A look at women’s participation in the World Cup in Qatar

photo: Joo Vitor Marques/EM/DAPress

indigo Salah and Fati Salah on their way to the match between Senegal and Ecuador at Khalifa International Stadium

With her body completely covered in black and with a beige bag over her shoulder, Ekra Akter poses smiling for a photo in front of the Khalifa International Stadium. a rare sunny afternoon covered by almost transparent clouds in the hot and gray Doha. The cell phone pointed at her is in the hands of Raisul Islam, her longtime companion since before they moved from Bangladesh to Qatar. Together, they were on their way to the stands of the imposing arena for almost 50,000 fans to watch the decisive game between Senegal and Ecuador, for Group A of the World Cup. Ekra is just one of the thousands of women who, in different ways, participate in the first football World Cup in the Middle East.

Upon noticing the timid approach, Raisul is receptive. He wears black slacks and a white polo collar and takes advantage of the mild weather to leave his sunglasses propped up over his head. As soon as he hears what that approach is about, he takes the lead in the conversation and gestures, while his wife looks away.

Raisul listens to the request to interview Ekra about women’s participation in the biggest event in world football and kindly offers to translate the woman’s response, who, according to him, does not speak English. After the question is asked, he exchanges a few words with his wife, speaks her answer at length, and takes a stand for the couple. “She says that everything is fine. In fact, everything is very good here in Qatar. We have lived here for 15 years, we are comfortable and we have no problems. So, we are comfortable with that in Qatar,” he says.

The meeting with the two is symbolic in the most varied aspects of the relationship between men and women beyond the Middle East, but evidently does not synthesize the complexity of the functions performed by women during the World Cup. More shyly or not, they are in the stands, in administrative functions, among volunteers, security and in the field.

Go v United States: photos of the fans at the World Cup game

Qatar has less than 3 million inhabitants, of which around 350,000 are natives. In a country made up mostly of immigrants (70%), the role socially attributed to women is a large gray area. There are from the most liberal families, with less rigid rules, to the so-called traditional ones, in which religion plays an imposing role that goes far beyond clothing.

Sharia, Islamic law, has varied interpretations and applications in different places. Sunni Wahhabism is the most representative fundamentalism in Qatar, where a male guardianship system is in force. In short, women need a man’s formal authorization for numerous decisions, such as marriage, divorce, travel, study abroad. Approval is also required for gynecological exams and reproductive health treatment. The guardian can be a father, brother, uncle, godfather or husband.

In a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch published in 2019, researcher Rothna Begum wrote that “male guardianship reinforces men’s power and control over women’s lives and choices and can encourage or fomenting violence by the family or by their husbands”.

In the same document, he points out that the custody system is in contradiction with the Qatari constitution. “A mix of laws, policies and practices where adult women must obtain permission from their male guardian for specific activities,” HRW reported.

The report accumulates reports of women who suffered some type of impediment or abuse due to the system. In response, the Qatari government said the reports were outside the constitution and promised to investigate the cases and punish offenders. “Women’s empowerment is fundamental. In Qatar, women play prominent roles in all aspects of life, including political and economic decision-making,” defended the country’s administration.

“Qatar leads the region in almost all gender equality indicators, including the highest labor force participation rate for women, equal pay in the government sector, and the highest percentage of women enrolled in university programs,” he added. Effectively, there are movements seeking equality in Qatar, and women, although in smaller numbers, have started to occupy more positions of power.

In the World Cup

The masculine and macho environment of football is reproduced in greater proportions in the World Cup. There are women as supporters in the stadiums, but in small numbers. “I asked my wife to come, but she thought it was a complicated country for a woman… She wanted to come, but decided not to,” says Denilson Ribeiro de Santana, 48, from Itana, in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte. .

Iranian fans in Qatar still
photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Iranian fans in Qatar still mostly male

Among the journalists covering the World Cup, female voices are extremely rare – a symptom of the gender inequality that affects the entire world. Although in smaller numbers than men, there are women in stadium security, in the volunteer program and in refereeing. “This is the first World Cup with women refereeing, right? It didn’t happen in the United States, it didn’t happen in the West, it’s happening here in the Middle East. I think that speaks for itself”, defended Indigo Salah, a Muslim who lives in in London and is in Qatar to follow the competition.

“I think women have been involved in every aspect of the preparation and planning for the World Cup. I think that’s evident because there are women in every activity you go to. I think they made a conscious choice to make sure women are involved. So it’s nice to see that,” echoed Fati Salah, a British woman of Nigerian descent.

Among Brazilian women, the perception is clear that social expectations are different in relation to Brazil. Kellen Lima, Carol Calmon and Lelia Lacerda left Rio de Janeiro to make a living from music in Doha. They have been playing and playing songs from Brazil in front of the stadiums in the moments leading up to the games, at the invitation of Fifa.

” It’s very different from Brazil, of course. In many cases, it’s even fine to wear the clothes I want, with a cleavage, shorter because of the heat. for example, because it would not be well seen”, said Kellen, after singing a samba minutes before Argentina and Mexico face each other.

Prohibited by law from going to the est
photo: Fadel Senna / AFP

Prohibited by law from going to the stadiums in the country where they were born, the Iranians turned out in force in the group stage matches of the World Cup. Many walked around smiling, their faces painted in the colors of the national flag.

At the World Cup, women’s participation became the center of discussion at the games in Iran. Prohibited by law from going to the stadiums in the country where they were born, the Iranians turned out in force in the group stage matches of the World Cup. On the outskirts of Al Thumama that Tuesday, many were smiling, their faces painted in the colors of the flag. “We are here to celebrate and protest”, said one of them, who ran away before saying the name, because she was late for the decisive duel against the USA.

Iranian demonstrations are against the suppression of women’s rights in the country. Players of the national team even did not sing the anthem in protest. The theme gained strength especially as a reaction to the case of Mahsa Amini, who turned up dead at the age of 22 after being arrested for “inappropriate use” of the Islamic veil. About 380 people have died since demonstrations began in September, according to Iran Human Rights Watch.


Iranian national team at the opening of the World Cup; fans booed the anthem in protest

In the stands, fans booed the country’s anthem in the first game. Iranian flags were displayed alongside posters and banners in defense of women’s life and freedom, in messages that apply beyond the Persian Gulf.

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