Since its bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar has invested extensive amounts in tourism and sports and has endeavored to establish itself as a sports and tourism destination. Education City Stadium helps put a global spotlight on education and gender issues in Qatar. Education City increased Qatari women’s enrollment in higher education. For the majority of Qatari women traveling abroad for their higher education was not a preferred option due to legal and cultural factors. Based in Doha, Education City provides them with the opportunity to receive a similar quality of education available abroad from the comfort of their own country and home as it hosts branch campuses of five American universities. Nonetheless, while the branding of the State of Qatar aims to portray it as a modern woman empowering state, the motives behind some of these initiatives can be seen as disingenuous. Qatar’s branding strategy as a sports and tourism destination and the integration of both tradition and modernity, contributes to creating the dichotomous roles for Qatari women.
Although the State is motivating women to participate in high degrees in the workforce and education, they are simultaneously confining them through limiting their freedom, legally and culturally. Qatari female graduates in Education City universities surpass male graduates with almost 75% of Qatar Foundation students being females. The education of Qatari females is partly a superficial attempt by the Qatari state that is used for its soft power goals, which include its branding strategies for the 2022 World Cup. This is done through the dichotomous roles Qatari women are assigned and the conflicts between ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’. Educated Qatari females are being used to help create an illusion of a ‘modern’ Qatar. While Qatar is capable of creating this appearance, the realities of Education City and Qatar Foundation do not reflect the Qatari society or State. During the interviews conducted with Qatari female graduates from Qatar Foundation it was made clear that these women were alienated from the rest of society by being categorized as the ‘other’ with stereotypes and terms that made them seem more ‘liberal’ and westernized. Many mentioned the cultural division that exists between Qatar Foundation and the rest of society, stating that Education City is a bubble. The critical problem of this bubble is much bigger than a difference in cultures. Qatar Foundation projects itself as a place where women’s rights and empowerment are central, where gender segregation and sexism are significantly reduced, however, once these women exit these environments, they are shocked by the realities and the environments outside of Education City.
Qatar’s focus on gender issues as part of its branding for the 2022 World means to be supportive of women’s rights and equality and a modern state that is diverse and accepting of all. The Qatari State’s focus on women’s rights and empowerment is highly significant as women’s personal and private lives are political, therefore, can be employed as collateral or objects of political discourse. In her podcast interview, titled The World Cup and Women’s Rights in Qatar, Dr. Amal Mohammed Al-Malki Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamad bin Khalifa University highlighted some of the reforms executed in Qatar to improve women’s’ position. Dr. Al-Malki specified that Education City plays several roles for women empowerment. In addition to providing quality education, Education City has increased the representation of women in education and defied gender roles. To illustrate this, Dr. Al-Malki mentions Texas A&M University at Qatar, which has more female engineering students than male students.
While attempting to seem modern, the branding strategy of Qatar, as a tourist destination, also relies on the ‘uniqueness’ of the Qatari culture and heritage. This relationship between tradition and modernity is repeated throughout Qatar’s branding. The idea that Qatar’s rich traditional culture can exist simultaneously at the foreground of modernity is used to promote the World Cup 2022 heavily. An example of this is the Al Bayt Stadium situated in AlKhor, which represents a traditional Qatari tent and includes, ironically, one of the fast-food giants, MacDonald’s branch that “mimic the country’s tradition, heritage, and hospitality.”
In January of 2020, Qatar underwent changes in its penal code and rules to reconcile or rectify its image as a woman empowering State. These changes include a decision to lift the rule that Qatari women must have their guardian’s permission to obtain a driving license, which was introduced shortly after significant reputable damage was done to its modern progressive image. On March 29, 2021, Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Qatar: Male Guardianship Severely Curtails Women’s Rights,” which discussed how discriminatory restrictions affect women’s independence to marry, study, work, travel, and more such as Qatar’s guardianship laws, the discrimination women face in obtaining health care and cyber-crimes and security laws. This report caused further damage to Qatar’s branding. This report was released shortly after several football teams, including Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands, began protesting against Qatar 2022 World Cup due to Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights violations, which has been a prominent issue of controversy.
Despite more Qatari women graduating with Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D.’s, the hurdles they face daily and the legal and sociopolitical challenges raise questions regarding the contradictions between their education and their assigned roles. The motives behind Qatar’s focus on women’s rights and empowerments are questionable; however, by hosting the World Cup, these issues are highlighted, and Qatar is forced to address and reform them rather than simply ignore such inequalities.
Article by Mashael Muftah
Mashael Muftah graduated from Georgetown University in Qatar with a degree in Culture and Politics and a minor in Arabic. She has previously interned at the US Embassy in Qatar and Qatar News Agency. She authored an honors thesis titled The Paradox of Qatari Females’ Education which examines the dichotomy that exists with the education of Qatari females and the contradictions between their education and their assigned roles.
Read more about the Building a Legacy: Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 project here.