Qatar’s Stand on Women Rights

DOHA – “Both women and men are equal according to Islam,” says a representative of the Al Sheikh Abdullah bin Zaid Al-Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center in Doha.

The Qatari government funds this religious center, which seeks to introduce non-Muslims, namely migrant workers, to Islam. The center prides itself on the fact that some employees are former nuns who converted to Islam.

In fact, there are only 278,000 Qataris who live among 1.5 million foreigners in the small country.

“After moving to Qatar for work, it took me one year to convert to Islam and adjust to this religion,” confesses a former Catholic from the Philippines who used to work in a parish church in Mexico.

“I believe that Islam is the true religion,” she says.

Despite backing radical Islamic groups across the Middle East, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Doha seeks to convey the image of a moderate Islamic nation where women are well respected.

“Of course Muslim women are not oppressed,” says Nadia Al-Ashqar, Conference Affairs Coordinating Officer at the Center for Interfaith Dialogue, a publicly funded organization that works toward the understanding of the three Abrahamic religions in Doha.

She explains that this is a prevalent misconception in Western countries.

Practice

According to a representative of the Al Sheikh Abdullah bin Zaid Al-Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center, gender inequality in Islam stems from the wrong interpretation of some conservative cultures.

For instance, men cannot marry four women because they cannot care for all of them equally, he explains. His words are based on a verse of the Quran that stipulates that “if you fear that you will not be just, then (marry only) one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline (to injustice).”

In practice, however, Qatar remains one of only three Arab countries – along with the United Arab Emirates and Oman – that did not ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Qatari women still suffer from legal and societal discrimination. For example, a male relative usually represents a woman in legal proceedings. Also, the Qatari law does not deem rape within marriage a crime.

Qatar is a conservative society that upholds, first and foremost, Islamic values.

For example, the country’s women’s basketball team withdrew from the Asian Games in September 2014 because women players did not want to remove their veil – a requirement according to international regulations.

Steps forward

Notwithstanding, revenues from significant oil and gas resources have enabled the Gulf state to lessen women’s household responsibilities, hence allowing them to participate in society and the economy.

A 2013 Thomson Reuters Foundation poll titled Women’s Rights in the Arab World, ranked Qatar fifth out of 22 Arab nations when it comes to women’s rights. Comoros led the way whereas Egypt came last.

The survey assessed violence against women as well as their integration into society and politics.

Qatari women are well represented in the education sector and half of them work.

They were granted equal suffrage in 1999, after Sheikh Hamad al-Thani approved a new constitution guaranteeing gender equality. Article 35 states that “all people are equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination on account of sex, origin, language or religion.”

Qatari women can drive, unlike their counterparts in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Yet, they need their husband’s consent to obtain a driving license.

 

This photo story was published in Your Middle East on December 11, 2014. Click here


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