People & Money

Australian Women on Qatar Airways Strip-Searched

In yet another apparent “clash of civilization” between rich but authoritarian Islamic countries and Western societies, the world’s largest passenger airline Qatar Airways has attracted controversy after Qatari authorities strip-searched female passengers onboard a flight to Sydney from the Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar.

This happened on Friday, October 2 after an abandoned newborn baby was found in one of the airport’s toilets. Unable to identify the mother anywhere in the airport, Qatari authorities ordered the pilot to postpone takeoff for Flight QR908 and all nine female passengers were escorted off the plane.

Without being informed what was going on, the women were taken to an ambulance parked in what appeared to be a dark carpark. They were then asked to take off their clothes, including their underwear, so their private parts could be examined for any clear signs of recent childbirth. This was in the hope of identifying the mother of the abandoned baby amongst the passengers.

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The women later described the experience as “absolutely terrifying” and a disturbing invasion of privacy, with some of them bursting into tears after the examination. The Australian government on Monday was critical of the actions, calling the treatment of the women “offensive, grossly inappropriate, and beyond the circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.”

Such illiberal practices are not out of place in Qatar, where the law forbids sex outside marriage. Healthcare workers are legally bound to inform the authorities if a woman who just gave birth is unmarried. These women often avoid the hospitals and resort to having home deliveries, which is another illegal action.

Qatar is another example of an oil-rich economy that has experienced rapid development over more than two decades, becoming interwoven with the global economy while maintaining a very conservative Islamic culture and authoritarian governments with little regard for human or personal rights.

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The Qatari economy thrives on oil and tourism. With a GDP of $191.4 billion and a per capital income of $124,410 PPP [2018 figures], Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world. The country has the world’s third largest proven natural gas reserve and is the second-largest exporter of natural gas.

It also has one of the biggest aviation industries in the world; the state-owned flag carrier, Qatar Airways, is the world’s largest. The carrier transported 29.48 million passengers in 2019 and recorded total assets of  $26,959,624,368.00.

In response to the controversy surrounding the strip-search, a spokesperson for Qatar Airways said: “We appreciate the concerns and distress expressed to you by the Australian passengers who you have spoken to, and will be investigating these matters with the relevant authorities and officials.”

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