By Sara Al-Ansari
How Qataris with visual impairment fall foul of misinformation, as they look for true love and partnership.
It was past midnight. The moon had cast a faint silvery glow through the clouds onto the wispy curtains, and it spread across the room. The gentle humming of the air conditioner was not enough to lull Sheikha to sleep. The thought of marriage was daunting her.
For many Qataris with blindness and visual impairments, like Sheikha, finding true love and getting married is a challenge.
“I am a woman, I still have my pride, dignity, and respect, but the men who proposed to me did not see that,” says Sheikha. “They only saw what they wanted, a vulnerable woman who could be used for their own sick and selfish desires.”
Stereotypes and misinformation
According to a report published by Qatar’s Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, individuals with disabilities in Qatar make up less than one percent of the total population.
Qataris with visual impairments are often forced to battle with false and offensive stereotypes. Females, for example, are sometimes viewed as ‘troubled women’ due to their disability, which lowers their chances of receiving marriage proposals.
“People look at us as if we are from outer space, as if we are some creatures who only look for compassion and pity, but in reality, that is not the case,” says Wadha, a Qatari woman who is blind.
“Many of us identify as strong women. We are capable of carrying out our household duties, taking care of our personal hygiene and physical appearances, and are financially independent, but people don’t know that.”
Faisal Al Kohiji, a board member of Qatar Social and Cultural Centre for the Blind, explained two significant reasons for the low marriage rates of Qataris who are blind or visually impaired. First is the lack of awareness amongst the local community in Qatar.
“Many people don’t know about our lifestyles; how we move around, complete our day-to-day tasks, and spend our leisure time,” says Faisal. “Many of them react shockingly once they know that we have real jobs.”
The second reason is down to false impressions and narratives about people with disabilities, especially when it comes to relationships, in Qatari society.
Some common misconceptions are that people with blindness or visual impairment are moody or depressed, lack the ability to take care of themselves, and are vulnerable; incapable of facing threatening challenges. Women in particular often fall victim to these stereotypes, leading their families and guardians to forbid them from getting married.
Maryam Al Kuwari, the supervisor of activities at Qatar Cultural and Social Centre for the Blind, told Doha News that marriages of blind women are a taboo subject in many Qatari families. In fact, some families feel ashamed of talking about marriage and wedding their blind daughters.
“I would like to get married, even if it fails. I would like to try living a life with a partner and having a family of my own,” says Wadha. “But because of the stigma, this false image that people have of us, my parents are scared and reluctant to marry me off to someone.”
Wadha described some of her experiences as demoralising. Men would ask for her hand in marriage but only under specific conditions.
A Qatari man once proposed to Wadha when he heard about her personality, which matched his wishes for a potential housewife. He later, however, admitted that the real (and only) reason behind his proposal was to earn hasanat — rewards and virtues from God.
She immediately refused him.
“I didn’t want him to marry me out of pity and for his own religious reasons and benefits,” says Wadha. “Where was I in the picture? My feelings and emotions were clearly being discarded.”
Wadha does not regret her decision, but it affected her. While she describes herself as a strong, independent woman, her desire to have a family of her own makes her feel lonely.
“It can be so difficult to understand why the community here [in Qatar] refuses the idea of marrying blind women. There are many good examples of successful marriages between blind women and sighted men in the Gulf, but you will not find many of these examples in Qatar,” explains Maryam Al Kuwari.
But its not just women who face these challenges, Qatari men with visual impairment are also often stigmatised with stereotypes of them not being able breadwinners or guardians. This makes it almost impossible for them too to find companionship.
While the State of Qatar places legal restrictions on marriages between Qatari citizens and foreigners, the state has been more accommodating of disabled men seeking to marry non-Qataris than of disabled women trying to do the same.
However, Ibrahim, a Qatari citizen who is partially sighted, still had to face battles of his own as he began a relationship with a non-disabled woman. Although he felt somewhat advantaged by his gender, he says: “Getting married was tough. I had to go through a number of hurdles just to prove to my in-laws that I was capable of fulfilling my spouse’s needs and being financially secure.”
How can blind Qataris overcome these social challenges? And how can we as a society inform against these stereotypes?