The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reviewed Qatar on its progress advancing women’s rights in the country at the organization’s 57th session on Feb. 13, 2014.
Qatar ratified the CEDAW agreement in 2009, but as the discussions at the latest session showed, the country continues to fall short in a number of spheres. Qatari pundit Nofe Al Suwaidi wrote a great summary of the CEDAW session and its findings for Justhere.qa. I encourage you to read it.
Some of the areas in which Qatari women continue to suffer discrimination:
- Qatari woman still cannot automatically pass on citizenship to their children.
- Qatar still has no law on domestic violence, which is scary considering that some 16% of men and 7% of women in Qatar believe wife-beating is justified in certain cases. And apparently 20% of men 15-24 years old agree.
- Women continue to get the short shrift in the workplace. Men earn 25-50% more than women and women hold just 14% of leadership positions. Some businesses force women to get an approval letter from their male guardian before they are able to start working, even though this is not legally required. In addition, it is unclear whether the Shura Council, when elections finally occur, will include a quota for women.
In her op-ed, Al Suwaidi highlighted how nearly impossible it is for Qatari women to form their own independent organizations, even ones dealing with women’s issues:
CEDAW members stated that there are no independent associations in Qatar today dealing with women’s issues and wanted further information about the steps taken by Qatar in order to encourage the formation of independent organisations. To which Qatar claimed that there were no laws in place prohibiting these organisations from being established, however, there are no members of the community who applied for establishment of such organisations.However, there are various requirements in the lengthy process of forming an independent association, including seeking approval from the Prime Minister. As CEDAW members pointed out, such approval from the Prime Minister in itself is a hindrance to the establishment of such organisations. It is also important to note that any associations with political persuasions is prohibited from formation. “In the case that a women’s association were to encourage female representation at the Central Municipal Council or Shura Council, under this law it would not be able to do so,” says Esraa Al-Muftah, a Qatari social activist who was live tweeting the review.
She ends her piece on a positive but cautious note:
For Qatari women, the session is hopefully the beginning of a progressive future.
The Qatari delegation showed there was in fact progress, even if slow, in the past years in terms of the elimination of all forms of violence against women.
But it is clear Qatar has a lot more to do. Qatari delegates entered several reservations on the CEDAW agreement on terms that they felt conflicted with Qatari traditions and Shariah law. These included inheritance procedures for men and women, freedom of movement for all persons, and marriage and divorce rights. The Justhere.qa article summarizes these reservations in detail.
However, it appears many Qatari women want faster action by the government and greater adherence to CEDAW’s conventions.
The CEDAW review included shadow reports from several groups. The most interesting report came from several Qatari women calling themselves an “Independent Group of Concerned Citizens.” They write:
Without amendments to the current discriminatory laws and enhancements to public view reform initiatives, we fear that females in Qatar will continue to face legally legitimized discrimination in both the public and private sphere…As women, we witness and experience gender discrimination daily in our lives and of those around us. This form of discrimination has penetrated throughout society in both public and private life, whereby avenues to fight against it have become restricted, both socially and legislatively. Although we do not represent a non-governmental organization, we do represent the voice of a generation of young women who do wish to see social change and legal reform, providing women in Qatar with equality and justice.
The report’s authors includes case studies of women who have suffered discrimination. They criticize Qatar’s patriarchal cultural traditions and particularly take the country to task for its lack of enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in the workforce or punishments for violators.
Most significantly, the authors call for the country to amend its marriage and divorce laws to make women truly equal with men before the law. For instance, the minimum age requirement for marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. The shadow report’s authors state that this should be raised to 18 for both sexes and that Qatar must adopt much more stringent laws against marrying a minor.
Regarding divorce and custody rights, the authors state the law unfairly favors men over women. Right now, divorced mothers can have custody of their sons until the age of 13 and daughters until the age of 15 (in some cases, that can rise to age 18 for sons and until the daughter is married). But once the mother remarries, she loses all her custody rights. A father, on the otherhand, can remarry as many times he wants without losing custody of his children.
According to the shadow report submitted by the Independent Group of Concerned Citizens:
In a patriarchal state such as Qatar where women’s rights are less clearly defined and where most judges are male, this room for subjectivity can be especially dangerous, potentially leading to discriminatory judgments on the part of the presiding judge… As mentioned earlier, the Family Law in Qatar is not specific or clear when it comes to the rights of females. This means that most often than not, females are at the mercy of one presiding judge (most likely male). As the interviewed experts highlighted, this ambiguity in family laws has created a space for gender discriminating rulings to flourish. In the absence of clear and well-defined laws, the presiding judge with his own set of beliefs and ideals has the freedom to rule as he deems fit without taking into consideration the equal rights of females.
The authors provide case studies of how divorce and custody laws have been abused and manipulated by men trying to shirk their alimony responsibilities and how the laws also prevent women from seeking justice for domestic abuse.
The report concludes by calling for greater legal and social protection for female domestic and migrant workers as well.
It’s a powerful read and I really encourage everyone to download it. Though Qatar has a long way to go before it achieves true gender equality, it is obvious Qatari women are not just waiting passively for it to happen. They are pushing for change.
I hope the Qatari government takes its female citizens’ demands to heart.