A member of the staff of the Museum of Illusions-Doha makes an International Women's Day pledge, using the IWD Movement-recognized sign for equal. (Courtesy Museum of Illusions–Doha)

Middle East Marks International Women’s Day

Despite common themes and shared values, events in the region are independent

Women around the world have their calendars marked for today as another International Women’s Day (IWD) goes into full swing.

An annual international day of advocacy and awareness on March 8 can be traced back to 1911 and has since grown into a multinational coalition of women around the world, gaining backing by the United Nations in 1977.

Four Middle Eastern countries – Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE – have registered official International Women’s Day events this year (although they are not the sole events in the region to take advantage of the day’s publicity).

The Museum of Illusions in Doha is the only registered IWD event in Qatar. A spokesperson for the Museum told The Media Line: “This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual, which calls on everyone to achieve gender equality. Here at the Museum of Illusions–Doha, we are taking this pledge seriously; we asked the whole team to share what they promise to do for the women in their lives.”

Qatari women who enter the museum today will get a chance to share their thoughts on a public board, where they will post handwritten messages of love and support to the women in their lives.

The main attraction, which drew some 400 families, was a concert on Saturday that featured an artist/illusionist from the philharmonic who used neither instrument nor mouth.

According to executive director Cristina El Watidy, despite a lack of large-scale formal events in Qatar, she has seen positive steps for women there in the past few years.

“When I came 10 years ago to Qatar, I was afraid that I wouldn’t find work as a woman in a senior position, because it’s the culture [in which] most of the men are working,” she told The Media Line. “I took it as a goal in life that if I reached a senior position, I would have equal numbers of men and women [working with me]. In the museum now, I have a team of half women, half men, [all] with the same salary.”

Watidy says that while she is hoping to further champion the cause of gender equality as executive director of the museum, there still is a lot of work to be done in promoting IWD messaging.

“There are very few events in Qatar,” she said.

“It’s a little bit confusing,” she continued. “People are not aware of what the theme is this year. … We do training; we’re using the hashtag #EachforEqual, trying to make sure people know that women should have their rights everywhere in the world.”

Watidy registered the museum with the organization behind IWD and receives support from the group, with promotional materials, training and a network of likeminded individuals. But even without registering, organizations in Qatar are keen to adopt some of the buzz surrounding the day.

A panel hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce is taking place at the W Hotel Doha & Residence in the morning. The all-women panel hails from the French Business Council, the Italian Chamber of Commerce, the German Business Industry and Commerce Office Qatar and the Qatar Australian New Zealand Business Association.

According to the organizers, the goal is to provide an “inspiring morning of networking and panel discussions to celebrate equality” and actively reference a slogan of “Each for Equal” in order to “fight bias, broaden perceptions and create a positive productive work environment.”

In Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, the Women’s Forum Middle East, which was to take place on March 7-8, was canceled due to coronavirus. It was slated to be one of the region’s largest events, focusing on women’s empowerment.

However, smaller events are taking place in the UAE. They include the African International Women’s Day Event Dubai at the 5 Palm Jumeriah Hotel, as well as an International Women’s Day Luncheon at the Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai. The city-state is also offering women a 50% discount on admission to all its theme parks, which include Legoland Dubai and Bollywood Park.

Not all IWD events are taking place on March 8.

The Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) is inviting the public to a women’s day event on March 23 in Tel Aviv. Celebrating its centennial this year, WIZO has been active since 1920 and has numerous programs to encourage women’s leadership.

The focus this year is on the country’s ultra-Orthodox and Druze sectors. The aim, according to a WIZO statement, is to “gently but firmly break down the barriers that disable advancement of women in these sectors of Israeli society.”

Shakir Rimzy is a student in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.

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