The youth are the future of the world, the leaders of change, and the backbone of society. Today’s youth are adventurous. They contribute to various sectors, such as economic, social, political, and even development sectors. They are full of great ideas and passionate about innovation, creating different initiatives, and contributing to the development of their society. Therefore, their power needs to be utilized. We should create a space in which the youth are able to discuss their dreams, desires, and aspirations, whether it is for themselves or for their community. We must ensure that their needs are fulfilled. Hence, when they grow, the nation grows with them. In this interview, we highlight the current youngest member of the Youth Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The Committee aims to encourage discussion around culture, sports, and youth. Consequently, drive positive changes in society, enrich development, and promote change among young people. So, who is Shaikha Ali Al-Marri?
I am a Muslim, Arab, and a Qatari woman raised on Bedouin’s morals and values. I studied in public schools until I graduated from high school. To continue my higher education, my mother enrolled me at Qatar Foundation (QF), a place that I did not know existed before that! QF was the place where the phase of awakening and reflection started. This phase was motivated by events and experiences that were alien to me. Before joining QF, I lived in my comfort zone, where I was not challenged intellectually. However, QF made me question my previous beliefs about myself. I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCU) as a graphic designer. Also, I nominated myself to join the Youth Advisory Committee. This election was the first of its kind in Qatar and in the Middle East, and I was one of those who won the highest number of votes in the country to join the Committee.
Our work in the Committee includes uncovering the youth’s ideas, aspirations, and needs. We conduct studies to identify these things, and based on the findings, provide recommendations to the Ministry. This experience has had a significant effect in enriching my personality. Currently, I work for the Civil Aviation Authority as a graphic designer. I would describe myself as curious. As I like to research, I am still discovering life, learning about history, politics, religion, and the world around us. I am highly interested in studying identity, especially cultural identity. I believe that every person has the right to preserve their historical and cultural heritage. For example, one of my projects in university was about Al-Sadu and highlighting the importance of modernizing it and have a role in preserving this historical legacy.
Have you always been interested in studying Graphic Design?
I have always loved art. I love drawing Anime characters and characters from SpaceToon TV series. Therefore, I aspired to study design or media communication. Thus, I was intrigued to join VCUQ. When I read about VCU’s graphic design program, I found it a combination of photography, research, and arts. This program would teach me to express my ideas creatively.
Unfortunately, all my friends had enrolled at Qatar University; they pursued degrees that they believed were required in the labor market. At that time, I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to be part of a new society, and I chose my field of study without any concern about jobs and what the market needed. Luckily, however, I realized that my degree is demanded in our job market. Some students do not seek to understand what the market requires, and instead, they follow the general consensus on what is believed to be in demand, especially if it makes their journey easier. My work at the General Civil Aviation Authority is a continuation of what I learned at the university. My job consists of designing content for the Authority’s newsletters and the official social media accounts.
What inspired you to nominate yourself for The Youth Committee?
I felt it would be a new experience, and my curiosity led me to learn and discover more about it. Furthermore, I wanted to find myself and uncover my abilities. The election marked my first appearance in media as I had not officially appeared in the media before that. That was due to reasons concerning my family and I, and due to the stereotype that celebrities on social media do not contribute in a valuable manner to our society. However, to me, being a part of the Committee is a good reason enough reason to be active on social media and make appearances. To this date, I continue to appear on social media. Even before all this, I liked to discuss different topics on my personal Snapchat. However, the account was limited to a few family members and friends. Before I discuss or write about any topic, I search to make sure I have enough knowledge. My goal is to maintain a positive example of appearing in the media by promoting good values, encouraging dialogue, and highlighting challenges and opportunities. I also aim to create a learning experience for all of us. With Allah’s will, I hope that the way I conduct myself in media appearances and social media will inspire the rest to engage with it positively because social media is one of the most powerful and most impacting tools in forming communities worldwide. For instance, the Youth Committee started a club we named “Impacts” on the Clubhouse application. In the club, we discuss the challenges in society and other topics such as the Palestinian issue and entrepreneurship. In addition to that, weekly, we host people from different regions of the Arab world. I do not want to share inspiring stories only, but I also want the public to be aware of what is happening around us. We also hosted some inspiring young people from Gaza and Kuwait who discuss the different scientific disciplines.
