Qatar: Shopping and Phones Permitted!

Netizens in Qatar have responded indignantly to an article published on the Sydney Morning Herald website, which claimed that Qatari women were not allowed to go shopping, and did not have easy access to technology.

The article, published on May 23 and called “Tech tea parties help women stay in touch with the world”, addressed the difficulties women in certain countries face in accessing technology.

Qatar was the first country to be mentioned; journalist Matthew Hall wrote:

The seemingly simple act of buying a phone can come with stigma in some countries if you're a woman. In Qatar, women can usually communicate only with men who are family members. Going to a shop is mostly off limits. This has prevented women from joining the technology revolution their counterparts enjoy so freely in other places. The solution? Tech Tupperware-type parties, in one case by Vodafone, hosted by female sales agents in women's homes across Qatar's capital Doha.

“Cultural issues come to play in a number of ways,” said Ann Mei Chang, a senior adviser for women and technology at the US State Department, and an advocate for women's right to benefit from technology. “Husbands or brothers or fathers are concerned that if the women and girls in their lives have access to mobile phones or the internet they will become promiscuous. So they don't want them to have access, even though there are a lot of benefits.”

Villaggio Mall, Doha, Qatar. Image by Flickr user Frédéric Gloor (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

At the Doha News blog, Shabina Khatri responded to the Sydney Morning Herald article. She said:

In the latest example of how journalists egregiously, woefully, incorrectly report on Qatar, Hall includes the country as an example of places where women miss out on technological developments because men hold them back. Qatar is mentioned only in the first few paragraphs of the article, mostly because female sales agents working for Vodafone do house calls here. But the assumption behind why these agents hold tech tea parties in Qatar is just plain wrong. […] More than likely, Vodafone visits Qatari women’s homes because it’s well worth their while, not because these women can’t go out and buy themselves a nice phone (or two, or three). The rest of the article goes on to state very real examples of countries in which women are being left behind in terms of their access to technology, a legitimate problem. But as anyone who has spent even five minutes in a mall here can attest, Qatar – which recently launched a national women’s basketball league – is not one of those places.

Reactions on Twitter varied from disbelieving and sarcastic to offended.

Jennan asked:

@Dalla3ah: What era do they think we're living in?!!!

VelvetinQatar tweeted:

@VelvetinQatar: Seriously? I read it and was like “Qatar Qatar? As in, the Qatar where I live? I must be missing something!”

Sybil Knox said:

@SybnDoha: Poor poor Qatari women…are those just TOY Blackberries they hold to their ears?! I'm so confused.

She added:

@SybnDoha: They [the Sydney Morning Herald] are in need of some serious “calling out”. ‪#ignorance‬

Sarah commented:

@quizzy_mj: Ridiculous. They should know every single Qatari owns at least one Blackberry or iPhone and goes shopping pretty often.

Meanwhile, Vallath imagined the subject of the next article about Qatar's women:

@Vallath: At least they're getting creative. Next up: Women-only internet to be launched in Qatar.


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