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All photos by Carmen Inkpen

Doha resident Carmen Inkpen wants moms to know that it’s OK to breastfeed their babies in public in Qatar.

In the past, the Canadian expat said she has resorted to feeding her daughter Grace in toilet cubicles or in her car.

But she wants to stop other moms from feeling that they have to hide in this way.

Unicef

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Speaking to Doha News, she said no one has ever given her a hard time for breastfeeding in public in Qatar. But she added she would often worry about offending someone.

“There are campaigns here about dressing modestly, so having to get my boob out discreetly without anybody seeing, that was the hardest,” she said.

Photo sessions

Inkpen said that her experiences have inspired her to use her profession – photography – to help change attitudes and challenge beliefs.

In this vein, she has launched a new project on Facebook, sharing candid photos of moms nursing their children while out and about in Qatar.

The aim, she said, is to show other women that it is acceptable to breastfeed their babies in public.

Supplied

Carmen Inkpen and her daughter Grace

As part of the campaign, Inkpen put a call out to women on Facebook. Some 40 women responded, and she photographed them in two sessions at the Intercontinental Doha hotel and the Pearl-Qatar.

During each, moms fed their babies openly in a cafe setting “with no cover, and that was their own choice,” Inkpen said. She added:

“Nobody said anything, the waiters said nothing. In my time (in Qatar), I’ve never seen a woman openly feed like that.”

Cultural concerns

Inkpen said she is aware that some Qatar residents might be offended by photos showing partially uncovered breasts, so she has decided to feature photos where there is no skin on display.

“It still gets the point across – you can’t see any skin but you know the baby’s feeding,” she said.

A fear of offending people had also been a major concern of most moms she had spoken to, Inkpen said.

Carmen Inkpen / With a little Grace

Inkpen hopes her images will help to change preconceptions

One of the moms who took part in the photo shoots was Qatar expat Clare Flores.

She used to hesitate about feeding her son in public, but told Doha News that a chance encounter soon changed her mind.

During a visit to the Cuban Hospital for a check-up, she found no designated breastfeeding room, so took her baby to the women’s waiting room to feed.

fikirbaz/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A few minutes into the feed, a lady sitting next to her began speaking to her in Arabic.

“I only speak English and at first I thought she was telling me not to breastfeed so I took my son off my breast,” Flores recalled, continuing:

“Then one of the younger ladies translated to me that the Arabic speaking lady was telling me that I should hold my baby in another more comfortable position!

Soon all ladies in the waiting room were chatting to me and offering me advice. It was a warming experience,” she said.

Poor breastfeeding rates

A 2012 government survey found that only 29 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed in Qatar during the first six months of a baby’s life. Globally, the average is 37 percent.

To help improve this, a new law to help promote breastfeeding in currently being discussed.

It would ban advertising of formula milk in Qatar, and also forbid doctors from participating in conferences sponsored by infant milk companies.

Sander van der Wel/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, the reasons for low breastfeeding rates in Qatar are many and complex, and include short maternity leave, an absence of workplace nurseries and a lack of post-natal support.

Inkpen believes that worries about offending people, coupled with a lack of breastfeeding rooms in public spaces in Qatar, could also be putting women off.

“We (in Qatar) want people to breastfeed, but we don’t provide breastfeeding facilities. One of the moms (at the photo shoots) recently went to the Mall of Qatar, a newly-opened mall, and there were no breastfeeding rooms there.”

Have you felt embarrassed or concerned about breastfeeding in public in Qatar? Thoughts?

Stephan Geyer/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Officials has revived legislation that would provide legal protection to Qatar’s nannies, drivers and cooks by creating a common contract for domestic workers.

There is currently no law regulating domestic help in Qatar.

These workers are not required to sign contracts with their employers and cannot file complaints against them with the Ministry of Labor.

Mopaw Foundation/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The Cabinet approved new legislation to change that yesterday, according to QNA.

It said the bill would define the rights and duties of house help such as maids, drivers and gardeners, and “regulate the relationship” between these employees and their sponsors.

The move comes six months after Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) recommended that legislation be issued to change the status quo.

Stalled law

Qatar has been discussing a draft law for several years. But officials put it on the back burner in 2014 after the GCC began talking about passing unified domestic workers legislation.

That agreement would have included one day off a week, the right to live outside the employer’s home, a six-hour working day with paid overtime and the right to travel at any time.

Bark/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, the legislation stalled in 2015 in part over disagreements about whether it was too generous.

Rights groups criticized the development, saying a lack of legal protection leaves Qatar’s 84,000 female house helpers particularly vulnerable.

Some have been subjected to excessive working hours, late and unpaid wages, restrictions on movement and sexual assaults, groups have pointed out.

Possible provisions

QNA did not provide details of the upcoming law’s terms and conditions.

But when it was talked about in 2011, it said domestic helpers:

  • Must sign a contract with his/her employer, with the format and rules to be issued by the Labor Ministry;
  • Are entitled to free housing and food as well as breaks during an eight-hour workday;
  • Are free to practice their religion;
  • Must receive proper medical care when sick and cannot be forced to work during illness;
  • Are entitled to three weeks of annual leave;
  • Can quit at any time;
  • Must receive two weeks of basic pay as end-of-service benefits for each year worked for employer;
  • Are not responsible for paying for their visas or medical testing;
  • Must be at least 18 years old to work as a domestic helper;
  • Must be employed through a licensed manpower agency;
  • Cannot be asked to do any work other than those specified in her contract, or work that takes a heavy physical toil or is “below a woman’s dignity;” and
  • Are entitled to have their sponsor meet all expenses in the event of their death, including transporting the body home.

However, even at that time recruitment agencies expressed skepticism about enforcement of the law.

Thoughts?

Hangda Zhang

Video still from ‘After fleeing’

A Yemeni woman who moved to Qatar to escape a civil war at home has opened up about her journey in a new short film.

Mariam Al-Dubhani is now a journalism student at Northwestern University in Qatar.

In the film, she explains to one of her peers that she started making films and music in Yemen as a way of expressing herself and defying constraints society put on her.

“Living in Yemen, where a girl isn’t allowed to do much, just because she’s a girl – it always pissed me off, and made me do things my way,” she said.

Missile attack

Al-Dubhani said that she decided to flee Yemen after a missile landed close to her family home, blowing out the windows.

“I just wanted to leave, I had no other thoughts in my head, I would have gone anywhere. I can’t be helpless, I can’t wait for things to happen.”

She eventually moved to Qatar with her fiance (now husband), after a Qatari woman she had previously worked with offered her a new job in Doha.

In the film, she said that she continues to live by her beliefs, which are to “never stop pursuing what you want, and don’t let anyone tell you to stop.”

Student filmmaker

The film was produced by 20-year-old Hangda Zhang, who is studying journalism and economics at Northwestern University in the US.

Last year, she came to the school’s Doha campus for five months, and used her time to make two films about young women she met.

Speaking to Doha News, Zhang said the five-minute video is part of her series on inspiring women.

Santiago Sanz Romero/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

After Fleeing shows the story of a married woman who fled from Yemen to Qatar and who possesses this courage and independence to face her life,” she said.

Zhang’s second Qatar film – which has not yet been released – will feature a Qatari woman who has started a global movement to unite young people through charity work.

She explained:

“I want to tell these stories to inspire other women, and to start conversations with the audience on issues seldom covered by media or discussed among people.”

Zhang added that she wants to become a professional documentary maker after graduation.

What do you think of the video? Thoughts?