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.
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
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.
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.
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.