Women’s rights in Qatar are conflicting, and even contradictory sometimes. This helpful guide sheds light on the issue.
As a woman in Qatar, you might have access to the most luxurious lifestyle, but still not feel comfortable wearing shorts outside. You might start your own successful business, yet still feel unprotected by the police.
Qatar is a country that exists right at the intersection of modernity and tradition, and you will notice this play out most strikingly when it comes to gender rights. For expats looking to move to this peninsula, it’s important to do your homework. This way, you will be able to set expectations, avoid unpleasant surprises and, hopefully, have a smooth transition into the local culture and way of life.
This helpful guide to women’s rights in Qatar includes the following sections:
- Gender equality and women’s rights in Qatar
- Attitudes towards women in Qatar
- Laws on harmful practices in Qatar
- Women’s political rights in Qatar
- Women’s economic rights in Qatar
- Women’s health and reproductive rights in Qatar
- Women’s education rights in Qatar
- Women’s freedom from violence in Qatar
- Family and divorce laws in Qatar
- Breastfeeding laws in Qatar
- Feminism in Qatar
- Women’s rights organizations in Qatar
Gender equality and women’s rights in Qatar
Within the Gulf, Qatar is among the best nations for women’s rights. Within the global ranking of gender inequality, however, Qatar is 44th. You will see this paradoxical nature throughout various levels of life in Qatar. The country has explicitly stated its commitment to gender equality, yet still enforces imbalanced laws in the spheres of inheritance, marriage, and even whose testimony holds more weight in court. That said, women in the peninsula are highly educated and have significantly more freedoms than some of its neighbors.
Attitudes towards women in Qatar
Attitudes towards women are improving in Qatar, however, there are some key contradictions to keep in mind. For example, even though there is a popular sense of women being respected and protected, many laws do not practice this ideal. There are real imbalances in how women are treated in divorce, marriage, custody of children, and inheritance matters, as well as how they move through their professional careers. That said, the country is physically very safe and harassment is infrequent (and illegal), so you are unlikely to experience catcalling or the like in Qatar.
Laws on harmful practices in Qatar
Very few harmful practices are explicitly legal in Qatar. There are no Qatari laws forbidding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and, due to the taboo around this discussion, it is difficult to know how widespread it is. That said, it is generally socially rejected by Qataris and therefore the practice is declining and carried out in secret. Rates of forced marriages are difficult to determine because marriage has to have approval from a woman’s guardian (often her father) in the presence of two male witnesses. Despite the fact that women can legally obtain a passport and travel alone without the approval of their male guardian, the reality is that few women actually travel alone.
Women’s political rights in Qatar
Voting rights for women in Qatar
Qatar was the first Gulf country to allow women the right to vote alongside men, in 1999. You can find more information on this topic in our guide to the political system of Qatar.
Women in power in Qatar
In Qatar, women are a significant minority in political office. Because the country is not a democracy, councils have no ultimate legislative authority to make or policy to enforce. The Central Municipal Council advises the Minister of Municipal Affairs and, by 2015, only two women had ever been elected to their 29-member council.
Recently, four women were appointed to the Shura, Qatar’s parliament, which is responsible for reviewing the state’s budget, drafting laws, and examining government policy. Excluding these notable exceptions, women do not generally have a heavy political presence in Qatar.
Women’s economic rights in Qatar
Women in Qatar have the right to work, however, they will usually get their family’s approval on their career choice and pursue a job that is socially acceptable. Qatar’s number of working women has been steadily rising, with fully 51% of women working. Unfortunately, women on average still earn 70% of what men make and are more likely to be unemployed. Most women work in the public sector; very few women work in the private sector, and fewer still are in top-level positions, with a few exceptions.
Many women stop or scale back work after they marry or have children. For those who don’t, new mothers have 50 days of paid maternity leave; this is provided they worked at the company for at least a year. There is no national policy for paternity leave, however, most companies do offer a few days to new fathers. Many expat and local families hire expat women from places like Southeast Asia or Africa to help with childcare and housework. These women usually live in the house and families must sponsor them through an agency.
