Notes from Kampala: “No women!”

Photo: Negative (April 24, 2007) by Gabe Racz. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license via Flickr.
Photo: Negative (April 24, 2007) by Gabe Racz. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license via Flickr.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, I boarded a plane at Entebbe airport bound for my first stop in Doha. As I approached row 12, I noticed that someone else was sitting in my assigned seat. I politely asked the man whether he was in the right seat or had the airline ‘double booked’ us.

I was ignored. I politely asked again.

The man responded to me by saying, “no women.”

I suggested calling for a flight attendant to sort out the issue and was again told “no women.” I then noticed that 4 of the 6 seats in row 12 were filled up with men wearing a thobe (or dishdasha), one of whom was in my seat. Pushing again that his seat may be the window seat and mine the aisle, the four men now screamed out, “no women.”

Had I perhaps boarded a male only flight I asked?

At this stage, the flight attendant arrived and the other passengers on the flight took notice. Once again the mantra “no women” was repeated.

The flight attendant suggested that since it was easier to relocate one ‘person’ rather than four, would I move to another seat?

While the prospect of spending the next 5 plus hours with four men unrelenting in their oppressive chant opposing women, I agreed to move. However, I was shaking with intense anger as I reached the back of the plane and raging with myself for not having pushed the issue further.

As I considered the two powerful words, “no women” I realised how indicative they are of the state of the world’s women.

While being ousted from my seat on a plane doesn’t compare with the dramatic human rights violations of many women throughout the world, it demonstrates the position of women in society and the lack of challenge and support for women’s rights. Compounded, for me anyway, was that this was an international flight, heading to an international destination on an international ‘5-star airline.’

In many parts of the world women are treated as though there were indeed “no women,” – voiceless, ignored, covered up, locked in, trafficked, sold, abused, violated, etc., by partners, family members, their community, their society, their religion, their government, us.

I thought of International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8. For more than 100 years, this day has been commemorated in various capacities and countries throughout the world.

Many women, and men, have died in their commitment to the human rights of women. Yet despite this no country, anywhere, can claim full equality.

The situation of women throughout the world remains critical.

While there are reported gains (in some countries) that have been made over many years, for example, the right for women to vote, to an education, equal job opportunities (on paper anyway), improved(ing) reproductive rights, etc., the rights of women throughout the world are continually being ignored and abused.

The rights of women in Qatar as an example is interesting. As a country it is trying to establish itself in the international arena. It has, reportedly, one of the best airlines in the world. The World Cup is to be hosted there in 2022.

In 2009, the country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – “without any reservation.” However, women form just 15% of the workforce. Most places of work and institutions are sex segregated.

Women are discriminated against in cases of freedom of movement, domestic violence, honour crimes, inheritance, testimony, marriage, child custody, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, etc.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that provisions in the law, discriminate against women, such as Law No. 22 (2006), Article 36 necessitates that two men have to witness marriage contracts that are concluded by male guardians. And while Article 57 in the law states that men cannot harm their wives physically or morally, the next Article demands that she care for the household and ‘obey’ her husband.

Qatar is not alone.

Where does one begin to catalogue the violations and abuses of women’s human rights throughout the world – and that includes ‘developed’ countries?

Even the movie industry is not exempt from inequality (see the infographic on the gender imbalance statistics in the movie industry presented by the New York Film Academy).

I browsed the Human Rights Watch website on Women’s Rights and came across 4 pages of reports since 1991 – some 70 separate reports on the violation of women’s human rights throughout the world.  This is utterly shocking.

So what about my seat?

The point I’m trying to make is that it isn’t just a seat on a plane in a row dominated by men unwilling to recognise and accept a world that demands and needs equality.

It is about me, a woman, openly challenging inequality.

It is about the flight attendants supporting my right to challenge.

It is about the rest of the passengers understanding, appreciating, challenging and supporting my rights.

It is about the airline having policies and procedures for dealing with such incidences.

It is about all these parties voicing their demands for rights to governments that bow to societal pressure.

It’s about all of us, everywhere, demanding our shared, equal rights.


Read more stories in the series Notes from.

…Learn more…

There are numerous resources on that focus on women’s rights. Check out, for example:

UNWomen and other UN agencies such as UNICEF gender equality, especially their new campaign video on ending child marriage in Chad:

Other resources include: