Prior to winning the bid for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar did not have a women’s national football team. In 2010, the same year that Qatar won the bid, the first female national football team was established as a step towards the inclusion of women in international football tournaments. Despite the team’s lack of success, significant changes to female participation in sports began taking place in Qatar. These changes included sports programs specially designed for women, as well as activities and training initiatives that prepared Qatari women for their first Olympic Games.
Through strategies enshrined in Qatar’s Vision 2030, a document outlining future state goals, there has been active work regarding the inclusion and empowerment of Qatari women through higher education and joining the workforce. With Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup, the state has actively invested in promoting its presence politically and socially to become what Mehran Kamrava has described as a “Small State, Big Politics.” With women’s rights high on the global agenda, Qatar is keen on empowering women to become active participants in the public sphere. Many Qatari women have portrayed a strong public presence over the past few years, including Dr. Amal AlMalki, founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamad bin Khalifa University and Lolwah Alkhater, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, among others.
In my Georgetown University in Qatar’s honors thesis, “Legalized Patriarchy: An Examination of Qatari Women’s Lived Realities in the Private/Public Spheres,” I explored Qatari women’s lived experiences and the challenges they face. Through interviews and observations, my thesis deduced that Qatari women strive to overcome various obstacles, such as the guardianship system, in which a male family member is responsible for females. Even though such restrictive laws hinder Qatari women from pursuing various opportunities, including playing sports, many women have persevered to claim their autonomy.
A recent sports accomplishment for Qatari women is the achievement of “Ironwoman” by Lolwa Almarri. She noted her intentions to inspire other Qatari women, stating: “I’m doing this for my daughter, I want her to see me as something more than a job and a mother.” Other efforts that are empowered through education are initiatives such as “The Future is Female,” which I headed and talked about in detail in my article, “By the Youth for the Youth.”
As demonstrated in its Vision 2030, the state of Qatar is keen on empowering more women to contribute to the public sphere, which extends to the sports sector, by promoting “increased opportunities and vocational support for Qatari women.” The different sections of the Vision 2030 mention the aim for increased participation of women, particularly in the political and economic arenas. This was reflected in the Shura Council, a democratic legislative body in which women became eligible to run for the advisory council elections. Despite women not receiving as many votes as their male counterparts, Sheikh Tamim appointed two women to the advisory council in 2021, demonstrating the state’s goal of women’s representation in political spheres.
Overall, the progress and initiatives taken as a result of the 2022 World Cup and Qatar’s Vision 2030 have been felt in the community. Significant opportunities have opened up for women and their increased participation in different spheres is visible and continues to grow. In Qatar’s conservative community, however, change is gradual. In an interview with a female student at Education City, she expresses that “Change isn’t a switch that can be flipped, it’s a gradual process. Several other Qatari girls and I who play football are proof of the change that is coming.”
Article by Jawaher Al-Shamari, researcher and a graduate of Georgetown University.
Jawaher Al-Shamari is a researcher and a graduate of Georgetown University in Qatar, majoring in Culture & Politics. She is the author of “Legalized Patriarchy: An Examination of Qatari Women’s Lived Realities in the Private/Public Spheres,” and her research interests include women, national identity, Islam, and law.
Read more about the Building a Legacy: Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 project here.
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