A friend asked me what sort of restrictions I'll face as a woman in Qatar. So, just in case anyone else is interested:
Virtually none. Women can drive there, which is unusual for that part of the world. Now whether I'm okay with driving there is another issue entirely. I checked the State Department's website for any warnings on traveling to Qatar. The only one--I repeat, the only one--issued concerns the driving and the lack of interest too many people seem to have in traffic laws. Or obeying them anyway. Doha instituted quite an extensive list of new fines and punishments in October, and from what I've read, traffic incidents are down considerably since then. I'm hoping that's still the case when we arrive there.
As for clothing, there's an unofficial dress code for ex-pats that, being unofficial, isn't enforced: knees and shoulders should be covered. Not a problem for me since I'm not a hot-pants-tank-top-wearing kind of gal. As for head coverings, those aren't required either, although I have a wonderful straw cowboy hat my sister gave me a couple of years ago. I'll be bringing that along simply to keep the freckles (oh, and cancer) at bay. I've seen pictures taken in the Doha malls, and it looks as though a lot of ex-pat women don't pay attention to that dress code. I'm not necessarily ready to put on an abaya and/or burka, but honestly, it's simply disrespectful to spend time in a Muslim country (even if nationals only make up roughly 20% of the population there) and not at least try not to offend the people.
Speaking of giving offense, I should have started months ago to train E not to stare at people or talk about them while they're within earshot. All African-Americans, Asians, and Indians are, to her, "brown" people. She's 5 so I haven't pushed her too hard to be perfectly p.c. But we were at an Indian restaurant on Saturday and she kept looking at the people coming in. Finally, she turned to me and said (loudly), "Everyone here is brown." I said softly, "They're Indian and just have darker skin than we do." A beautiful young woman was sitting down behind us just then and E said, "Indian?! I didn't know there were girl Indians!" (To her, Native Americans are the only Indians she's aware of.) The young woman smiled and said she was from Sri Lanka. E slid down in her chair, embarrassed to have been noticed. So we had a talk on the way home about not pointing out people's differences in front of them. I know... she's still learning about the world around her. What better experience for her to have then than to spend some time in a different county with a completely different culture?
Let's hope my optimism is still with me a month (or two or three or four) from now.