INTERNATIONAL NETWORK ON
FEMINIST APPROACHES TO BIOETHICS
FAB Congress 2024 in Doha, Qatar
Anna Gotlib and Jackie Leach Scully, FAB Co-coordinators
Every two years, the International Association of Bioethics holds the World Congress of Bioethics, at different venues around the world. Since 1996, the Feminist Approaches to Bioethics network (FAB) has held its own gathering as a satellite meeting before the WCB itself. As many of you will know, the venue for the 2024 WCB is Doha, Qatar. The selection of Qatar for the 2024 WCB has caused considerable controversy in the bioethics community, not least following the recent events in Israel/Palestine.
As the two co-coordinators of FAB with responsibility for the 2024 FAB Congress, we have been asked variants of the question: Why is a feminist organisation even thinking of holding a meeting in Qatar? On the other hand we have also been asked how we can possibly not go ahead, particularly since WCB/FAB has taken place in other controversial locations in the past. In this blog post, we want to lay out some of the background, and contribute to the ongoing discussion in what is a rapidly changing context.
A key point to understand is that the decision to hold the WCB in Qatar was made without consulting with FAB (an omission which we have discussed with the IAB leadership and that should not occur in the future). This meant FAB was faced with either agreeing to go ahead plans for the meeting, or not having a meeting at all.
A second important point is that whatever our personal opinions, it isn’t up to us, your co-coordinators, to make this decision on our own. We have held several meetings with IAB and with the FAB Advisory Board, and in October last year called an online meeting of FAB members at which all views were solicited. Below, we outline the main points put forward. We are deliberately not setting them out as ‘reasons for going ahead’ vs ‘reasons for pulling out’; we don’t want to frame this as a weighting of two sides, but rather to illustrate the issues that people were concerned about and that were raised at this meeting.
The core problem for many members is that Qatar is widely recognised as having a poor record of human rights in general, and particularly women’s rights and the rights of migrant workers (https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/qatar).
Some LGBTQ members were concerned about their personal safety, as well as the principle of visiting a country that criminalizes some same-sex relationships.
Others were concerned about (real or perceived) hypocrisy, noting that FAB congresses have previously been held without apparent contention in several countries with human rights records, especially with regard to women’s reproductive rights and freedom of speech (India, where WCB was held in 2018 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/india#49dda6; Singapore, 2010 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/singapore; China, 2006 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/china; Brazil, 2002 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/brazil#49dda6).
Opting out of our association with the WCB congress after 28 years, just when the Congress is being held for the first time in an Arab state, could indicate (or be perceived as) Islamophobia.
Holding international conferences in Qatar is associated with high demand for air conditioning and for long distance travel, causing significant environmental damage.
The cost of travel to and accommodation in Qatar will make it impossible for some people to attend.
Holding the FAB Congress in Qatar is an opportunity to meet with, and provide moral support to, feminists and women’s rights activists from Qatar and the region, particularly if we can facilitate contacts with local women’s health groups.
Realistically, FAB on its own has neither the resources nor the staff to hold the kind of conference that people expect (we depend on the goodwill of IAB, who underwrite our conference and provide support for registrations, audio visual services, and usually also travel and other grants).
Ultimately, a vote held at the end of this meeting was in favour of continuing to plan for the FAB Congress in Qatar.
Since then, we as co-chairs have continued to work towards that goal, knowing however that the discussion is continuing and the context fluid. Over the months we have received strongly worded messages from both points of view. A survey of FAB members in September indicated that far fewer than usual were considering registering for the Congress. And when the original deadline for abstract submission closed (since extended to 31 October), the number of submissions was much lower than is normal for FAB Congresses -- although on the other hand it should be noted that there is a higher than usual proportion of submissions from the region. As things currently stand, and assuming the same rate of submission, it is unlikely that a standalone FAB Congress will be viable; if so, it might still be possible to timetable a session on Feminist Bioethics within the WCB itself.
But of course, things recently got a lot more complicated when the conflict between Israel and Hamas reignited. This is a sensitive situation and, like many other states in the region, Qatar’s role in this conflict is far from straightforward. Currently, it is not possible to predict what the state of play will be in mid-2024, either in terms of the war itself or of the overall safety in the region.
We want to be clear that this blog post isn’t about trying to persuade people to attend in person, or even to register for, the FAB Congress. However, there is a growing likelihood that FAB 2024, which was always planned to be hybrid, will end up being mostly or completely online, and we know that for some of you this will make a crucial difference. If so, please submit your abstract before the deadline of 31 October 2023, and remember to register before 10 January 2024 (for general registration) and 4 March 2024 (for online presentations).
Despite the difficult circumstances we remain committed to providing the best FAB Congress possible, while respecting differing, and sincerely held, views and decisions. We’d like to thank the FAB Advisory Board for counsel and support over the past months; we welcome any questions or comments.
Many thanks to Kate MacKay for pioneering the FAB GAB podcast!
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