.
“It’s very nice for a woman to dress modestly,” she said.
Among Qatari men and women, conservative dress is seen as a way of deterring premarital sex and adultery, as well as treating women with respect. Islamic teachings hold that most or all of a woman’s body should be concealed from people outside her immediate family.