While at the Summit on Women in International Health and Development at Cornell, we also had the opportunity to sit in on a video conference with female medical school students at the Cornell campus in Qatar. Near the end of the call, we carped the diem and asked if we WomanStats researchers could stay on longer and ask them some questions (read: variables). So away we went. Here are some of the highlights, a snapshot of their perspective on the status of women in Qatar:
Polygyny: According to Sharia law, a Muslim man is allowed to have four wives, this is true also in Qatar. But in order to do this, the man must be able to treat all of his wives equally and the wives must determine if that is true, so in that sense, wives have a veto power in polygynous marriages. The practice and law, however, different greatly. Practice is that many men go behind their wife’s back to marry another wife.
Contraception: The Qatari government and society encourages childbirth. Most women have 4-8 children. Female doctors especially counsel family planning. Pill, shot, IUD, just about every form of birth control is available. Sometimes doctors will ask women who have had many children if they would like a hysterectomy.
Potentially Harmful Beauty Practices: In general, people in the Middle East, especially Qatar have lower levels of Vitamin D compared to people from other nations, stemming from the heat of the sun and the relative scarcity of milk and Vitamin D rich foods. Women, due to wearing the niqab or other such clothing that covers themselves, suffer from even lower Vitamin D levels. In a study done in Qatar, of 360 patients tested, 56% were found deficient in Vitamin D, with women fair worse than the average. Not only religion and heat, but preference for skin tone of women also adds to these deficiencies, as men generally prefer women with fairer skin because that is different from the norm of darker skin, so white is beautiful.
Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is encouraged to 18 months, and many do breastfeed. One common reason for not breastfeeding is that the baby didn’t want to breastfeed. Because of the social segregation of the sexes, breastfeeding is easy for women to do as they are surrounded by women and don’t have to fear impropriety of baring themselves in the company of men. There are posters all over the hospital extolling breastfeeding. There are, however, no laws against formula being handed out in health care centers and hospitals.