Conditions of Women
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar is committed to improving the status of women in Qatar. Since assuming power in 1995, Sheikh Hamad has initiated a transition to democracy with the full participation of women and advocated a larger female role in public life. Although deeply bound to tradition, women in Qatar are making impressive strides towards gender equality.
In March 1999, Qatar held the first elections in the nation’s history. Six women ran for positions on the Municipal Council, though none succeeded in winning a seat. Women comprised 44% of voters in the election, but failed to support the female candidates in substantial numbers. The second municipal elections in April 2003 gave Qatar its first female elected official, Sheikha Yusuf al-Juffairi, after her two male competitors simultaneously dropped out of the race, leaving her unopposed. Two other female candidates failed to win seats.
Law of Personal Status
The Family Law, promulgated by the Emir Sheikh Hamad Ben Khalifa Al-Thani on June 29, 2007, is made of 301 articles that address all aspects of family relations, such as setting a minimum marriage age for both sexes, certifying marital contracts, the rights of husbands and wives, inheritance, wills and child custody. The Law also gives the wife the right to end the marriage under certain conditions, and banned “temporary marriage” (limited duration). It also gives a wife the right to request nullifying her marriage contract if the husband was away from the country or from his place of residence for one year or longer without making his whereabouts known to his wife and living up to his family obligations. The second article of the Family Law stipulates that cases concerning family disputes are to be heard by one or more chamber in the court of first instance and court of appeal. That chamber is to be called The Family Court.
Women’s presence in government positions grew significantly in the 1990’s, showing a 61% increase between 1991 and 1997. Sheikh Hamad has given women significant opportunities in government, even appointing a woman to the cabinet. Sheikha bint Ahmed al-Mahmud, formerly undersecretary of education, became Minister of Education in April 2003. Sheikh Hamad’s sister previously held the highest position given to a woman as deputy chairman of the Higher Committee for Family Affairs. Overall, women comprise only 15% of the total labor force and social codes strongly encourage women to stay in the home. Still, women have been able to achieve success in education, medicine, and the media. Sheikh Hamad has championed a free press, abolishing the Ministry of Information and allowing private media to flourish. The television station Al-Jazeera has created substantial controversy throughout the Arab region through its openness and willingness to discuss controversial issues, including women’s rights.
Women’s presence in government positions grew significantly in the 1990’s, showing a 61% increase between 1991 and 1997. Sheikh Hamad has given women significant opportunities in government, even appointing a woman to the cabinet. Sheikha bint Ahmed al-Mahmud, formerly undersecretary of education, became Minister of Education in April 2003. Sheikh Hamad’s sister previously held the highest position given to a woman as deputy chairman of the Higher Committee for Family Affairs.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
As of April 2007, Qatar had not ratified Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The majority of Qatar’s citizens, male and female, oppose women taking an active role in public life. The traditional Islamic background of the nation, particularly among the older generation, has fostered a critical attitude towards westernization and women’s rights. Sheikh Hamad has supported women’s rights, but also states that change must be tempered with traditional beliefs. There are no active women’s groups in the nation. Education and most workplaces remain segregated by sex.
In the last five years, the Sheikh’s wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Masnad, has taken a very active role in the public sphere, contrary to tradition. Among other efforts, she has undertaken a program to increase educational achievement among girls. In 2000, 96% of girls and 95% of boys were enrolled in primary education. Adult illiteracy was 19.6% for men and 15.6% for women in 2002. The government provides free education, health care, housing, and utilities to all citizens.