Campaign for ‘modest dress’ relaunches in malls and public spaces

Photos by Chantelle D’mello and Reflect your Respect on Twitter

With reporting from Riham Sheble

The relaunch of a grassroots campaign that aims to encourage expats and tourists to dress modestly kicked off on Friday afternoon at malls and public spaces around Doha.

Spearheaded by the Qatar Center for Voluntary Activities, the Qatari Women Association and Dar Al Sharq, the “Reflect your Respect” campaign was publicized at four malls – Villaggio, Lagoona, Landmark, and Ezdan – as well as at Souq Waqif and Aspire Park.

Leaflets entitled “Welcome to Qatar” were handed out by volunteers at the five locations, urging people to cover their shoulders, knees and midriffs, as part of a drive that was previously called “One of Us” when it began in 2012.

In Aspire Park, groups of Qatari women accompanied by children wearing t-shirts bearing the campaign logo released balloons and wandered around the park, handing leaflets and an accompanying rose to any expats they saw in the area.

Meanwhile, at Villaggio, male volunteers handed out leaflets to passersby and encouraged them to write down their thoughts in a comments book, and in Landmark, cupcakes, chocolates and flowers were handed out along with the leaflets.

Leaflets

Leaflets being given out yesterday called for expats to help the group “preserve Qatar’s culture and values” by dressing modestly in public places.

Written in both Arabic and English, the leaflet also cited Qatari law as the basis for the campaign.

It included two legal references – the first to Article 57 of the Qatari Constitution, which states that “abiding by public order and morality, observing national traditions and established customs (are) dut(ies) of all who reside in the State of Qatar or enter its territory.”

The other reference was to the country’s penal code, citing a punishment of six months and a fine not exceeding QR3,000 for those judged to be making gestures, reciting songs, uttering indecent phrases or carrying out obscene acts in or near public places.

However, there appears to be no specific element of the penal code that targets dress code in Qatar, although many malls and parks have their own clothing rules, which are enforced by private security guards.

The leaflet also supplies a telephone number for people to call to report “cases of violation.”

When called by Doha News, the respondent identified the line as the Preventive Security Department of the Ministry of Interior.

The member of staff who answered the telephone was unable to provide more information about what action might be taken if a dress code issue was reported.

Campaign video

Reflect your Respect has also published a campaign video on YouTube. The film, directed by Abdullah Al-Ansari, shows an expat mother, wearing a long pair of pants and what appears to be a sleeveless sports top, playing with her child in Aspire Park.

It then shows a Qatari mother and child approaching the woman, and handing the expat a leaflet explaining the campaign’s dress code.

The expat woman expresses surprise, and is then seen in various scenes around the city wearing clothing that covers her legs and arms completely – a marked difference from the guidelines given in previous statements from Reflect your Respect spokespeople, which have only called for shoulders and knees to be covered.

According to Mohammed Al-Horr, a volunteer at Villaggio, reception to the campaign has been “largely positive” so far. Speaking to Doha News, he said:

“We launched on Instagram and Twitter a month ago, using the #ReflectYourRespect hashtag, and we found that people were active, friendly, and started helping out.”

Another Villaggio volunteer, Abdullah Al-Qahtani, added that that the group approached more than 100 people in the mall yesterday who they felt weren’t dressed modestly. He said:

“The first step is establishing a relationship with the public in a friendly manner and to inform them of what the law states. We saw over 100 – 200 people in Villaggio who weren’t dressed appropriately, and we handed all of them leaflets.”

Al-Qahtani told us that one woman, who was wearing what he described as a “nightdress,” left the mall immediately to change upon receiving the leaflet.

Comments left by passersby in the book displayed, mostly in Arabic, congratulated the team on their efforts, according to Al-Horr.

However, some of the expats who’d been approached by campaign volunteers expressed mixed opinions.

Speaking to Doha News, an Indian expat who preferred to remain anonymous said:

“Since the large majority of the population in Qatar is expats, and seeing as Qatar hopes to host the World Cup, which will bring in an influx of foreigners, they should be more understanding of other cultures. The dress code that they are trying to implement in an effort to protect their culture and traditions is a little too harsh, and will only offend people.”

Another, a young Egyptian expatriate, also expressed her indignation.

“It’s hot in Qatar. Sometimes we wear tank tops to deal with the heat, but we wear cardigans on top of that. Even that doesn’t seem to be acceptable anymore.”

Meanwhile, some responses to the group’s YouTube video, which was published on Thursday, have been angry, arguing that Qatari women visiting Europe should be asked to wear typical European dress in response.

Nasser Al Emadi replied:

“It’s up to you, you can do it in London. However, don’t deal with this campaign as racism action toward residents and visitors in Qatar. The campaign is only a civilized way to express what we believe, and its our rights to save our culture from indecent behaviours of our perspective.”

In response to criticism, campaign volunteer Al-Horr told Doha News:

“A citizen is a citizen. If I went to the UK, I would not have the same benefits or protection as the citizens. In the UK, they wouldn’t tell me to abide to their dress code, because it would involve me removing my thobe. But here, we’re asking people to add on, not to remove.

And it’s not about religion. It’s not about how the country respects its religion. It’s about how people respect the country.”

Next steps

According to the men manning the Villaggio booth, leaflets and t-shirts were only passed out for the launch yesterday. After that, the direction the campaign takes will depend on public support, they said.

Organizers plan to establish programs, gain endorsements from local celebrities and influencers, and create skits and plays to further the campaign goals.

Did you take part yesterday, or were you approached by the group? Thoughts?

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