The Qatari government’s vision has been to advance Qatari women in all areas and integrate them in the work force turning them into integral members of the society just like men. In such a transitional phase we are witnessing all governmental institutions and agencies should get on board with the government’s agenda. But what we see is scattered efforts rather than strategic planning from their part.
No one denies the importance of media in building the nation. Media can single-handedly promote political agendas and change attitudes. Media can shape people’s perceptions and is certainly an important tool that can be used to promote women’s status in the Qatari society. However, Media in Qatar proves to be a perplexing story. When all visual and print media are owned by the government, why aren’t they then furthering the government’s agenda of empowering Qatari women? Shouldn’t the media be helping in shaping better realities? In short, shouldn’t there be a responsible media in such transitional phase complementing the government’s efforts in promoting equality between genders and acceptance of the new generation of working women?
To be fair, local newspapers have been keen on interviewing Qatari working women as well as profiling them. But this isn’t enough and doesn’t address the need for reporting real life challenges and obstacles that women face. What these newspapers should do is help in preparing the society for a new era, in which previous taboos have to be broken, not only through the publication of women photos, but in tackling the cultural values that the society take for granted but are hindering women’s and men’s progress. Media should embrace thinkers from different ideologies in debates about traditions to expose what is valid and what is outdated, and should expose the audience to new discourses in which women issues are the dominant subject rather than a side-topic.
I see a lack of a planned media strategy in promoting new women’s roles. Media’s portrayal of Qatari women is dichotomous. It is unintentionally creating a gap between two types of women. On one hand, it perpetuates the image of them being spoilt, passive, beauty and fashion driven, with no ambitions or interest in public affairs. On the other hand, there are regular profiling of serious professional women in high posts and leading positions. How many times have I found in one issue both praise and criticism; a story of success and one of failure? While successful working women are being depicted as confident and strong and are publically quoted as official points of references, the same newspaper publishes opinion articles calling Qatari women vain and accusing them of losing their identities by abandoning their traditions and following western values. The regular reader receives such mixed messages and is offered a further dose of perplexity when he reaches the daily caricature.
A student project in Qatar University (2008) advised by Professor Kaltham Al-Ghanim investigates the stereotypical portrayal of women in newspapers’ caricatures and their impact on molding the society’s perceptions of women. The students’ study states that although the media has been recording the changing roles of women in the society, it still promotes and feeds the public with the stereotypical portrayal of women as naïve and ignorant and only focuses on the women’s physical appearances in the caricatures. The readers are exposed to biased portrayal of women that ignores individual differences as well as age, occupational, social and economic differences.
Surveys in the local newspapers about issues concerning women rarely involve women or incorporates women voices, making it more of what men and society think of women. We have read stories about women salaries causing family disputes and the negative impact of the absence of working mothers on their children, but have we ever read how working women are in fact role models in their own houses, how working women are raising better men, and how working women are by themselves investments for a better future for their husbands and children?
We are in a need for a responsible media; one that balances between its obligations to portray the society as it is and at the same time to raise the standards and promote progressive ideas that will help the society in advancing. If it is only a reflection of the society, it becomes static and can fall into the traps of being biased and ignoring as well as marginalizing the new generations that need their support such as the modern educated generation and working women.
This entry was published in October’s issue of Woman Today, a Qatari based monthly magazine.