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Explained: Why Women Football Fans Fear for Their Safety at World Cup in Qatar

Why has Qatar been accused of violating gender and sexual rights? We explain.

Published
Explainers
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Explained: Why Women Football Fans Fear for Their Safety at World Cup in Qatar
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Even as FIFA is set to kick off the 2022 World Cup in 10 days, fans from across the world are apprehensive about their visit to the host nation, Qatar. Women football fans as well as fans from the LGBTQI+ community have raised concerns about their safety in the Arab country, where homosexuality is strictly forbidden and women’s rights are allegedly curtailed.

From women facing the risk of being flogged for reporting cases of sexual violence to couples being imprisoned for sex outside marriage, there have been several media reports of Qatar’s “stringent” stance on gender and sexual rights. The country has also come under fire for its poor human rights record and alleged mistreatment of migrant workers who built its stadiums. 

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, has reiterated that Qatar is “one of the safest countries in the world” and that “everyone is welcome and no one is discriminated against.”

But why has Qatar been accused of violating gender and sexual rights? Why are women football fans worried about their safety? What is the status of women in Qatar? The Quint explains.

Explained: Why Women Football Fans Fear for Their Safety at World Cup in Qatar

  1. 1. Laws Women Visitors Are Wary of

    In 2020, a group of women from Australia were allegedly subjected to an invasive gynaecological exam without their consent and forcibly removed from a Qatar Airways flight “at gunpoint” in Doha, according to The Guardian. Later, five of the women sued the airlines and Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority for violating their human rights.

    In October this year, the lawyers representing the women appealed to the Qatari government to ensure the safety of women travelling to the country for the World Cup, according to news agency AFP. “With the World Cup less than a month away, female travellers are entitled to an assurance from Qatar that their human rights will be respected,” the lawyers told the news agency.

    So, what are some of Qatar’s laws that could land visitors, especially women, in jail? Apart from rules on modest dressing, intimacy in public –whether it's between same-sex or heterosexual couples – is prohibited and “can lead to arrest,” said The Week, quoting the British government’s guidelines to its citizens visiting Qatar. 

    Couples living together while unmarried is also illegal in the country. Sex outside marriage, regardless of whether it’s a same-sex or heterosexual couple, can lead to “arrest and a potential court case where the judgment can include a fine, a custodial sentence and deportation once the sentence is complete,” according to The Week.

    Moreover, if a visitor to Qatar gets pregnant after sex outside marriage, “both you and your partner could face imprisonment and/or deportation.” The pregnant woman may also experience considerable difficulties during ante-natal or health checks.

    Expand
  2. 2. Skewed Laws on Sexual Violence

    Activists have also raised concerns that Qatar’s laws related to sexual intercourse are biased against women, making it difficult for them to report instances of sexual violence, according to The Athlectic

    Several human rights groups told the publication that women football fans could be prosecuted and might face harsh punishments if they report sexual or physical assault in the country. Survivors may also be denied access to basic medical facilities, like contraceptive pills, without a marriage certificate. 

    As per The Athletic, in several recent cases of rape, the survivors are accused of extra-marital sex instead of being given physical and emotional support. As mentioned above, the offence carries a prison sentence. But if the defendant is Muslim, they may face the risk of being flogged, which is prohibited by international human rights law.

    Stating that the risk of sexual violence is higher at any major sporting event, Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Athletic that if the accused claims that the act was consensual (to avoid life imprisonment for rape), the survivor may be prosecuted for sex outside marriage.

    Expand
  3. 3. Rights & Status of Women

    Though Qatar has undergone massive transformation over the last few decades in terms of rights and public participation of women, a Human Rights Watch report in 2021 found that they still live under a system of “deep discrimination.” 

    Men continue to control the lives of women through the system of ‘male guardianship’ according to the report. This means that women need their permission to marry, travel, pursue higher education, take up government jobs, and make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

    "Women in Qatar have broken barriers and achieved significant progress in areas such as education, yet they have to still navigate state-enforced male guardianship rules that limit their ability to live full, productive, and independent lives."
    Rothna Begum, Human Rights Watch

    She added that there are no anti-discrimination laws in Qatar or an agency that a woman can go to if she wished to file a complaint. There are no functioning women’s rights organisations that can monitor the treatment of women in the country. 

    The government, however, denied some of the claims made by the report and called the findings “inaccurate.”

    (With inputs from AFP, The Guardian, The Athletic, Human Rights Watch, The Week.)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Laws Women Visitors Are Wary of

In 2020, a group of women from Australia were allegedly subjected to an invasive gynaecological exam without their consent and forcibly removed from a Qatar Airways flight “at gunpoint” in Doha, according to The Guardian. Later, five of the women sued the airlines and Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority for violating their human rights.

In October this year, the lawyers representing the women appealed to the Qatari government to ensure the safety of women travelling to the country for the World Cup, according to news agency AFP. “With the World Cup less than a month away, female travellers are entitled to an assurance from Qatar that their human rights will be respected,” the lawyers told the news agency.

So, what are some of Qatar’s laws that could land visitors, especially women, in jail? Apart from rules on modest dressing, intimacy in public –whether it's between same-sex or heterosexual couples – is prohibited and “can lead to arrest,” said The Week, quoting the British government’s guidelines to its citizens visiting Qatar. 

Couples living together while unmarried is also illegal in the country. Sex outside marriage, regardless of whether it’s a same-sex or heterosexual couple, can lead to “arrest and a potential court case where the judgment can include a fine, a custodial sentence and deportation once the sentence is complete,” according to The Week.

Moreover, if a visitor to Qatar gets pregnant after sex outside marriage, “both you and your partner could face imprisonment and/or deportation.” The pregnant woman may also experience considerable difficulties during ante-natal or health checks.

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Skewed Laws on Sexual Violence

Activists have also raised concerns that Qatar’s laws related to sexual intercourse are biased against women, making it difficult for them to report instances of sexual violence, according to The Athlectic

Several human rights groups told the publication that women football fans could be prosecuted and might face harsh punishments if they report sexual or physical assault in the country. Survivors may also be denied access to basic medical facilities, like contraceptive pills, without a marriage certificate. 

As per The Athletic, in several recent cases of rape, the survivors are accused of extra-marital sex instead of being given physical and emotional support. As mentioned above, the offence carries a prison sentence. But if the defendant is Muslim, they may face the risk of being flogged, which is prohibited by international human rights law.

Stating that the risk of sexual violence is higher at any major sporting event, Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Athletic that if the accused claims that the act was consensual (to avoid life imprisonment for rape), the survivor may be prosecuted for sex outside marriage.

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Rights & Status of Women

Though Qatar has undergone massive transformation over the last few decades in terms of rights and public participation of women, a Human Rights Watch report in 2021 found that they still live under a system of “deep discrimination.” 

Men continue to control the lives of women through the system of ‘male guardianship’ according to the report. This means that women need their permission to marry, travel, pursue higher education, take up government jobs, and make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

"Women in Qatar have broken barriers and achieved significant progress in areas such as education, yet they have to still navigate state-enforced male guardianship rules that limit their ability to live full, productive, and independent lives."
Rothna Begum, Human Rights Watch

She added that there are no anti-discrimination laws in Qatar or an agency that a woman can go to if she wished to file a complaint. There are no functioning women’s rights organisations that can monitor the treatment of women in the country. 

The government, however, denied some of the claims made by the report and called the findings “inaccurate.”

(With inputs from AFP, The Guardian, The Athletic, Human Rights Watch, The Week.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from explainers

Topics:  Women   Sexual Assault   Football 

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