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Reflect You Respect event at Villaggio in 2014

Chantelle D'Mello

Reflect You Respect event at Villaggio Mall in 2014

A local campaign to promote modest dress in public places is entering its fourth summer with a new slogan, and an expanded focus that includes the clothing and behavior of Qataris as well as expats.

When the grassroots initiative to call attention to how people dress began in 2012, it was dubbed “One of Us.”

But the name was changed last year to “Reflect Your Respect,” based on feedback from some non-Qataris. Now, the campaign has returned with a new message: “You matter in Qatar.”

Previously, organizers increased their efforts during Ramadan, drawing attention to the clothing of non-Qatari tourists and residents, and advising them how to dress without offending local values and culture.Reflect Your Respect

Leaflets showed pictograms of appropriate and offensive levels of dress and groups of mostly women and children visited shopping malls and parks, handing out literature, shawls and chocolates.

Though Qatar is a conservative Islamic country, the law does not define modest dress.

Article 57 of the Qatari constitution states that “abiding by public order and morality, observing national traditions and established customs is a duty of all who reside in the State of Qatar or enter its territory.”

However, the group behind the modesty campaign has said that women and men should cover at least their shoulders and knees, and not wear tight, revealing or provocative clothing.

This year’s events

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Muhammad Kamran Qureshi/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

As the weather heats up and Ramadan approaches, volunteers will continue to circulate their message in malls, a spokeswoman for the group told Doha News.

Umm Abdullah added that members of the campaign have been trying to talk to Qataris in public places to reinforce the group’s message of modesty in all aspects of life.

This was in response to comments during previous campaigns that some expats felt they were being singled out while other behaviors in society were ignored, she said, continuing:

“Our campaign is not only about dress code. It is about supporting modesty in all behaviors in the state, for men and women.

Foreigners said to us: ‘why do you attack us, and Qataris are wearing perfume, heavy makeup, tight pants, high heels.’ We are addressing everyone. I speak to Qatari people too, telling them how to dress properly in public places like malls and hospitals,” she told Doha News.

The group has also revised its branding this year, in an effort to be more inclusive and to convey their message more positively, Umm Abdullah said.

Campaign T shirt

Reflect Your Respect

Campaign T shirt

T-shirts, leaflets and literature have been designed with a heart symbol and show images in a circle, with the words: “You matter in Qatar: Respecting the customs and traditions of this country that welcomes all guests.”

“We are trying to make it more appealing to people from all countries. This year, we want to focus on advising people what they can wear, not so much what they can’t wear,” she added.

Volunteers from “Reflect Your Respect” have organized talks, workshops and seminars with children in local schools as well as with local international women’s groups in a bid to raise awareness of the issue of modest dress.

The group also held an event at Katara Opera House last Friday, which featured talks and short skits performed by some pupils from independent schools in Qatar regarding modest dress code and behavior.

Photos of the event show that Katara’s General Manager, Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Al Sulaiti, along with the Libyan Ambassador to Qatar Abdel Monsef Hafiz Albouri, attended the relaunch of the campaign.

But speaking to Doha News, Al Sulaiti said that while he did attend the start of the event “for a couple of minutes,” Katara was only providing a venue, and is not an official supporter or sponsor of the campaign.

Previously, there was talk of involving the Qatar Tourism Authority in the campaign, but the QTA has also said it is not an official supporter of the movement.

Dress code

Expats make up more than 85 percent of Qatar’s population, and the dress code debate has long been an ongoing source of tension here.

Just a few weeks ago, an altercation between a local woman and an expat family over dress was uploaded to YouTube, garnering 63,000 views and spurring Twitter discussion over what the appropriate way would have been to discuss the issue.

Passions are likely to heighten as the temperatures soar and as Ramadan begins in mid-June this year.

Still, Umm Abdullah said that she is hopeful the campaign will mend divisions between groups in Qatar:

“People come here from different countries and cultures and many of them do not know what they should be wearing here in Qatar.

A clash of cultures affects all sides and we don’t want this. We want to reach a middle line – we don’t want two groups with one covered top-to-toe and another not covering at all. We know many of the people who come here are not Muslims, and we are not asking them to cover up but just dress respectfully,” she added.

Thoughts?

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?

Education City

Sam Agnew/Flick

Employees of Qatar Foundation (QF) have received a reminder that they are required to dress in a way that presents a “consistent, professional and respectful image.”

The memo, which QF said is not connected to the recently revived grassroots modesty campaign Reflect Your Respect, nevertheless comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in Qatar around what is considered appropriate dress in public places.

Last week, QF’s executive director of Human Resources Hassan Mohd Al Hammadi sent an email to members of staff clarifying the organization’s HR policy on attire.

In the email, Al Hammadi said:

“In order to maintain a professional image, Qatar Foundation has a Dress Code Policy, which outlines dress and personal presentation guidelines to ensure that business attire is professional and reflects respect for local culture and customs.”

The detailed dress code advises QF employees to “dress conservatively in professionally appropriate attire,” adding that casual and sports clothes are not suitable.

Male staff not in national dress should wear trousers and a shirt and are required to wear a suit and tie for public or government meetings or dinners.

For women, dresses, trousers and skirts below the knee are acceptable. Blouses with a “modest neckline and no less than half a sleeve” are required.

Female staff members were also advised: “the more frequent an employee interacts with the public, the more conservative she should dress.”

Some of the points of the dress code at QF.

Some of the points of the dress code at QF.

Tight, revealing and transparent clothing, denim, or clothing potentially offensive logos, slogans or pictures are all considered inappropriate. Those whose clothing does not meet the required standards could be subject to disciplinary action, staff were advised.

Speaking to Doha News about the policy, a QF spokesman would not confirm if the dress code had been updated recently. He said:

“We have always had policies and procedures like this in place. The organization has grown and we are reinforcing the message.”

The memo does not appear to have come as a surprise to QF staff, some of whom told Doha News that dressing in keeping with Qatari tradition and culture is expected within the organization.

The policy is believed to apply to all QF staff and contractors, and not staff at specific universities, although many individual institutions within Education City also issue advice to their employees to dress conservatively.

Weill Cornell Medical College Qatar’s website includes a page on Qatar culture, and advises its community:

“Foreign visitors are expected to dress in a style that is sensitive to the Islamic culture. Conservative clothing is recommended. Men generally wear long trousers and a shirt in public. Women’s attire in public – as opposed to hotels or private clubs – should cover the shoulders, upper arms and knees.”

Outside of QF, Qatar University issued a dress policy reminder to students some two years ago. That policy has been met with mixed reactions, with some students and staff welcoming the initiative – which ruled against tight, revealing or provocative clothing and casual wear – while others felt this impinged on their right to express their identity.

New emphasis

Reflect Your Respect is slated to be relaunched next month, ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

That campaign, organized by a group of individuals, will begin on June 20 with a weekend of leafleting in malls and parks, and is focused on raising awareness among expats on what is considered by many nationals to be appropriate standards of dress in public places.

As the modesty campaign relaunches, and with Ramadan approaching, some expats told Doha News that they have become more conscious of their clothing, and are trying to err on the side of caution in terms of their choice of dress.

On Twitter, meanwhile, other residents have asked their colleagues to put Qatar’s dress code in perspective:

What to wear

While there is no official code detailing appropriate dress in Qatar, the general rule-of-thumb has been that for women, shoulders and knees should be covered in public and they should avoid plunging necklines.

Sleeveless t-shirts and shorts have been considered inappropriate for men in public places.

However, many government and semi-government organizations have more conservative dress codes, and there are anecdotes of people being turned away from ministries and other government buildings due to their level of dress.

What are your thoughts?