Women in business
Women in Qatar are free to open and run their own businesses, although few do so. According to World Bank data from 2018, 12.6% of businesses in Qatar are owned by women; in comparison to other Gulf countries, this rate is higher than the United Arab Emirates but lower than Saudi Arabia. Young women especially are building start-ups and investing in their ideas at an unprecedented rate. At the same time, free workshops, training sessions, incubators, and accelerators abound. It is an exciting time for women entrepreneurs on the peninsula! You can find more information about this in our guide to starting a business in Qatar.
Financial and property rights
Independent of a spouse, women in Qatar have the right to own property and land, to enter into business contracts, and to control their own income and assets. In practice, women, single and married, must navigate the cultural limitations that determine what is considered appropriate.
Women’s health and reproductive rights in Qatar
High-quality women’s healthcare is widely available in Qatar. However, depending on your insurance, it may be expensive. With several Qatari chapters of reputable international hospitals, as well as high local investment in public hospitals, women can access good care on the peninsula. In fact, the infant mortality rate in Qatar is 6.2 deaths per 1,000 births, a rate only marginally higher than that of the USA.
Abortion is technically legal in Qatar, however, to get one, you need to meet rigorous criteria and get the approval of a committee of three medical specialists.
Women’s education rights in Qatar
Education is a huge priority for the Qatari state, and the government has made tremendous strides. In fact, the adult literacy rate is over 97%. Women in Qatar have equal rights to access and pursue an education. Furthermore, Qatar has an incredibly high proportion of female students; the gross ratio of women enrolled in post-secondary education is five times that of men.
Women’s freedom from violence in Qatar
Although Qatar prioritizes women’s empowerment and has signed off on international treaties to that effect, there remain structural ways that the government is not demonstrating this. Legally, husbands are forbidden from physically or morally harming their wives, however, neither domestic violence nor marital rape is criminalized. Shockingly, nearly a quarter of university-level female students admitted to experiencing some form of violence.
Unfortunately, some rape victims who come forward instead face accusations of extramarital sex, which is a criminal offense in Qatar. If you are the victim of sexual assault, you should seek help from your embassy first – they will advise you on how to move forward.
Family and divorce laws in Qatar
Wives in Qatar are subject to different standards of treatment than husbands. Not only do women need approval from their male guardians to enter marriage, but they must also appeal to the courts to seek a divorce, while a husband can do so unilaterally and instantly. Legally, a wife is responsible for household matters and must obey her husband. Female children inherit half of what their male siblings do, and custody agreements skew in favor of fathers as the legal guardians. Qatari women who marry non-Qatari men cannot pass their citizenship on to their spouses and children; only Qatari men can do that.
If you are an expat, it is important to keep in mind that these are the laws of Qatar and everyone who lives in Qatar – not just Qatari citizens – must follow them. Therefore, it pays to do your homework to avoid any unpleasant surprises during your time there.
Breastfeeding laws in Qatar
Breastfeeding rates in Qatar remain low, at 29% of the population, even though the practice is widely understood as beneficial. Medical professionals and moms alike are pushing for more women to take up breastfeeding, however, it is highly advisable to be discrete if you are planning to breastfeed in public.
Feminism in Qatar
Public conversations about female empowerment and specific issues facing women are popular in various spheres Qatar, from the arts to the business world. Even while patriarchal cultural markers are unlikely to change, Qataris continue to discuss progress and the role of women. Although Western definitions of feminism might not fit in this Gulf country, Qatari society continues to debate what form their own brand of feminism might take.
Women’s rights organizations in Qatar
There are no independent women’s rights organizations in Qatar. That said, women’s issues are often folded into wider organizations, such as the Qatar Foundation, which works at the nexus of education, research, and community development.