Expat Women

I’ve been back in Doha for almost two weeks and like any return there’s the inevitable comparison of what’s different, what has changed. For the two years I’ve been away Doha hasn’t slowed down – with a World Cup on the horizon there’s the constant thrum of building development and growth. While covid provided the necessity technology allowed for tap and go, cards now have certain chips, drivers licences are done online. It’s not only structural, it’s social. There’s an F45 down the road from me which can only mean one thing – Lululemon. Short shorts, strappy yoga tops and midriffs now power walk along the promenade. I marvel at not only the muscles but sit in wonder (no judgment I promise). It’s a very different Doha to the one I left.

This type of change usually signals progress. On this day for women I look to my cohort, my peers and my tribe – International Women.

There has most certainly been advances. More women as the “lead” expat, more women having the opportunity to start a new business with their very own work permit. My friends in Saudi now drive, they choose if they wish to wear an Abaya.

The “Mums” groups are now the “parents” groups. And the parents who choose to spend time away from the office now have the ability to study online and network in WhatsApp, Facebook and Linked In. Sometimes I believe that every facet of my original expat life from twenty years ago is now a distant memory. That the old style of spotting someone in a supermarket one day and connecting over the search for broccoli or baby formula only to find yourself two hours later on your third cup of tea brimming with the excitement that you’d made your first friend.

It turns out I’m not a complete dinosaur – it’s still there.

This week I’ve spoken at an expat event, caught up for dinner with new friends and old. In a time of war and pandemic I don’t want to sound as trivial as I know I must, but I’ve realized a couple of hours with friends who understand the geographical schizophrenia of this life can soothe the soul and lift any chance of melancholy.

These past two weeks have allowed me to basque in the beauty of women from all nations sharing a giggle while discussing their sex lives, kids, jobs and dreams but unfornately the same old BS still restricts us. I speak broadly but we still live in a world where new work permits are not given to women over the age of 50 – whereas our male counterparts are granted new employment until 60. Women remain “sponsored” by their husbands meaning often they don’t have their own telephone accounts, driving or liquor licences. This week I’ve been told of two women who were put on a plane to their home country after their husbands cancelled their permits, closed their bank accounts and shut down their phones. At the same time I’ve heard of the women who held their hands, got them home, helped set them up. Women who made a noise and complained making sure this couldn’t be done by the same person again. Women who live by the rule that the standard we walk past is the standard we accept.

We have made progress but we still have a long way to go. Happy International Women’s Day.

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