Can you tell us more about The Youth Committee and your experience in it?
The Youth Committee consists of seven individuals, four girls and three boys, all from different age groups, specialties, and career paths. The Committee’s work is limited to consultation and research as we do not have any executive authority. There were challenges when it comes to the work for the Committee in terms of regulations and in terms of the identity of the Committee, which is the cornerstone of any group. However, we have been able to address and overcome these challenges. We are now working on the internal regulations to help the upcoming committees perform their role more effectively. Our role in the Committee includes meeting the youth in different settings such as the workplace, schools, and universities. We listen to their ideas on specific issues and topics and then study and analyze the challenges and put forward solutions to overcome them. We also listen to their ambitions, goals, and aspirations. Often the ideas that come to us are asking for entrepreneurship support. After the study, the Committee raises some proposals to His Excellency Salah bin Ghanim Al-Ali, Minister of Culture and Sports. He is the one who decides which projects will receive support. We keep people updated with our work through our social media accounts. We conduct our studies through surveys to collect opinions and reveal challenges. The first survey that we prepared was to study the situation of the youth in different aspects such as family, economy, mental and psychological health. The second survey focused on influencers on social media platforms. Our goal is to encourage the youth to express themselves, discuss challenges, and find solutions for those challenges using critical thinking. When designing these surveys, as a graphic designer, I did not want to prepare a traditional questionnaire. I wanted to create creative surveys as I believed it would encourage people to participate in them. I also wanted the questions in those surveys to be about topics that really matters to public, thus, the results from these studies would reflect the issues in the society.
What is your goal behind your media appearances and as a member of The Youth Committee?
My goal is to drive positive changes in society and to represent an honorable image of the Muslim woman. I try to discuss different issues, such as highlighting the intellectual war that threatens the Arab and Islamic region in the name of peace, law, religion, and human rights. I think it is very important that the public is aware and educated enough in order for them not to follow the famous people and the ideas they present blindly. We should be critical of everything they utter. There are cultures that are at risk, and I think the Islamic and Arab region is under existential threat. This is, of course, a very understatement as this issue is far more complex. The change that we desire must be driven by the public themselves as they are the future and the decision-makers. They can achieve true peace and justice by respecting the different cultures and beliefs surrounding them.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
I am interested in women’s empowerment and believe that no society will be good without women’s input in it. Women are unique, and their input is valuable to overcome many challenges in society. I believe that women should have a public role outside the realm of their house. Furthermore, we must study the Qur’an properly and should not allow personal interpretations of the Qur’an to shape society and its culture. Furthermore, Muslim women scientists in mathematics, astronomy, poetry, and politics should be our role models.
My advice for women is to follow their passion. There are many important responsibilities in society that they need to fulfill. One important piece of advice that I want to mention is that women need to stop staying silent about domestic abuse. These practices oppose our religion and are inhumane. They should not be silent, thinking it is a sacrifice for the benefit of the family. Their silence has increased the spread of this foul behavior and helped normalize it. Therefore, I advise women to be aware of their legal and religious rights to reject these behaviors. I want women to find their own mission in life, work, learn, pursue their passion for learning and be present in the discussions that enrich and contribute to the improvement of society. I would also advise the mothers to help their children be interactive in society. For example, I had no idea about the existence of youth clubs and only discovered them through the Committee. I would advise mothers to enroll their children in them. Unfortunately, us growing up isolated from society created a generation with no empathy for others. We fear sharing our opinions and participating in society and his needs to change. Change is not difficult because a woman is like a superhero. She can change no matter the challenges. A human being with solid faith, constant work, and patience can make the change and reach their goal. I believe that when women become more critical and aware, society will improve greatly. Life is a journey full of lessons to learn. We should empower ourselves with knowledge and awareness, as without these two, we become susceptible to extremist ideas. Knowledge is the power that we need to reach our goals and leave a mark behind us.
- Interview written by Lolwa Al Saigh.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.