06/02/2014 06:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Qatar Blows It Again: Cover Up Campaign Says No to All Women


Just as #YesAllWomen is getting a full head of steam for bringing attention to unwanted sexual attention, the Qatar Woman's Association (QWA) is re-launching its efforts to get visitors to cover more of their body parts. Their campaign is called "Reflect Your Respect." Sure, it's less embarrassing than the previous "One of Us" campaign, which clearly failed to take into account the you're-a-real-freak-now meaning behind the classic film slogan, but that doesn't make it less of a blunder.

Last week, as quoted in Qatar's online journal, JustHere, a QWA representative going only by the name Mariam, said, "[w]e believe that females are like pearls who should be covered by an oyster. Women dressing in an immodest manner sends out wrong messages to people."

This is diametrically opposed to the #YesAllWomen trend, which has brought together women across the world to share their experiences with predatory sexual attention, regardless of how they dress. The three years I lived in Qatar certainly bear out this fact. A fully-covered woman I worked with there told me she experienced far more sexual harassment in a segregated workplace than she had in our co-ed office, which her husband made her quit. I was also sexually harassed by a colleague when I lived in Qatar. An American colleague.

It does appear however, that the group is backing off from attacking just women. In a report out yesterday -- which reads more like a press release than a news story so I'll quote it -- "Umm Abdulla, acknowledged [the group] could not force anyone to dress in a particular fashion, but said the issue is one of respect."

That idea is certainly contained in the title of the campaign, but my question is, respecting whom? It's true, it's an equal opportunity poster. But bafflingly, neither the male nor female stick figures pictured in their sign is getting the dress code right. Either way, it doesn't matter since the QWA doesn't have to force anyone to dress a particular way. Qatar has laws that take care of that -- declaring that all citizens shall "abide by public order and morality, observing national traditions and established customs" -- and they are enforced.

When I first lived in Qatar in 2004 it was a well-known fact that running afoul of social norms could get an expat deported. When I went back in 2009, people were being fined hundreds of dollars for exposing their shoulders in their cars.

This modesty campaign is totally wrong-headed. And it couldn't come at a better time.

People are just itching for reasons why FIFA can't host the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. What better fuel to add to the fire than this business about not being able to wear shorts? No beer and no shorts? Can't see a World Cup happening under those circumstances. But would Qatar kiss billions of dollars goodbye by losing the games over these issues?

Already, they've begun to look at labor laws. Who knows what's next, but I say bring out more Mariams! Buckle up, buttercups. This is going to be a bumpy ride, but one that could be the beginning of real changes.